De-register the ACL!

The Victorian Secular Lobby has started a petition on to de-register the Australian Christian Lobby as a charity.

  • We call upon the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to de-register the Australian Christian Lobby as a charity, thus receiving special benefits from taxpayers. The group, as the name makes clear, is a lobby group that does not engage in any charitable activity in the accepted sense of the word.
  • The Governance Standards of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission states that activities must be non-profit and must be for the public benefit. In raising funds for Israel Folou, we believe that the ACL has acted for a private benefit, and not in a charitable manner. Israel Folou was sacked by administrators of Rugby Australia (RA) for breaching his employment contract.
  • Further, we call upon the Australian Federal government to remove the clause of the Charities Act which allows for "Advancing Religion" as sufficient reason for an organization to receive charitable status. Religious organizations who wish to be recognized as charities must engage in the same charitable activities as non-religious organizations (e.g., advance health, education, welfare, human rights, animal welfare etc). No special benefits or restrictions should apply to an organization because of their religious belief.
  • We also encourage individuals to raise concerns directly to the ACNC with the behaviour of the ACL to try to use the "advancing religion" clause for a private, non-charitable, benefit.

About The Victorian Secular Lobby

what secularism means
Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785

The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."

It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.

The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:

1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.

Our policies are also available for review.

News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.

The Victorian Secular Lobby's contact details are:

POB 15
Carlton South
Victoria, 3053
public AT victoriansecular DOT org

The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A

Religious discrimination bill gets delayed as PM Scott Morrison announces new draft

Legislation aimed at preventing religious discrimination will not be introduced to Federal Parliament this year as planned, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

The proposed laws, described as "friendless" by the Opposition, have been widely criticised by religious groups and equality advocates.

The announcement caps off a difficult week for the Morrison Government, which lost a Senate vote on its union-busting bill and faced sustained questions over a police investigation involving Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

In a statement, Mr Morrison said the Government had given further consideration to hundreds of submissions made to the draft bill and would issue a second version, with changes.

"This second and final exposure draft will be released before the end of the year, and will take account of issues raised and provide the opportunity to respond to the revisions made and fine-tune the bill before it is introduced next year," he said.

"We made a commitment to Australians to address this issue at the last election and we are keeping faith with that commitment in a calm and considered process. We're about listening and getting this right."

The draft legislation attracted about 6,000 submissions, many of which were critical.

"I have yet to see any wholehearted or enthusiastic support coming from either religious organisations, equality groups or the business community," Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said shortly before Mr Morrison's announcement.

"It is currently, as a draft bill, a friendless piece of legislation."

Groups weigh in

The Australian Christian Lobby welcomed the decision to re-draft the bill.

"We're not asking for any special bells and whistles, we're not asking for big extras," managing director Martin Iles said.

"We're simply asking that the offerings that have already been made in the bill get fine-tuned and tweaked and made a little bit better."

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown also welcomed the delay but urged the Government to make significant changes.

"Clearly it doesn't strike the right balance and hands a licence to discriminate to religious institutions and interests and winds back equality for LGBTI people and women and people with disability," Ms Brown said.

"We need legislation in this country that protects everyone equally."

Attorney-General Christian Porter previously conceded the bill would face a "complicated" debate in Parliament but said he intended to introduce it in the final sitting fortnight which ends next week.

"I can't give a watertight guarantee that'll happen, but that's the goal that I've been working to," he told the National Press Club earlier this month.

Mr Porter also announced changes in relation to religious schools and aged care providers, giving them the right to hire and fire employees according to the tenets of their faith.

It is not yet clear what other changes the second version of the legislation will include.

'This bill is friendless': Chris Bowen signals Labor could vote against religious freedom bill

Chris Bowen has signalled Labor could vote against the Morrison government’s religious discrimination legislation, characterising the bill as “friendless” – setting up a potential showdown in the final parliamentary sitting week for 2019, if the Morrison government brings the proposal on.

The New South Wales Labor right winger has been one of the more forceful voices internally post-election saying Labor must reconnect with faith communities, given Labor’s campaign review identified a Christian backlash in May. But Bowen says the Morrison government has botched the whole religious freedom process, and the current bill is “friendless”.

“I represent a very religious community,” the Labor frontbencher told Guardian Australia’s political podcast. “My electorate voted no on same-sex marriage and I voted yes, and I knew there would be a political price to pay for that, because I wasn’t representing the views of many of my constituents, but I was honest with them and upfront with them.”

“I think I’m right in saying I represent the most Catholic electorate in Australia, certainly in New South Wales, and there’s a heavy representation of Orthodox Christians,” Bowen said. “They are not just Christians, Christianity is very important to who they are.”

“But this bill is friendless. It is friendless”.

“The government has cocked it up so badly – I’ve got my religious leaders saying, we don’t like it, we think it is a pretty ordinary piece of legislation.”

The attorney-general Christian Porter released the government’s draft religious discrimination bill in August. Porter has said consistently the proposal will come to parliament before MPs leave Canberra for the summer.

But a spokesman for Porter would not give a definitive answer on Friday about whether the bill would be introduced as promised this coming week, the final sitting week for the year.

Government MPs believe it is possible the government will delay both internal and external consideration of the issue given the Morrison government suffered a major legislative defeat in the Senate this week, the Angus Taylor controversy is still front and centre, and the Porter proposal remains divisive inside the Coalition party room.

Some government MPs privately make the same point as Bowen – that the churches are not on board with the Porter proposal because they expected the Morrison government to deliver a more broad-ranging protection for religious freedom, rather than just deal with discrimination.

As well as pushback from the churches, there are objections from many other stakeholders about the proposal. Human rights and LGBTI groups, employer bodies and state anti-discrimination commissions are opposed, and key crossbench senators have said scepticism it is needed.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told the Labor caucus last week Labor supported freedom of religion, but did not support increasing discrimination. Bowen told the podcast the party was still to determine its final position on the bill. He said Labor was “all for religious freedom” but “I think the legislation as it is drafted is pretty bloody ordinary”.

The Labor frontbencher, who now has the health portfolio, said religion had been a difficult issue for Labor during the election, and the leadership group were worried during the contest about a negative backlash from faith groups about Labor’s progressive social policies.

The campaign coincided with considerable public controversy about Israel Folau’s commentary that hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters” which led to his sacking.

During the campaign, Bill Shorten said: “I don’t think if you’re gay you’re going to go to hell. I don’t know if hell exists actually. But I don’t think, if it does, that being gay is what sends you there.” Scott Morrison said Folau, as a public figure, should have exercised his freedom of speech more responsibly, but he also used the issue to call out to people of faith. “I admire people of religious conviction. I admire people who draw strength from their faith. I am one of those people.”

Bowen says faith, and protections for people to be able to articulate their faith in an increasingly secular age, was “a much bigger issue politically and electorally than anybody realised”.

He said Labor over the coming term needed to forge better connections with faith communities, and understand that some people feel there are restraints on what they can say. “If that’s the perception, that’s the reality. If they feel they can’t express their religious views, or they are potentially persecuted, then that’s a problem”.

“Conservatives and our critics in the media say Labor plays identity politics too much, but that’s bullshit,” Bowen said. “The Liberals play identity politics much more than we do, and much more effectively. They divide Australians. Scott Morrison in particular is a divider.”

He said faith was one issue where the Coalition was able to exploit division to its electoral advantage. But the most effective identity politics foray during the election, Bowen said, was the Coalition’s assault on Labor’s electric cars policy – a policy the government characterised as a “war on the weekend”.

Bowen said identity politics was now core to the Coalition’s courtship of voters. He said Morrison was able to persuade working people to vote against policies that would advance their material interests by declaring he was on their side culturally.

He said Labor needed to muscle up. “I say all right, if you want a fight about the culture wars, I say ok, sleeves up, let’s get into it and stand up for our values,” Bowen said. “We have to remind people we are on their side. We haven’t said that enough.”

Church groups threaten to withdraw support for religious discrimination bill

Church groups threaten to withdraw support for religious discrimination bill

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has suffered another blow to his policy agenda, with powerful religious leaders threatening to withdraw support for the government's religious discrimination bill unless greater freedoms are granted for Australians of faith.

In letter sent to Mr Morrison this week, a draft of which was seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, a coalition of religious groups says: "We take the view that it would be better to have no Religious Discrimination Act rather than a flawed one."

The groups, which include the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian National Imams Council and the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, say the bill in its current form will "diminish the religious freedom of faith groups in Australia".

The intervention, which could delay the bill's introduction to parliament until next year, follows a series of setbacks for the Morrison government in the second-last sitting week of 2019.

The government suffered a shock defeat on industrial relations law on Thursday and is facing mounting pressure over the conduct of Energy Minister Angus Taylor. It is also struggling to get the numbers to repeal the refugee medical transfer - or "medevac" - laws.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has been planning to introduce the controversial religious discrimination laws to parliament by Christmas. But the religious groups, which also include the Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia and Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist and Presbyterian leaders, suggest the government may be better off waiting.

"Given the time constraints of the parliamentary year and the need to redraft the bill to meet our concerns, we would be comfortable with seeing this important legislation introduced at the start of next year," the letter says.

The government released a draft bill in August, resulting in an avalanche of criticism from diverse religious groups who say the current version does not go far enough.

One of the specific criticisms from churches has been the definition of "religious body", as these are given special protections over their ability to hire and fire staff on the basis of religious belief. Churches, religious schools and registered charities all qualify as religious bodies, but not groups that engage primarily in "commercial activities".

In response to church concerns, Mr Porter last week announced he would update the bill to include religious hospitals and aged care homes as religious bodies. He described this as "probably the most significant change" to his draft bill.

During an address to the National Press Club, he observed that while religious groups might not be "deliriously happy" with what would be presented to parliament, he thought "there will ultimately be an endorsement".

In their letter, copied to Mr Porter, the religious leaders say they remain "deeply concerned" about the lack of protections for religious bodies engaged in commercial activities. They say there will be "very serious unintended consequences" for the operation of faith-based charities, such as Vinnies' op-shops and Christian campsites.

"This issue is mission-critical for many faith-based organisations which exist to further a religious purpose," the letter says. "On the current drafting, it would be an offence, for example, for a Christian campsite (if it operates "commercially") to advertise for Christian staff to run the campsite."

The religious leaders further warn the matters they raise "go to whether we would be able to endorse the bill at all, rather than speaking against it".

The proposed bill has also met with strong criticism elsewhere in the community. Equality Australia says the proposed laws will open the door to discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people and women. Business groups strongly object to plans to limit the restrictions companies with revenue of $50 million or more can place on employees expressing controversial religious beliefs outside work hours.

On Friday, the draft legislation program for the House of Representatives next week, circulated by Mr Porter's office, did not include the religious discrimination bill. The government says this is "subject to change".

Asked whether the government was considering the churches' letter and if the bill would be introduced to parliament next week, a spokesperson for Mr Porter said: "The Attorney-General has received hundreds of submissions by way of letters and other correspondence which has all formed part of the continuing consultation process on the Religious Discrimination Act. The Attorney-General will outline next steps in due course."

Secular Australians ‘need to be heard’ on religion bill

National Secular Lobby ambassadors Julian Burnside and Jane Caro have accused Christian Porter of giving preferential treatment to faith-based groups, ahead of the government’s religious discrimination bill being tabled in parliament next week.

Joining a National Secular Lobby assault on government consultation over its religious freedoms overhaul, Mr Burnside and Ms Caro said secular Australians should have their voices heard.

Mr Burnside, a prominent QC who ran for the Greens against Josh Frydenberg at this year’s election, said “our constitutional system is based on separation of church and state”.

The lobby will raise concerns on Monday that the government had favoured “Christianity and ­religious interest groups”, saying Freedom for Faith was promoting its access to the Prime Minister and Mr Porter.

“The idea that an explicitly ­religious group (Freedom For Faith, the “Christian legal think tank”) has had special access to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, in connection with the ­religious discrimination bill, suggests that our system is not operating the way it was designed,” Mr Burnside said. “Presumably even Morrison and Porter do not want to see Australia become a religious autocracy.”

Caro described as outrageous that “secular Australians and those with no religious faith have not been equally consulted by our PM about the proposed bill”.

“These are the very people whose freedom is likely to be negatively affected if those with faith are given special and privileged protections under the law,” the author said. “If the PM governs for all of us, as he claims, then he needs to listen to all of us.”

In his speech at the National Press Club last week, Mr Porter said that since releasing the draft religious discrimination bill on August 29, he had personally consulted in “two-hour sessions with over 90 different stakeholders”.

A spokesman for Mr Porter said the draft bill had been the “subject of extensive consultation with people expressing a variety of views”. He said there had been ­extensive consultation with “secular groups, religious groups of a very broad variety of faiths, atheists, LGBTIQ groups, human rights groups, unions and they ­included the Rationalist Society of Australia”.

“The roundtables were by invitation but essentially any group which wanted to attend got an ­invitation. NSL were not in the primary list but equally the NSL never reached out for further discussion after putting in a written submission and if they’d expressed any interest in attending one of the consultation sessions we would have accommodated,” the spokesman said.

Mr Porter’s spokesman said the Senate process would “inevitably include an inquiry on the bill, which will provide all stakeholders a chance to express their views”.

Lobby president Peter Monk said religious groups were consistently handed “special treatment”.

Mr Monk said Mr Morrison and Mr Porter should “explain their cosy relationship ‘behind closed doors’ with groups such as Freedom for Faith and assure the public that faith-based groups are not getting any special treatment”.

“This bill is simply faith-based legislation to appease religious conservatives still enraged by same-sex marriage. Yet 78 per cent of citizens want the separation of church and state,” Mr Monk said.

“This bill purports to protect non-believers but it provides ­exemptions and privileges only for faith-based institutions.

These are the very groups most likely to discriminate against those of other faiths, or no faith at all.”

Freedom for Faith executive director Michael Kellahan declined to comment.

'Fraught issue': Religious nursing homes, hospitals to be able to discriminate on staffing

Religious hospitals and aged care providers will be able to refuse to employ people on the basis of their religion, under a change to the Morrison government's proposed religious discrimination bill.

Attorney-General Christian Porter explained this was "probably the most significant change" to his contentious draft bill, which already allows other religious bodies - such as schools - to make staffing decisions to maintain "the religious ethos and culture of the organisation".

Mr Porter told the National Press Club on Wednesday that religious hospitals "do not appear to make decisions about the admission of patients based on any given patient's religion or absence of religion, and do not seek to do so". He added that with "very few exceptions," neither did aged care providers.

He later told ABC TV this change to his bill "does not change the status quo" and would not meant that hospitals could hire and fire on the basis of sexuality, age or disability.

"We're delivering protection to people," he said.

Aged and Community Services Australia, which represents not-for-profit aged care providers, said the issue had always been "fraught".

"A balance must be struck between the competing objectives of providing access and maintaining a faith-based identity. The most important thing must be all Australians get the care they deserve," ACSA chief executive Pat Sparrow said.

The Attorney-General said he was still aiming to introduce his bill this year, but could not guarantee the timeline. With two parliamentary sitting weeks left for 2019, Mr Porter is running out of time to introduce the bill by Christmas.

Public submissions on the bill closed last month, releasing an avalanche of diverse criticism from across the political and religious spectrum.

Mr Porter said there would be "other changes" to the draft bill, based on consultations with church and community groups, but suggested they would not be as significant as the amendment around aged care services and hospitals.

"It's not a major difference in terms of what we'll finally produce to what has been seen and
consulted on heavily," he said.

Equality Australia, which says new conscientious objection provisions in the bill could see LGBTIQ+ people and unmarried women refused healthcare, said Mr Porter's comments had not addressed their concerns.

"Instead, his comments suggest the bill will go further to entrench exemptions for religious organisations," chief executive Anna Brown said.

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick has previously labelled the bill a "can of worms", predicting it will never become law.

Mr Porter said he would soon start negotiations with Labor, but noted the bill's passage through Parliament would be "complicated" and he had no particular date in mind for a final vote.

Asked about his religious beliefs, Mr Porter said he was not a regular churchgoer, but did believe in God: "It's very dangerous not to."

Neither church nor state can agree on Scott Morrison's draft religious laws

Below this week’s headlines about Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies was an admission that could easily weaken his insistent calls for stronger new laws to protect religious freedom.

And the timing could be crucial to the unending debate within Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s governing Coalition over whether people of faith need to be shielded from discrimination – and the size of that shield.

Davies issued a rallying cry for Christian conservatives with his message to Sydney Anglicans on Monday that he feared for the stability of the church on issues such as same-sex marriage that “fracture” their fellowship.

“My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of scripture. Please leave us,” he said.

