Australia’s anti-LGBT+ prime minister wants to protect religious people from ‘cancel culture’

The prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison

Australia has introduced a new bill to prevent discrimination – by protecting religious people from cancel culture.

On Thursday (25 November), Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison introduced the Religious Discrimination Bill, which he said would allow faith-based organisations like churches, schools and workplaces to override anti-discrimination laws, as long as their “statements of belief” don’t “threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group”.

While introducing the bill to the lower house of Australia’s parliament, the anti-LGBT+ prime minister and pentecostal Christian said: “Many people from various religious traditions are concerned about the lack of religious protection against the prevalence of ‘cancel culture’ in Australian life.

“People should not be cancelled or persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s.

“Australians shouldn’t have to worry about looking over their shoulder, fearful of offending an anonymous person on Twitter or transgressing against political or social zeitgeists.”

In reality, the bill would allow religious Australians to legally discriminate against minorities, including LGBT+ people and people with disabilities, advocates have warned.

Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre explained in a release that it would “allow people to make derogatory, offensive and harmful statements of belief, including in workplaces, schools and health services, and that override federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, thereby denying victims an important avenue for justice”, and well as “grant unprecedented licence to religious bodies, including schools and charities, to discriminate against people of a different faith or no faith in a range of circumstances”.

Adrianne Walters, the centre’s legal director, said in a statement: “Our laws should protect people of faith and no faith from discrimination, without granting religious organisations new licence to discriminate against others. Women, LGBT+ communities, people with disability, school students and people of faith should not fear unfair treatment and harm.

“The Morrison government’s proposed law fails on all fronts.”

Anna Brown, CEO of the LGBT+ rights group Equality Australia, told Al Jazeera: “What constitutes discrimination today, will be lawful tomorrow, allowing people to say harmful, insulting and demeaning things.

“Things like a medical worker telling a person living with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from God, or a person living with disability that their disability is caused by the devil.”

The bill is expected to be voted on by the Australia’s senate next year.

Religious discrimination has been a talking point for conservatives in Australia since the passing of marriage equality

After Australia legalised same-sex marriage in 2017, the discussion around “religious discrimination” reached a fever pitch.

At the time, conservatives in the country’s government even launched an inquiry into whether marriage equality would restrict the freedom of expression of religious groups.

The debate was sparked again nationally, and globally, when in 2019 rugby player Israel Folau was sacked from the New South Wales Waratahs rugby union team and the Australian national squad for making homophobic remarks, including that “hell awaits” gay people.

Folau later launched legal action against Rugby Australia, claiming that his employment was terminated on the basis of religion. The two parties eventually came to an undisclosed settlement.