Ever since Australia voted in favour of same-sex marriage through a referendum religious freedom and simply freedom of speech has been under attack. To alleviate this the Federal government has proposed a Religious Discrimination Bill. Even though I am a born again Christian I believe all people, whether religious or not, should have the freedom of speech.
However, those in charge believe such a bill is necessary. Here is what the National Director of Family Voice Australia had to say in a recent email concerning the proposed bill.
‘On the 29 August, the Federal government released an Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. The Draft starts out well with worthy objects and a direction that in giving effect to the objects of the Act, regard is to be had to “the indivisibility and universality of human rights and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights.”
We may infer that this is advice to those charged with adjudicating disputes that as far as possible they are not to elevate one protected attribute above another.
Another object is that people can make statements of belief – consistent with Australia’s obligations with respect to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and subject to specified limits. The inference here is to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, together with other international covenants and conventions listed.
The Draft defines discrimination on the grounds of belief – and therefore what is not discrimination. It is helpful to have this clearly stated.
The Draft recognises the right of religious people to make statements of faith and to practise their faith – and that this is not inherently discriminatory, though in some cases this may be contested.
In the appointment of a Commission for Religious Freedom there is some protection in the event of a charge when rights are competing. The Commissioner is appointed to ensure balance in the application of laws. However, the Bill provides no guidance on how this balance will be arrived at.
The Draft also leaves judges (and commissioners) to determine core beliefs of a faith. In a dispute between competing rights this is likely to be a factor upon which much could hinge. This should not be the case.
Attempts have been made to strengthen protections in the workplace, among professional associations and the health sector, but the protections are qualified and limited.
There is no definition of what it means to vilify. This is a very subjective term which can be used to restrict religious speech.
There is no provision for commercial businesses that have a purpose arising from the faith of the owners/management.
The Bill does not reflect the true nature of conscientious objection – that it is not a matter of moral preference but of principle.
The Bill by its very existence is an acknowledgement that religion is important. However it does not fully reflect the nature of the religious motivation – that a person of faith may be speaking or acting out of integrity or genuine concern according to their faith and conscience and yet be wrongly perceived as being malicious and harmful. And this may well be the role of this law – not to be a moralistic document but to practically address the conflicts that arise from difference and to limit the permissible forms of discrimination.
This applies to the motivation for establishing and operating faith-based institutions and importantly to sincere individuals in all sectors. Faith should not be viewed as an unwelcome element of society but as an important part of the moral and compassionate social fabric.
Will the nation be better off for this Act? Time will tell. Religious freedom is so important because it is not simply about freedom to make a statement of belief in respect of a disputed moral issue. It is about the role of true believers in the whole scope of the national life at every junction of society, being salt and light – both preserving what is good and dispelling the darkness in the national conversation.’
It is a slippery slope further into the abyss of freedoms lost when sin is accepted by the nation’s populace and its government.