This was so brutally frank it made headlines. But it was preceded by a remark that sounded like a discussion of volatile factional politics rather than settled Christian doctrine.

Davies called for the church’s general synod to agree at its next meeting, due next year, to “make a clear statement about the teaching of the Bible on the sanctity of sex within the marriage bond of a man and a woman” – in other words, to enforce his view.

But his view is not the only view within his own church. It did not take long for his fellow Christians to argue a very different doctrine.

“Most of the church has seen positive change in attitudes to mental illness, slavery, gender inequality, contraception, domestic violence, suicide, although there are retro pockets that are welded on a faded world view,” argued Father Peter MacLeod-Miller, the Rector of Albury at St Matthew’s Anglican Church.

MacLeod-Miller said the alternative direction to the Sydney Anglicans was to admit the church teachings were wrong. “A change of heart is at the centre of the Christian tradition and the parting shot from the Archbishop of Sydney is the clearest indication yet that change is on the way,” he wrote.

To an outsider, there might seem no difference here between party and church politics. Just as the Liberals divide constantly between social conservatives and moderates over same-sex marriage, now Anglicans engage in public dispute between their traditional and progressive wings.

The doctrine, in other words, is far from settled.

This matters because Morrison’s plan to protect religion ultimately turns on the nature of that doctrine. And it will not be Davies who rules on the definition. It will be a judge.

At the heart of the Morrison bill, which is currently a draft that is yet to be put to Parliament, is the goal of protecting someone from claims of discrimination when making a statement of belief. The protection only works when the words fit the rules.

A statement of belief has to be of a religious belief held by the particular individual who utters it, has to be said in good faith and has to be a view that “may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings” of the religion. (It can also be a statement of atheism.)

For Catholics, of course, the question of doctrine may be no question at all when the Pope decides. “Roma locuta est, causa finita est,” goes the old saying. “Rome has spoken, the case is closed.”

But do church leaders really want a court to rule on their “tenets” and “doctrines” after centuries when the task was left to bishops or popes? It may be too late for them to rethink. One view within the government is that churches should be careful what they wish for.

The religious discrimination bill only exists because of pressure from conservative Christians who opposed the marriage equality laws that passed the Parliament almost two years ago. Malcolm Turnbull, facing yet another revolt as prime minister, agreed to a religious freedom inquiry. Morrison leaned forward on the issue as soon as he became leader.

“At the end of the day, if you’re not free to believe in your own faith, well, you’re not free,” Morrison told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in his first interview as Prime Minister. This is personal for Morrison. A retreat is unthinkable.

A consensus, however, is unattainable. The response to the draft bill has been criticism from all sides. Nobody is happy. Churches want the protections to go much further, while LGBTI groups believe the laws will unleash more discrimination unless they are stopped or curtailed.

Meanwhile, the crucial swing vote in the Senate, Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie, sees no need for the laws at all. That means the government may only be able to pass the changes if it convinces Labor they are worthwhile – a big mountain to climb.

With every side of the argument wanting changes to the draft bill, the government has to start making trade-offs. Attorney-General Christian Porter will open another round of consultations with churches and community groups in the weeks ahead. No side can get all it wants.

One demand from the Sydney Anglicans and other churches is for greater protection for organisations linked to a religion – whether that is a youth camp, a school, a hospital or an aged-care facility.

Should the executive of an aged-care facility founded by a church have the same protections as a priest, for instance, when making a “statement of belief” about same-sex marriage that offends a worker at that facility? The draft bill protects educational institutions and registered charities but not bodies that engage “solely or primarily” in commercial activity.

This will be a stumbling block within the Liberals. While some seek to protect all church organisations, others believe this right cannot extend to a hospital or healthcare facility. In one view, the right should belong to an individual – a bishop, for instance – not an institution. A change to this exemption seems likely.

Another check on religious discrimination is on the nature and effect of the speech rather than the question of belief. The protection for people of faith evaporates if their statements are malicious or promote serious offences – a potential check on terror in the name of religion.

The protection also fails if the speech is likely to “harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence” against another person. Those who oppose the bill want to narrow these exemptions so the protection is more likely to fail, while the Sydney Anglicans believe “vilify” is too vague.

