What’s inside the updated Religious Discrimination Bill?

What’s inside the updated Religious Discrimination Bill?

24 November 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Religious Discrimination Bill

Following controversial drafts that unfairly targeted women, the LGBTQIA+ community and people of non-religious beliefs, the Religious Discrimination Bill has been released and will soon be introduced to Federal Parliament with the aim of voting on it prior to the next election – but what will that mean for those groups?

Previous drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill had left legal groups concerned that it would override existing discrimination protections and allow health practitioners to put their religious beliefs ahead of a patient’s health. The revised bill, released this week, has watered down those more contentious provisions in favour of eliminating “so far as possible” discrimination based on religious beliefs.

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The updated bill includes a provision to shield Australians who make statements of belief from state anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws, which would mean that religious comments that do not “constitute vilification” can be expressed. Similar protections would be afforded to people who do not hold any religious beliefs.

One of the more controversial sections of the draft bill, named for former Rugby Union player Israel Folau who posted “hell awaits” LGBTQIA+ people, would have prevented companies from terminating employees based on their religious beliefs or comments. This provision has been scrapped entirely from the updated bill.

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However, the bill will permit religious bodies – including schools, aged care facilities and religious hospitals – to “generally” act in accordance with their faith in some situations without it being deemed discriminatory. This will mean that these bodies could turn people away who do not practice a particular religion.

In a letter circulated earlier this week, legal and advocacy bodies said that a bill that would make it harder for employers, educators, and professional and licensing bodies to foster inclusive cultures and protect their employees from discrimination based on their non-religious beliefs “would not attract our support”.

“It must ensure all workers, students, customers and clients are equally protected from discrimination, no matter who they are, whom they love or what they believe. It must not privilege the rights and beliefs of one group over another. It must be alive to the real harm caused by divisive and discriminatory rhetoric that undermines the inclusive society we have attempted to build together,” the letter reads.

Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), a signatory of the letter, said the government should be focusing on promoting respect and inclusion in law while also ensuring that no child is discriminated against by their school because of their beliefs.

“Our laws should protect people of faith from discrimination, without granting religious organisations new license to discriminate against others. Women, LGBTQIA+ communities, people with disability, school students and minority faith communities should not fear unfair treatment and harm as a result of the Morrison government’s proposed laws,” HRLC legal director Adrianne Walters said.

What’s inside the updated Religious Discrimination Bill?
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