A number of Christian and other religious organisations are deeply concerned about the proposals in the ALP-sponsored private Bill due to be debated in the Senate on Monday Dec 3. As I have discussed in previous comments (here and here) the Bill, which started out as an agreed measure to stop religious schools from expelling gay students on the basis of their “orientation” alone, has a number of other serious consequences for religious freedom, not only for schools but for churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious organisations (such as, for example, University student ministries.)
The Bill amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to remove some clauses which have previously provided protection for Christian organisations to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. It narrows the scope of s 37 of the Act, which has previously exempted religious bodies acting in accordance with their beliefs from being sued for discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. If the Bill in its current form goes through, a Christian student group, for example, may not be legally able to require those who engage in “education” on its behalf (whether at public meetings or in small groups) to teach the Bible’s view on sex or sexual activity. A church may find that its “education” in small groups or in its church services can be challenged as providing “less favourable” treatment to same sex attracted members of the congregation.
As well as my previous comments on this blog, see these other comments from Christian organisations:
- “Why Australian Religious Freedom Is Under Legal Threat” (Akos Balogh, Gospel Coalition Australia, 1 Dec 2018)
- “ALP’s Bill to Severely Limit Freedom of Religious Schools and Colleges and Religious Education in Churches, Mosques, Temples” (Mark Sneddon, Institute for Civil Society, 30 Nov 2018).
I have been asked how concerned citizens can contact their Parliamentary representatives. There is a helpful “contact page” which allows electronic messages to be sent on this Parliament house web page. There is a box to type in your postcode to find out who your local MP is, and the “refine search” menu on this page enables you to identify all the Senators for your State.
Points that could be made include:
- No religious schools want to be able to expel same sex attracted students on the grounds of their sexual orientation alone.
- However, the current ALP-sponsored Bill goes far beyond dealing with this problem, and will seriously reduce the religious freedom of religious schools to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs.
- The Bill is also so widely framed that it removes protections for all “religious bodies” in relation to “education”, and this has the potential to make it unlawful for churches, mosques and synagogues to teach the doctrines of their faith to their own members.
- It would be best if legislation was not rushed through at the last minute. Parliament should wait until the Ruddock Report has been released and there is time for careful consideration and consultation before making any amendments in this area.