The onus on business is another sticking point after the furore over Israel Folau, his right to speak about his personal views on same-sex marriage and his termination by Rugby Australia. The bill says a business with revenue greater than $50 million cannot impose an employment requirement that limits someone’s freedom to express religious views, unless the rule is needed to prevent “unjustifiable financial hardship” to the business.

What is unjustifiable? The Australian Industry Group and others reject this drafting as unworkable. Churches insist it is needed to shield the Folaus of the future. As the government has shown on company tax cuts and energy industry divestiture powers, complaints from business are not always heard in Canberra these days.

Morrison appears comfortable with the way the debate is running between the conservatives and moderates within the Coalition. There has been nothing like the public war over marriage equality from two years ago. Even so, the Coalition splits easily over social questions today, as the Liberals proved again on abortion in NSW only weeks ago.

This will be a test for the Liberals and Nationals on whether they can ever compromise on an intractable social question.

But it is a test for Labor as well. Caucus members are still debating how their message on religion influenced their loss at the May election. After victories on same-sex marriage, Bill Shorten led Labor to the election with an attack on Morrison over the Folau affair. Shorten challenged Morrison over whether he believed gay people would go to hell.

Some in the Labor caucus, such as Chris Bowen and Michelle Rowland in western Sydney, now admit they did not get this message right. It is worth noting that Labor’s election review, and any findings on religion, will be released before the caucus has to decide whether to support the religious discrimination bill.

An outcome looks impossible when all sides disagree, yet Morrison and Porter seem oddly confident they can succeed. If they can pass this bill, it may be a sign they can put at least some of the Coalition’s internal enmities behind them.

Religious discrimination bill so flawed it cannot be supported, Anglicans say

The flaws in the Coalition’s religious discrimination bill are “so serious” it cannot be supported in its current form, the Sydney Anglican diocese has warned.

Bishop Michael Stead has warned the bill would force Anglican youth camps to host Satanist masses at its campsites and has the “perverse effect” of encouraging companies such as Qantas to threaten to withdraw sponsorship to justify restrictions on religious speech in cases like Rugby Australia’s sacking of Israel Folau.

In a separate submission, the Freedom for Faith group has claimed the bill fails a commitment by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, “that the law would not take faith groups backwards in terms of protection of religious freedom”.

Both groups have called for the bill to go further in protecting religious organisations, raising the prospect of internal division in the Coalition over attorney general Christian Porter’s draft bill.

Jacqui Lambie says she sees no case for religious discrimination bill

The Anglican church diocese of Sydney submission warned that although the bill said religious bodies did not discriminate by conduct that could reasonably be regarded as in accordance with their faith, the exemption did not apply to bodies engaging “solely or primarily in commercial activities”.

That meant bodies such as Anglicare Sydney, which runs retirement villages and aged care services, and Anglican Youthworks, which provides Christian outdoor education, would not attract the exemption, Stead warned.

Stead argued the commercial activities test was “highly arbitrary” and there were “no good arguments” for treating specialist religious bodies which collect fees while pursuing a religious purpose differently from those that offer all their services through one body.

The flaw had “very significant implications”, making it unlawful for Anglican Youthworks to recruit only Christians as outdoor educators, to reject an application for the First Church of Satan to hold a black mass at one of its campsites, or for a Christian residential university college to give any preference to Christian students.

Stead noted the Israel Folau clause which bans employers from setting codes of conduct that indirectly discriminate on the grounds of religion and exempts large employers only if they can show they would suffer “unjustifiable financial hardship”, describing the intention as “commendable”.

“However, the current form of this clause may have the perverse effect of encouraging the restriction of religious freedom by third party sponsors (eg Qantas in relation to Rugby Australia) or social media boycotts (eg of Coopers Brewer) to create financial hardship, which would enable conduct that would otherwise be unlawful discrimination,” he said.

Religious discrimination bill may breach constitution by allowing doctors to refuse treatment

Stead proposed defining unjustifiable financial hardship and making it unlawful to incite religious discrimination by making “threats of financial detriment”.

Freedom for Faith said that much of the bill was “very good including general provisions for protection of people of faith from discrimination in commonwealth law” but also warned of “unintended consequences”.

It warned that exemptions in the bill did not “cover situations where there is merely a preference to employ practising Catholics or practising Christians more generally”.

