Submission: Proposed Religious Freedom Legislation

Rationalist Society of Australia
Separate the church and state

This is the text of my submission to the Attorney General’s department regarding the proposed “religious freedom” legislation. Submissions close 5pm October 2nd, so if you haven’t made your submission yet, get on it! Send your submissions via this site
https://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/religious-freedom-bills.aspx

The one single point I would wish to stress is that none of this legislation, not one word of it, is necessary.

There is no discrimination against religion in Australia. In fact, religions are heavily subsidised and extraordinarily privileged over and above what is sensible or necessary.

This, despite the evils perpetrated upon, among others, children entrusted to their care. Despite the refusal to provide full documentation of what they knew and when. Despite the expenditure of vast amounts of money protecting the perpetrators and hiding the truth.

Religious schools are still funded by taxpayer money, regardless of whether the taxpayers is religious or not. The vast majority are not. This is extraordinarily generous and forgiving, to the point of foolishness.

Religious health services, which practice discriminatory and dangerous medicine, especially in regard to women’s reproductive health, are likewise gifted with non-believers money and allowed to place lives in danger.

We, the non-religious majority, are forced, via taxation, to subsidise organisations in which we have no interest, and with which we do not agree. This is profoundly immoral.

And now it is proposed to heap still more privileges on these arrogant and corrupt institutions.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ minorities

Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill section 41 proposes to exempt ‘statements of belief’ from discrimination complaints under all Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination laws (including the Fair Work Act 2009). Statements that are, at the end of the day, nothing more than opinions will be placed on a pedestal above truth and fact, if they can be given a cloak of religious self-righteousness.

The provision specifically overrides section 17(1) of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which prohibits conduct that ‘offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’ people on the basis of a wide range of protected attributes, including:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Lawful sexual activity
  • Gender identity
  • Intersex variations of sex characteristics
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Relationship status
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Parental status, [and]
  • Family responsibilities.

This is nothing more than providing cover for petty spite masquerading as moral concern. It is a contemptible proposal.

Section 41 will make it easy for the vile imaginings of religious fundamentalists to be smugly promulgated without fear of consequences. It will give a veneer of respectability to the whipping up of hatred against LBGTI people and others. This is not just unnecessary: it is encouraging division and disharmony, and must not be allowed to pass.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will also make it more difficult for big business to promote fairness, tolerance, diversity and inclusion. 

Proposed sub-sections 8(3) and 8(4) would make it much more difficult for major employers to prevent employees from making derogatory comments about minorities outside ordinary working hours where those comments are ‘statements of belief’.

‘Unjustifiable financial hardship’ would become the only criterion which would justify an employer setting such rules: not the promotion of diversity and inclusion within the workplace for example.

This would make it easier for the self-styled ‘religious’ to make offensive comments about women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disabilities, and so forth. It is a recipe for promoting division and intolerance, not the harmony and understanding necessary for the functioning of any business. Or indeed, any society.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to serve minorities

 No-one in the medical professions should be able to refuse treatment to anyone on the basis of their personal beliefs or opinions. Medical care, from the GPS office, to the pharmacy, to the nurses station, to the operating theatre, to the care homes and the clinic, must always be provided solely and wholly on the basis of medical need. No other criteria should ever apply, and to suggest that it should is evil. 

Australians must have the absolute right to access the full range of medical and social services without fear of discrimination, and without facing any refusal of treatment purely on the basis of who they are.

And finally, a clear line must be drawn between what is a ‘religious’ activity and what is an ordinary commercial business.

If a ‘religious’ organisation is offering a non-religious service, such as education, healthcare, employment services, adoption services, even something as basic as premises hire, then it must do so on the same basis as a comparable secular business.

There must be a level playing field: no exclusions of individuals or groups because they do not meet some irrelevant ‘moral’ criterion, such as their marital status or sexuality. No government subsidies that are not also given to secular businesses in same field.

Only if such businesses service ONLY the adherents of the religion in question, should such exclusions and privileges apply.

In conclusion, by granting extraordinary additional privileges, over and over those they already have, to organisations and individuals claiming ‘religious’ status, this proposed legislation will promote division, disunity and disharmony, and give a legal veneer of respectability to prejudice, hatred and vilification.

It must be rejected.

**with grateful acknowledgement to Alastair Lawrie, who has provided much a more comprehensive analysis and dissection of these bills on his blog https://alastairlawrie.net/2019/09/15/the-growing-list-of-problems-with-the-religious-discrimination-bills/

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)