Following earlier announcements by the Premier of NSW, the rules regarding public gatherings in the State have been amended with effect from 1 July 2020, in the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) 2020 (“PHO No 4”). This post comments on matters that relate to churches and other religious bodies. For my previous post on the rules under PHO No 3, see here.
In a controversial decision, the United States Supreme Court has held by 6-3, in Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia (No. 17–1618; June 15, 2020), that the prohibition of “sex discrimination” in the workplace in Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 means that an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”. Both majority and minority focus strongly on the issues of how statutes should be interpreted. In my view the concerns expressed by the minority about the “literal” approach of the majority judgment are well-justified, as are the possible detrimental implications for religious freedom in the USA. I will also comment briefly on how similar issues would be resolved in Australia.
Further to my previous posts on the COVID-19 health rules affecting church services and activities (see here and here), and a paper I presented recently, the NSW Government has released amendments to the previous rules, which take effect today, June 13. This post provides a summary of the more important changes that will affect churches and other religious bodies.
This is a brief update to my previous post on recently announced changes to restrictions on gathering and movement in NSW (now, in fact, dealing with “gatherings” rather than movement) as they affect churches. The NSW Government has now (as of 31 May) put up online guidance on how “Places of Worship” should be managed. This contains a link to what is called a “COVID-19 Safety Plan” for churches.
While the guidance is generally very helpful, there are unfortunately some inconsistencies between the linked guidance and the formal provisions of the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 3) 2020 (“RGM Order No 3”). It is this order that provides legally binding obligations on NSW citizens, being an order of the Minister for Health and Medical Research, made under section 7 of the Public Health Act 2010 (NSW), breach of which amounts to a criminal offence under s 10 of that Act.
I have previously commented on the rules concerning movement from home, gatherings in public places and opening of public premises which have been applied in Australia while we deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The NSW Minister for Health has just released the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 3) 2020 (“RGM Order No 3”), which commences operation on Monday 1 June 2020 and repeals and replaces the previous orders. In this post I want to outline what the new rules will be in their effect on churches. (These comments will apply in similar ways to other religious groups, of course.)
In NSW a private member’s Bill designed to improve complaint handing procedures in relation to allegations of discrimination and vilification is being considered by a Committee of the Legislative Council. As a number of the issues have arisen in cases where comments have been made from a religious perspective, Freedom for Faith have made a submission on the Bill (the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Complaint Handling) Bill 2020). As a board member of Freedom for Faith I had some input into the submission, which for those interested can be downloaded here:
The Committee’s home page indicates that submissions closed today (April 26), but I suspect that if others wished to make submissions on the legislation and given the disruptions caused by the current situation, the Committee may be willing to accept late submissions.
For most believers in Australia, “law and religion” issues have been interesting but not part of their regular experience. But in this unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic, the simple activity of attending regular church services or home groups has been, like much of the rest of life, turned upside down. We now find that our normal weekly gatherings are potentially illegal! In this post I want to review some of the recently-made laws that impact church meetings in Australia.
The second draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill continues to generate much debate. I am presenting a paper to the Newcastle Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship which gives an overview of the Bill, responds briefly to some of the recent criticisms, and explores some of the implications of the Bill for legal practitioners. The paper can be downloaded here: