Discrimination and Freedom of Religion: CYC v Cobaw

One of the most important Law and Religion cases in Australia over the last few years has been the litigation involving the decision of Christian Youth Camps (CYC) to decline a booking from Cobaw Community Health for a camp the purpose of which was to teach that homosexuality is a normal and natural form of human sexuality. (For the original tribunal decision see here, for the appeal decision affirming most of the Tribunal’s findings, see here.) The decision, particularly the 2014 Victorian Court of Appeal decision, is an important one because it deals with one of the most vexed issues facing believers adhering to traditional sexual morality, facing a Western world which is rapidly abandoning previous views.

For many years, even following the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, Christians and other religious believers could assume that core beliefs on sexual morality were still generally seen as worthwhile by most of society, even if increasingly not complied with: views applauding faithfulness to marriage vows, warning against the unwisdom of pre-marital sex, supporting heterosexual intercourse as normal and homosexual behaviour as wrong or at least “not normal”. But in recent years views of this sort are not simply seen as outdated and eccentric, they are now seen as positively “evil” (although the irony of using “moral” words like “evil” in a discourse which claims to reject morality is not usually noted.) Hence Christians and others will find their ability to adhere to traditional sexual morality, and not to be required to support other views, is increasingly being undermined.

I believe that a strong support for religious freedom would provide an appropriate balance here. I wrote a paper outlining the CA CYC v Cobaw decision shortly after it was handed down, and suggesting where the majority had gone wrong. At the time I hoped that the High Court of Australia would grant special leave to appeal the decision so some of these matters could be clarified. (See here for a short piece arguing for this published in one of Australia’s mainstream law journals.) Unfortunately, just before Christmas, the High Court declined to grant special leave. I have written a comment on the decision, making some suggestions for the implications for the future. These important issues will not go away, but it seems we may have to wait a bit longer before some of them are authoritatively resolved.