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Where to now with Religious Discrimination?

  • 29 November 2021
On Thursday, three Bills were introduced to the House of Representatives: the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021.  Collectively, these bills constitute the Morrison Government’s response to the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review provided to government in May 2018. 

None of the bills deals with the enrolment of children in religious schools which blew up as an issue during the 2018 Wentworth by-election. That awaits the tweaking of the Sex Discrimination Act  which is not due until the Australian Law Reform Commission reports to government sometime in the next year or two.  In his second reading speech introducing the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Parliament: ‘Nothing in this bill — I stress: nothing — allows for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. You won’t find anything of that nature in this bill. Such discrimination has no place in our education system.’ Given that both sides of our Parliament accept without reservation that such discrimination has no place in any school, religious or not, it is outrageous that our Parliament has not clarified this matter three years on, and that we will have to await yet another federal election before the matter is legislated obliging educators not to discriminate against a child on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. 

Those few religious zealots who would want to retain the power to exclude a child on the basis of sexuality or gender identity from a school in receipt of government funding need to accept that their world view can no longer be justified in Australia as an appropriate exercise of religious freedom. In 1983, the High Court of Australia delivered a definitive judgment on the limits of religious freedom in which Justices Mason and Brennan said: ‘[T]he area of legal immunity marked out by the concept of religion cannot extend to all conduct in which a person may engage in giving effect to his faith in the supernatural. The freedom to act in accordance with one’s religious beliefs is not as inviolate as the freedom to believe, for general laws to preserve and protect society are not defeated by a plea of religious obligation to breach them. Religious conviction is not a solvent of legal obligation.’ 

The bills introduced last week do deal with the issue of the employment