OPINION: Peter Black on the Religious Freedom Bills


peter black quac religious freedoms bills

Peter Black, President of QuAC discusses the draft Religious Freedoms Bills and their potential impact on our communities. Peter Black is a Senior Lecturer in Law, teaching and researching in internet law, media law and Australian Constitutional law. As a firm advocate of equality and fairness for the LGBTI communities, Peter Black was also Queensland Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality.

Two years ago we were in the midst of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. The Government concocted the expensive, harmful and unnecessary exercise in an effort to delay and deny LGBTI people equality.

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In response, LGBTI people and communities, friends, family members, colleagues, and even complete strangers came together to campaign for equality. We shared our personal stories, we door knocked, we made phone calls, we posted on social media and we marched. Along the way, we supported one another. In 2017, we all became activists and the Australian people rewarded that effort.

They voted in overwhelming numbers for fairness and equality.

Peter Black says the fight for equality is not over.

Just a week after the announcement of the result, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a review into religious freedom. The review concluded that “by and large, Australians enjoy a high degree of religious freedom, and that basic protections are in place in Australian law.” Despite that, the review also made 20 recommendations to enhance the protection of freedom of religion.

Some 15 months later, the government released three draft Religious Freedom Bills. The government additionally referred several related matters to the Australian Law Reform Commission for further consideration.

These Bills are technical and unorthodox pieces of legislation.

If they only sought to protect religion in the same way existing laws protect age, disability, sex, and race, they would not necessarily cause concern.

However, these Bills privilege religious belief and activity over other beliefs and activities.

In particular, the Religious Discrimination Bill, the most significant of the three Bills, is novel.

It goes beyond the provisions of existing discrimination laws. It introduces special entitlements for people of faith. Those entitlements erode existing anti-discrimination protections for others, including LGBTI people, women, people of colour and people with a disability. For example, a provision seemingly inspired by the Israel Folou case will make it harder for employers to create a safe and welcoming environment for LGBTI people.

Another provision will allow doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health practitioners to refuse services on the basis of religious belief. Those services can include abortion, contraception, and procedures for transgender patients.

State and Territory Law

The Religious Discrimination Bill also waters down current protections offered by state laws. It contains a provision unique amongst Australia’s anti-discrimination laws. That provision privileges religious belief.

It provides that a statement of belief made in good faith will not constitute discrimination under Commonwealth, state or territory discrimination law, unless the statement is malicious, or is likely to harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against a person or group of persons, or advocates for the commission of a serious criminal offence.

That provision overrides subsection 17(1) of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

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This Bill is the first and only example of a federal discrimination law explicitly drafted to override other discrimination laws.

The law will protect statements of religious belief made in good faith that offend, humiliate, insult or intimidate LGBTI people, women, people of colour, or people with a disability regardless of relevant state or territory laws.

Extraordinarily, the Explanatory Notes to the Bill indicate that Government seems to believe that the right to offend, humiliate, insult or intimidate is necessary to protect ‘the freedom to express religious beliefs’.

QuAC

The Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) is Queensland’s oldest and largest LGBTI health organisation.

QuAC is concerned at the potential impact of these radical and reactionary laws on LGBTI people and communities.

Earlier this month we held a statewide community forum to discuss a response from our communities and to gather feedback.

Consequently, we prepared resources to inform our communities of the potential impact of the laws and to encourage people to action.

I encourage everyone to visit QuAC’s website to learn more about the Religious Freedom Bills.

These proposed laws are complex.

Therefore, we prepared a summary to explain the potential impact of these laws on LGBTI people and communities.

If, after learning more about the proposed legislation, you share our concerns, we encourage you to take action.

Less than two years after we achieved marriage equality together, we must now embark on a new fight. Should Australian law allow discrimination against our communities in the name of religious freedom?

What you can do

We need you to talk to your friends and family about the proposed laws. We need you to make a brief submission to the Attorney-General’s Department explaining why you are opposed to some or all of the proposed laws.

Our Useful Religious Freedom Bills Talking Points might assist as a basis for a submission to him and/or your Member of Parliament or Senator.

Please call, email, fax, or make an appointment to see your Member of Parliament or Senator.

We need the Government to hear the voices of LGBTI people in this process.

We need the Government to legislate to protect and benefit everyone, not to privilege some belief over others.

And we need to remind the Government that when Australians voted YES in 2017, they voted YES to fairness and equality, not to more discrimination.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.