Australian churches: Give us federal right to discriminate according to religious beliefs

Churches and religious organisations in Australia have called for a ‘Religious Freedom Act’ which would enshrine the right of faith groups to hire and fire employees if their sexuality did not conform with religious teaching.

Australian anti-discrimination laws contain exemptions and exceptions for faith organisations to discriminate in accordance with their religious views, including when hiring employees for their institutions.

However, faith groups propose that specific federal law be made to protect religious freedom, which would override the anti-discrimination laws of Australia’s states and territories.

In a submission to Phillip Ruddock’s Religious Freedom Review, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has said that the law needs to clarify whether “religious freedom protection (is) offered to religious bodies so they cannot be compelled to allow Church property to be used for purposes which do not accord with their beliefs”.

The conference fears that faith school chapels could be used for same sex weddings against the wishes of the diocese, if the school principal gave permission.

Thousands gather in Prince Alfred Park in Sydney for the result of the vote (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)


The group’s submission continues to say that “the freedom of Catholic schools to employ staff who embrace Christianity is essential for providing effective religious education and faith formation to their students”.

It adds that teachers should do anything “publicly that would undermine the transmission of those teaching[s]”.

The proposed law would bolster the right of church-run organisations the right to hire and fire in accordance with their values – which would apply to employees who are in a same sex relationship.

It would also label religious exemptions as a “genuine occupational qualification”, and not discrimination.

However, the bishops denied that this would amount to a license to discriminate against LGBT people when hiring and firing.

Australians celebrate legalising gay marriage in Melbourne (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)


The Catholic Church said that its doctrines were “widely understood”, meaning that religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws when hiring were rarely used.

A similar proposal has been called for the Freedom for Faith think tank, on behalf of prominent churches including Hillsong, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, which said it had concerns about the “long term consequences of same-sex marriage” for religious freedom.

Last year, a teacher at a Baptist school in Rockingham, Western Australia was sacked after revealing he was in a same sex relationship online. The school said it did not accord with its “foundational beliefs”.

LGBT groups have slammed the proposal, calling for all exceptions which allow discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity to be abolished.

LGBT campaigning group Just Equal said: “This includes those provisions that allow discrimination and vilification by religious individuals and faith-based organisations such as schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and aged care facilities”.

(Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Their call to abolish religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws was echoed by the Equality Campaign, the body which lobbied for a ‘yes’ vote in last year’s plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile Australia’s Human Rights Commission said it would not support the proposed law, if it were to permit any kind of discrimination which is currently illegal.

The Ruddock commission was established in response to the passing of equal marriage bill, to “consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights”.

Submissions to the commission have now closed, which will report to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on March 31.