Fired for using the wrong pronouns

Two cases have been highlight overseas recently where a Christian employee has been fired for declining to use the “preferred pronoun” of a person who identifies as a different gender to their biological sex. The cases illustrate that religious freedom, and free speech generally, in the workplace can be under challenge in circumstances involving “gender identity” issues. It is not clear how such cases would be resolved in Australia.

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Freedom for Faith submission on the draft Religious Discrimination Bill

“Freedom for Faith” has released its submission to the Commonwealth Government on its Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill. It can be downloaded here. I recommend it as an excellent overview of the Bill, with a good summary of its good points and some areas where it could be improved. I have provided some previous comments on the Bill here and here. Public submissions are still being received here until October 2.

New Commonwealth Religious Freedom Laws

The Commonwealth Attorney-General has released Exposure Drafts of a package of Federal Bills designed to improve religious freedom protections under Australian law, along with associated explanatory information. The legislation responds to the recommendations of the Ruddock Panel into Religious Freedom, released late in 2018. Public comment has been invited by 2 October, 2019.

The main item is the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (“RDB”), which broadly replicates the existing pattern of anti-discrimination laws enacted by the Commonwealth, but picking up for the first time at the Federal level the “protected characteristics” of “religious belief or activity”. Two ancillary Bills propose consequential amendments to other legislation, add some specific matters to be taken into account in objects clauses for other discrimination laws, and slightly amend or clarify the laws on charities and marriage.

The RDB is a lengthy document (68 clauses over 52 pages), with some complexities that will need to be unpacked. But I would like to offer a brief overview and an initial response, which will be followed up later by more detailed comments about particular issues. I can say, however, that it looks like being a worthwhile and helpful change which in general will further the cause of religious freedom (for both believers and non-believers) in Australia.

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Social work student wins appeal against dismissal for views on sexuality

An important decision of the England and Wales Court of Appeal, The Queen (on the application of Ngole) -v- The University of Sheffield [2019] EWCA Civ 1127 (3 July 2019) has ruled that a social work student, Felix Ngole, should not have been dismissed from his course on the basis of comments he made on social media sharing the Bible’s view on homosexuality. The court says in its summary at para [5], point (10):

The mere expression of views on theological grounds (e.g. that ‘homosexuality is a sin’) does not necessarily connote that the person expressing such views will discriminate on such grounds.

The decision is a welcome one, which will hopefully provide guidance in similar situations.

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