“Furthermore, even if a Catholic school or other charity did have a policy of only employing Catholic staff, it would only be lawful if this could reasonably be regarded as in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings of Catholicism,” it said.

It agreed with the Sydney Anglican submission that there would be a “bizarre and profoundly damaging outcome” if Christian publishers and youth camps were unable to advertise for Christian staff as a result of the bill.

Stead’s submission noted that although the bill exempted statements of religious belief from anti-discrimination law, the protection did not apply to statements that “vilify” others, warning the term is unclear.

“The argument that orthodox statements of religious belief ‘cause harm’ to certain groups is well-rehearsed, and if it is accepted that such statements amount to vilification, then the purposes of [the clause] will have been subverted,” it said.

Religious discrimination bill could legalise race hate speech, Law Council warns

Stead also raised the prospect that secular companies could define staff refraining from discussing religion at work as an “inherent requirement” of the job, allowing them to discriminate against religious people in hiring.

He took aim at Porter’s decision to delay the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the related issues of religious institutions’ exemptions to discrimination law, calling on him to expedite the process to ensure they can “reasonably conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos”.

Before the 2019 election Morrison promised to prevent religious schools expelling students for being gay but deferred the issue after an impasse with Labor over how to legislate the change.

Human rights and LGBT equality groups have lined up to criticise the bill, particularly provisions which allow medical practitioners to refuse treatment on religious grounds and exempt statements of belief from state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Religious discrimination bill may breach constitution by allowing doctors to refuse treatment

Key provisions of the religious discrimination bill may be unconstitutional because they allow medical practitioners to refuse treatment, and privilege statements of religious belief, an academic has warned.

Luke Beck, a constitutional and religious freedom expert at Monash University, warned the Coalition’s exposure draft bill may be incompatible with international law and therefore not supported by the external affairs power in the constitution.

The submission echoes concerns from the Australian Human Rights Commission and Public Interest Advocacy Centre that the bill will licence discriminatory statements about race, sexual orientation and disability on the grounds of religion, and that it privileges religion over other rights.

The bill has been criticised for overriding state and federal discrimination law, including section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits speech that offends, insults or humiliates people based on race.

Beck argued the bill provided a “bigger sword” to religious people’s statements of belief than those of non-religious people. Statements of belief can be made “on any topic whatsoever” provided they “may reasonably be regarded” as in accordance with a person’s religious beliefs.

By contrast, statements of non-belief must deal only with the topic of religion and “arise directly” from the fact the person does not hold a religious belief, the associate professor said.

Beck argued the different standard might breach the international law requiring “equal footing” to be given to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Because the bill relies on the external affairs power for its validity there was “significant constitutional doubt” about the provisions, he said.

Beck and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Piac), in separate submissions, also criticised the bill’s attempt to give health practitioners a right to refuse to provide services if the refusal is motivated by the practitioner’s religious beliefs.

Piac noted the provision was not limited to procedures such as abortion and euthanasia, meaning it could “protect the outright refusal of services to people from certain groups” by “a long list of health professions, including occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy and podiatry”.

The chief executive of Piac, Jonathon Hunyor, told Guardian Australia the bill “clearly and deliberately” privileged religion over other rights, particularly in the statement of belief provisions.

Beck and Piac argued the provision would allow people to denounce single mothers, trans people, people with a disability or of different faiths, provided they invoked God or described their targets as sinners.

Piac said the bill would fracture the existing regime which lets states set their own laws, which would constitute “a radical and unwarranted step”.

The AHRC submitted that “overriding … all other Australian discrimination laws is not warranted, sets a concerning precedent, and is inconsistent with the stated objects of the bill”. Rather than recognise the indivisibility and universality of human rights, the provision “seeks to favour one right over all others”.

Both Beck and the AHRC raised the spectre of discrimination complaints made under state law being forced into expensive litigation in federal courts because low-cost state tribunals lack jurisdiction to adjudicate on the clash of federal and state law.

The AHRC endorsed the elements of the bill that protect against discrimination on the grounds of religion where the law is equivalent to existing federal protections for race, sex, disability and age.

The bill bans employers from setting codes of conduct that indirectly discriminate on the grounds of religion, which attorney general Christian Porter has said will provide protection for people such as Israel Folau, who was sacked by Rugby Australia for social media posts claiming homosexuals will go to hell.

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