Source: The Age (8 January 2018) – 2018: a year that draws a line against prejudice, privilege and power
… the religious right continues to try to disguise their ongoing desire for undue influence in the lives of Australians through some righteous defence of their own privilege and prejudice. We cannot let this fly.
On Wednesday, Fairfax reported that submissions made to the inquiry into “religious freedoms”, chaired by Philip Ruddock, would potentially be undisclosed.
This would be concerning, and fuels public sentiment that the scales are already tipped regarding the inquiry’s outcome. The whole process needs transparency. The public needs to scrutinise not only the claims made within the submissions, but the process by which the panel comes to their findings. This is especially so when powerful parties, like certain religious institutions, are concerned.
As it turns out, nothing has been decided: the expert panel will determine the fate of submissions next week. With Ruddock seemingly in favour of openness, let us hope making the inquiry as transparent and accountable as possible will be top of their agenda.
Either way, these concerns feed into larger fears that the inquiry is looking the wrong way. It is no secret that it was conceived as a way to ensure that the marriage equality bill would pass through parliament, unscathed by harmful amendments that would ensure continuing discrimination against Australians based on their sexuality.
Pass it did, and the sky has yet to fall in. But the pledge to review “religious freedoms” remains, and so does the intention to placate and increase the power of those who wish to extend discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.
And that is the core of it. The government continues to nurture the convictions of those who believe discrimination against a person because of their sexual orientation is justified with reference to another’s religious beliefs. That is, anti-discrimination laws should take a back seat when faced with personal religious belief.
Yet, it is these very laws that say “no” to discrimination against an individual based on, for example, skin colour – no matter the personal convictions of the perpetrator about the world and the moral systems within it. These laws uphold a basic respect for the human dignity of all Australians, severe infringements on which cannot be allowed.
This is not news, or insight. But the religious right continues to try to disguise their ongoing desire for undue influence in the lives of Australians through some righteous defence of their own privilege and prejudice. We cannot let this fly.
As it stands, then, the integrity of this review rests on its commitment to all Australians, and not the religious right. Despite the euphemistic title of the inquiry, it is not religious “freedom” that is under threat here. The right to freedom of religion and belief has never been unconditional; by its very nature it demands restrictions just by belonging to a larger body of human rights. Any conversation concerning an individual’s right to religious freedom or belief must necessarily examine justifiable limits on its manifestation in so far as it negatively impacts others. And here in Australia we have already crossed that line.
Legal exemptions currently exist in faith-based schools, hospitals, welfare and housing services to discriminate against people based on either their sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or even their marital status. Students can be expelled, staff can be fired, and services – which by definition are for those already at risk – can be refused to someone because of who they love.
Such exemptions do not simply cause offence; they lead to real harm. One need only look at the suicide rates of LGBTQI youth to know that discrimination and prejudice of the kind demanded by the religious right are deadly and beyond justification.
So not only must the Ruddock inquiry reject further rollbacks to anti-discrimination law, giving due weight to the safety and dignity of vulnerable Australians. This review must examine existing legal exemptions to anti-discrimination laws that institutionalise prejudice against LGBTQI people and other vulnerable groups. It must examine them, and recommend they be repealed.
The marriage equality survey was magnificent in its result. The power of millions of Australians standing up against powers that for too long have interfered in people’s lives because of who they love, or what exists between their legs.
We must keep reminding Ruddock and his panel that 2018 will be filled with more than beautiful weddings. It will be a year that draws a line against prejudice, privilege and power.
Tosca Lloyd is executive officer of the Rationalist Society of Australia.