Former High Court justice and RSA Patron Michael Kirby speaking about (at the time) possible new religious freedom laws which he says might isolate and humiliate minorities.
30 January 2020:
RSA has made the following submission to the second draft of the Government's Religious Discrimination Bill.
The Rationalist Society of Australia is extremely disappointed that the second version of the Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination bill is even worse than the first. It is clear the government is not listening to reasonable voices.
In our first submission, we made it clear we did not object to a bill that responded to the Ruddock Inquiry’s view that there was room for a federal act that ‘fills the gaps’ in national anti-discrimination laws with respect to religion. After all, religion is already one of the prohibited discrimination grounds in many states and territories, and Australia has an obligation, as signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to protect individuals from discrimination on the ground of religion or belief.
However, the first Exposure Draft went much further than this and, far from providing a shield against discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, it handed a sword to religious individuals and organisations to indulge in backward-looking bigotry, essentially placing the religious above and beyond the ordinary laws of the land by allowing them to discriminate.
The RSA believes the government is not conducting the consultation process in good faith and we see no point in contributing further to it. In the event a bill is introduced into parliament, the RSA will be engaging with the opposition and crossbench."
Read Luke Beck's views on the second draft bill in the Sydney Morning Herald article "Religious discrimination bill gives Australians 'right to be a bigot'"
12 December, 2019:
RSA President Meredith Doig's proposal "11 ways to fix the much maligned Religious Discrimination bill" is published in TBS.
And she discusses the second draft of the bill on ABC Breakfast with Steve Martin.
Attorney-General Christian Porter released his first version of a draft Religious Discrimination bill. The RSA responded cautiously, welcoming some aspects of the bill while pointing out its over-reach and deficiencies.
Read our submission to the Attorney-General here.
RSA board member Luke Beck's article "The right to be a bigot is hidden in the government's religious freedom bill" in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Religious Discrimination bill
In late August 2019, the federal government released an exposure draft of its Religious Discrimination bill. Soon after, on 4 September, the RSA participated in a consultative session on the bill with Attorney-General Christian Porter.
The RSA is not opposed to a law that acts as a shield against discrimination on the basis of religion or belief, but does not support a law that may be used as a sword to impose religious belief or to punish those who abandon or change their religion.
Our key messages were:
- we welcome the addition to all federal anti-discrimination laws the positive recognition of the indivisibility and universality of all human rights, and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights; and
- the inclusion of those who do not subscribe to religious belief (including atheists and agnostics) by defining “religious belief or activity” to include “not holding a religious belief”, and
- the recognition in clause 20 that citizens have a right to expect the provision of goods and services free from religious discrimination.
However, the bill does not simply offer a shield against discrimination; it equips religious bodies and religionists with a positive sword that elevates their beliefs and their actions beyond the beliefs and actions of others:
- it gives practically free rein to religious bodies to act as they please
- it protects expressions of religious belief but not other deeply felt moral expressions
- it places a greater value on personal religious beliefs over the duty of professionals to provide lawful healthcare services
- it overrides all other federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, elevating religious belief above all else.
See here for our detailed analysis and what we wrote to MPs and Senators.
Click here to view our submission to the Ruddock Inquiry into Religious Freedom.
Click here to view our Fairfax opinion piece calling for an end to religious privilege, power and prejudice: 2018: a year that draws a line against prejudice, privilege and power