Australian bishops welcome religious discrimination bill

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The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference welcomes a new bill against religious discrimination to be discussed by the House of Representatives next week. According to the bishops, this is a step towards parity with other anti-discrimination laws in Australia.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Australian government this week introduced a new religious discrimination bill that would provide additional protections for Australians of all faiths to express their beliefs. The bill, which was first announced in 2017, was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, November 24 by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, following a number of compromise changes from previous drafts. It will be debated and voted on in the House of Representatives next week.

The provisions of the bill

The new legislation aims to ensure that “statements of belief” are not considered discriminatory, as long as they do not threaten, intimidate, harass or defame a person; or would be considered malicious by a “reasonable person”. The bill also clarifies that religious organizations can “generally” act in accordance with their faith in certain situations without this being considered discriminatory.

However, it does not contain a controversial provision that was included in the original draft, which would have protected someone from being fired for expressing a religious belief. Another provision, which would have allowed medical personnel to refuse treatment to people on religious grounds, has also been removed.

A positive expression of religious freedom

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference hailed the compromise text as a “step towards parity with other anti-discrimination laws in Australia.” Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, chairman of the Bishops’ Commission on Life, Family and Public Service, said he offered “a positive expression of religious freedom,” noting that “discrimination based on belief or religious activity is only inconsistently recognized and protected. against ”in Australia.

Do not discriminate against religious beliefs

“All Australian citizens, regardless of their belief or religious activity, should be able to participate fully in our society. They must have the right to the equal and effective protection of the law and must not be discriminated against on the basis of their religious convictions or their activities in public life ”, affirmed the prelate.

An acceptable compromise

Noting that the Australian bishops had hoped the bill would go further in protecting religious freedom, Bishop Comensoli said the more limited bill “will always be an important recognition of the rights of people with a religious faith to express. their religious beliefs and to engage in religious activities. ”.

Freedom to hire like-minded people

The prelate also supported the provisions of the bill that protect the ability of religious organizations to hire people who share their faith and values: “We want the freedom to hire people for the sake of our mission, just like other non-denominational organizations, “he said.” The value of religious organizations to believers and society in general lies in their religious mission and their ability to embody and pursue that religious mission, “he added.” Operating religious organizations, such as religious schools, in accordance with their mission includes recognition of their ability to hire staff who wish to teach and model the vision of the school ”.

Need bipartite support

According to Bishop Comensoli, the bill should therefore attract bipartisan support to ensure a lasting legacy for laws that help prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their religious faith: “Because what is tabled is a modest and positive proposition. protection against religious discrimination, I hope that both houses of Parliament will offer him safe passage without reduction in the Senate, ”he said.


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