Australia: Religious groups could lose exemption from anti-discrimination law

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Religious organisations in Australia could lose exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, under recommendations from an inquiry which suggested that the ruling Labor Party’s proposed legal changes needed to remove protections for groups to discriminate, where it would otherwise be unlawful.

The parliamentary inquiry found that Labor’s proposed laws would need to be substantially changed, including removing the exceptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate, including that based on sexuality.

The inquiry was looking at Labor’s draft bill to consolidate five pieces of legislation which make up Australia’s anti-discrimination laws.

Religious organisations which run schools and health care services would have been protected under the legislation, however the committee leading the investigation said that no group should be given “blanket exception” from anti-discrimination law.

The majority report, filed by Labor and Green members of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee found that “no organisation should enjoy a blanket exception from anti-discrimination law when they are involved in service delivery to the general community”.

The committee recommended amendments to the legislation modelled on Tasmania’s 1998 Anti-Discrimination Act, which has much narrower protections for religious groups, reports Cathnews.

Australian Catholics Bishop Conference general secretary, Brian Lucas, said the recommendations could “undermine religious freedom”.

He said: “Anti-discrimination law has to strike a balance between competing values, and the exemptions as they are currently expressed by the commonwealth express that balance.”

“The fundamental value here of freedom of religion has to be recognised, not just as an exemption but as a significant part of the way we live in a pluralist society. I don’t think the Senate committee report has done justice to that.”

Earlier this wee, an Australian judge threw out a challenge to the national ban on equal marriage, on the grounds that the law banning same-sex marriage does not discriminate against people based on gender.

A recent report by Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG), based in the Australian state of Queensland, said that gay, lesbian, and bisexual students face bullying from their teachers as well as their peers.