In a Federation like Australia, different jurisdictions (States and Territories) may have different rules on what amounts to “discrimination” or “vilification”, and how those things interact with religious freedom. One of the pressing issues here in recent years has been whether there will be a “race to the bottom” in freedom of speech on religious issues, with one jurisdiction in particular, Tasmania, raising deep concerns with a very broad prohibition on causing “offence” related to matters such as sexual orientation.
Today the High Court of Australia, on appeal from NSW, has affirmed the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal that State and Territory “tribunals” (non-judicial panels usually used in discrimination issues) have no jurisdiction to impose penalties on residents of other Australian jurisdictions under their own local laws. The important decision in Burns v Corbett  HCA 15 (18 April 2018) (court-prepared summary available here) is a good outcome, and at the very least will force Australian jurisdictions to consider very carefully whether they want their local law to apply in other parts of the country. If they do, they will be required to give jurisdiction in those cases to their courts, rather than to lower tribunals.
I am presenting a paper on this topic this evening to a group of Christian health professionals in Newcastle. The paper may be downloaded here: Same Sex Marriage and Christian Health Professionals. The PowerPoint slides are also available: Foster RF for Health Professionals presentation.
The recent decision of the England and Wales Court of Appeal in Pemberton v Inwood  EWCA Civ 564 (22 March 2018) upholds what was in effect disciplinary action taken against a Church of England clergyman, the Reverend Canon Jeremy Pemberton, on account of his entering into a same-sex marriage. The decision is a sensible one which upholds the religious freedom of the Anglican church to operate in accordance with its fundamental religious beliefs.
A judge of the Federal Court of Australia, Justice Jagot, handed down a decision recently in which her Honour said that a Tribunal’s reasoning, based on the assumption that a person could never change their sexual orientation, was “affected by illogicality of the kind required to constitute jurisdictional error”- para . The decision, in Abboud v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 185 (2 March 2018), was a sharp reminder that bureaucratic decisions must be based on evidence and not pre-conceived policy stances. The comments may have wider implications for arguments that are often unthinkingly presented about the possibility of someone changing their sexual orientation.
I presented a paper at a conference on “Freedom of Religion or Belief: Creating the Constitutional Space for Other Fundamental Freedoms” on Thursday 15 Feb. The paper, “Protection of Religious Freedom under Australia’s Amended Marriage Law: Constitutional and Other Issues” is linked here for those who are interested: Freedom of Religion or Belief paper Foster .
I argue that, while some religious freedom rights are protected under the amended marriage law, there are some serious gaps in protection for some involved deeply in the celebration of same sex weddings, and also a failure to deal with a range of other issues, such as the ability of faith-based schools to operate in accordance with their fundamental commitments in both engagement of staff and teaching pupils, and whether people who conscientiously believe that same sex relationships are not best for human flourishing will be penalised in the workplace or elsewhere. I note that at least one State in the US has enacted legislation to deal with these issues, which has survived one challenge in the US Supreme Court, and I recommend that Australia seriously consider also legislating in this way.
A recent decision by a California Superior Court Judge holds that a bakery cannot be required by discrimination law to make a same sex wedding cake, where the owner has a religious reason for declining to do so. In Department of Fair Employment and Housing v Cathy’s Creations Inc (Cal Sup Ct, Kern Cty; BCV-17-102855; Lampe J, 5 Feb 2018) Judge Lampe refused an injunction against Cathy Miller, proprietor of Tastries Bakery, which would have required her to create a wedding cake for the same sex wedding of Mireya and Eileen Rodriguez-Del Rio. The basis for the decision was the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, the judge holding that creating a wedding cake was a constitutionally protected form of “free speech”.
The Religious Freedom Review Panel, chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock, has invited submissions from all Australians on the protection of religious freedom in Australia. Submissions are being accepted until 14 February 2018. I attach a copy of my submission here: Submission on Religious Freedom Protection for RF Review Expert Panel (with permission of the Review Panel), and one of its attachments: Foster Attachment 1- Religious Freedom in Australia overview 2017. (There is a second attachment which I will release later, as it is a copy of a paper I am presenting at a conference in a couple of weeks.) Those who are interested in the area may find it helpful to see the sort of topics that I think ought to be addressed.