Warning over government’s ‘religious freedom’ laws

attorney general christian porter religious freedom review scott morrison religious discrimination
Photo: Sky News

Attorney-General Christian Porter has described proposed religious discrimination laws as a “shield” to protect people rather than a “sword” to discriminate against others.

Porter presented a draft plan for the laws to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet on Tuesday. He said he expects to release the draft bill within a few weeks.

He said the final draft bill should mirror “other anti-discrimination acts such as those already covering race, sex and aged discrimination.”

“The laws will protect people from being discriminated against, but will not give them a license to discriminate against other people,” he said.

But claims in The Australian newspaper that religious groups may be protected from existing state anti-discrimination laws under the new religion legislation has alarmed LGBTIQ advocates.

In response, just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome called on Labor and the Senate crossbench to block any move to weaken state discrimination and hate speech laws.

“If news reports are correct, the Morrison Government is planning to override state hate speech laws,” Croome said.

“[This includes] those in Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT where there are no religious exemptions for hate speech.

“Hate speech laws have fostered a more inclusive Australia for LGBTI people, people with disability, religious and racial minorities, and other groups. Any attempt to weaken these laws can only result in a rise in hate.

“We call on Anthony Albanese and the Senate cross-bench to commit to not vote for any new federal law that weakens protections under existing state laws.”

‘Religious freedom’ push can’t undermine state laws

The Australian newspaper reported that religious groups want to prevent “vexatious” complaints such as one made in 2015 against Hobart Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous.

But Croome said churches and media outlets had “grossly misrepresented” the complaint, brought by Tasmanian advocate Martine Delaney.

“Ms Delaney’s complaint was not against the church’s stance on same-sex marriage,” Croome said.

“It was against small parts of a Catholic marriage booklet that suggested same-sex partners ‘mess with kids’ and which presented church doctrine as scientific fact.

“It would be an abuse of federalism for the Morrison Government to override state laws just because a single archbishop feels he should be exempt from a legal standard that applies to everyone else.”

The proposals were discussed by cabinet today, with a final draft bill expected before the end of the year.

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli wants the government go further than religious exemptions. He wants a “positive approach to recognise religious rights” that would protect schools, hospitals and charities adhering to church teachings.

“We are in favour of some [sort of] religious discrimination act but it is important that it is a positive law, one not about exemption,” Archbishop Comensoli told The Australian.

“We have signed up to a ­number of international covenants in terms of religious freedom as a basic human right.”

Religious exemptions affecting gay students and staff

On Saturday, two hundred attended a Brisbane protest rally opposing LGBTIQ discrimination in the name of “religious freedom”.

PFLAG’s Shelley Argent told the rally the Ruddock religious freedom review found “little of concern” to Australians of faith. She warned existing laws protecting LGBTIQ people must not be undermined.

Others at the rally called for the repealing of religious exemptions currently allowing faith schools to discriminate against LGBT students and staff.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the laws relating to faith-based schools would be considered separately.

“Separate to this process, we have also asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to inquire into religious exemptions to discrimination laws across Australia,” he said.

“The ALRC inquiry is designed to ensure that legislative exemptions to discrimination based on a person’s identity are limited or removed, while also protecting the right of religious institutions to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos.”

The ALRC will give their report to the Attorney-General in April next year.

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