The government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s religious belief. Polls show that most people agree with this aspect of the proposed law.
Other aspects of the Bill are more controversial. If the package of three Bills is passed: - Discrimination laws would not apply to religious organisations, including large employers such as hospitals, schools, and aged care or disability services. For example, they would be able to hire, fire and discipline employees based on whether the employee accepts and adheres to the religious ethos of the organisation.
- Discrimination against students at religious educational institutions would be permitted on the basis of religious belief - throughout their education, not just at enrolment. The government has stated that that the Bill will be amended so that kids cannot be expelled from school for ‘being gay’. However, a gay student who refuses to affirm the school’s religious ethos, such as ‘homosexuality is sinful’ could be expelled. Also, the proposed amendment only addresses expulsion and does not prevent other disciplinary action being taken against students for being gay, such as detention or exclusion. Further, the amendment does not protect transexual kids from expulsion.
- ‘Statements of belief’ would be exempt from national, state and territory discrimination laws. Even extreme and harmful statements (including racist statements) would be protected, as long as the person making the statement ‘genuinely considers’ it reflects their own interpretation of their faith.
The Bill is being introduced to parliament and debated today. Even though some members of the Liberal Party, such as Bridget Archer, have said they will cross the floor to vote against the Bill, it is possible that it could pass if some members of the Labor party support it.
Lawyers Weekly summary of recent amendments:
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