By Tom Kingsbury | Head of Politics
The Religious Discrimination Bill, a law which is designed to protect religious people and organisations that discriminate because of their religious beliefs, has been introduced by the Australian Prime Minister, and will be reviewed by the Australian Senate before a vote next year.
If passed it would allow Catholic schools to fire teachers or expel LGBT+ students as a result of the school’s ‘religious ethos’.
The bill would also protect those who express derogatory or harmful comments in a workplace, school, or health setting, according to Australia’s Human Rights Law Center.
Under the law schools would be allowed to discriminate on religious grounds in their hiring practices, as long as they explain their ‘religious ethos’ in a public policy statement.
Equality Australia, an LGBT+ rights advocacy group, claims that if “a nurse says to a patient with HIV that their HIV is a punishment from God, for example, […that] could constitute a statement of belief, [and] would probably be protected under that law under this bill.”
Religious discrimination has been a contentious topic for a number of years in Australia, following the 2017 passing of same-sex marriage legislation.
Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has begun regularly dismissing discrimination concerns as little more than ‘cancel culture’.
After the announcement of the bill he told Australia’s Parliament that people are ‘rightly protected from discrimination’ based on certain attributes, but that “As human beings, we are also soul and spirit. We are also, importantly, what we believe. For many, this can inform who they are more than anything else. The protections of what we choose to believe is essential to our freedom in a liberal democracy.”
“Australians shouldn’t have to worry about looking over their shoulder, fearful of offending an anonymous person on Twitter, cowardly sitting there abusing and harassing them for their faith, or transgressing against political or social zeitgeists.”
Morrison assured critics that “nothing in this bill allows for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity”, although attorney general Michaelie Cash has requested that the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) analyses Australian law and this bill to see whether there are any aspects permitting children to be discriminated against in religious schools.
Cash has given the ALRC a 12-month window to work in, leading some Australian MPs to press the government on why protection from discrimination may wait a year longer than protection for it.
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