Faith service providers reject Religious Discrimination Bill

anglicare victoria midsumma festival 2020 religious discrimination bill
Photo: Anglicare Victoria

Leaders from six Victorian faith-based service providers say the latest draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill goes “too far” and the government should not pass it.

The leaders of Anglicare Victoria (pictured above), Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Jewish Care Victoria, McAuley Community Services for Women, Sacred Heart Mission and Uniting Vic.Tas have all signed a joint statement slamming the current proposal.

The providers say they oppose the current Bill because it allows people to use faith “as a means to cause harm to clients, customers, staff and volunteers”.

“Although we come from different faiths, we’re united in our focus on community and social service,” they wrote.

“We are proud of the work we do. We believe a divisive national conversation about whether people of faith should be able to discriminate against people of no, or different faiths, is not in the national interest.”

They say the laws must “balance religious freedom against the rights” of other Australians.

Religious discrimination bill will have ‘unintended consequences’

The providers say they “uphold the religious faith on which our work is founded, providing services to anyone who needs them”. But at the same time, they also “respect the diverse faith” of both staff and clients.

However, they’re concerned about “unintended consequences” stemming from the bill. They say it will “privilege expressions of religious belief above the rights of other Australians to freedom from discrimination.”

“The proposed Bill has the potential to create additional barriers for people. [This includes] accessing medical services and housing, engaging in employment and participating in social and public life,” they write.

“For people who are marginalised and experiencing social exclusion, this is likely to cause further harm and distress.

“We do not support the Religious Discrimination Bill as it currently stands. We do not believe it will benefit the Australian community.”

Instead, they say, the government should legislate to “protect religious freedom without removing protections from those who need it.”

Second draft of religion bill slammed

Equality Australia published the joint statement from the organisations’ leaders on Monday. CEO Anna Brown said it was great to see them “calling for laws that protect all of us, equally.”

“The government needs to genuinely engage with the concerns raised. [They must] draft a Bill that doesn’t give protections to one group of people at the expense of others,” she said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter released a revamped second draft of the religious discrimination bill last December. However, it was quickly panned by LGBTIQ advocates as even worse than the original.

Concerns range from anti-discrimination law and health services to harmful “conversion” practices and impacts on Indigenous Australians.

Among Australia’s churches, Sydney’s Catholic Archdiocese and Anglican Diocese want wider-ranging ­protec­tions than in the latest Bill.

However, the Uniting Church in Australia says the latest Bill fails to “get the balance right”.

“Privileging statements of religious belief [over] other’s dignity and wellbeing is not something we support,” the church’s President Dr Deidre Palmer said.

“Christians in Australia aren’t persecuted. In Australia, churches aren’t victims. To cultivate some kind of victim status is disingenuous.”

Public submissions on the new draft closed on January 31. Attorney-General Christian Porter will introduce the Bill to parliament this year.

Read more: Vinnies slams Morrison Government after ‘religious freedom’ shoutout

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