The Equality Campaign which led the yes campaign during the Marriage Law Postal Survey is attempting to turn the Phillip Ruddock led review into religious freedom on its head by calling for the complete removal of current religious protections.
Current exemptions in discrimination law allow religious institutions that operate schools, hospitals and aged care facilities to select staff and clients based on their religious beliefs.
In their submission to the inquiry the Equality Campaign claimed current exemptions go too far and given that many of this religious institutions receive taxpayer funds it was unfair that they “lawfully turn away LGBTI people, single mothers and others where this refusal is in line with the charity’s religious beliefs”.
Equality Campaign spokesperson and Independent state member for Sydney Alex Greenwich told the inquiry “it’s one thing to have your belief protected and another to target the LGBTI community in discrimination law exemptions … which create an environment of fear, which prevent LGBTI people from being their whole self”.
This view was shared in the Human Rights Law Centre’s (HRLC) submission with their spokesperson Anna Brown stating that “Religious exemptions already act as a barrier to vulnerable and marginalised Australians accessing the support services they need”.
The HRLC also called for federal anti-vilification laws to be introduced which prohibit public advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that incites discrimination, hostility or violence.
This is similar to what another LGBT rights organisation just.equal recently stated in a submission to a separate Senate inquiry into the operation of the Postal Survey that they want its anti-vilification provisions we were told would only be temporary to be made permanent.
Both The Equality Campaign and the HRLC still claim they believe in religious freedom and some form of protections for people’s beliefs but it would appear they only believe in your right to think a religious belief, not to express let alone practice it.
Christian Schools Australia in its submission stated the current laws that allow their schools to only hire teachers and select students who adhere to their beliefs should remain.
The threat to religious freedom from same sex marriage was something the no campaign mentioned repeatedly. However so far there has been no refusals of wedding services for same sex weddings or anti-discrimination suits relating to the law change.
A Newspoll published in August 2017 found that 62 per cent of voters agreed that there should be legal guarantees for freedom of conscience, belief and religion if same sex marriage was passed.
It would appear that the Equality Campaign rather than just declaring mission accomplished after same sex marriage passed is now looking for new LGBT laws and causes to lobby for.
However at this stage it is unlikely that such rollbacks of religious protections will occur given that the Coalition is supportive of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws, plus even Labor’s education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek said the party had ‘no plans’ to change the laws around religious schools hiring practices.
But it is still disturbing that an inquiry that was aimed at looking at ways to increasing protections for freedom of religion is now being lobbied to recommend the opposite.
The Ruddock inquiry will hold closed hearings in cities around Australia throughout February before releasing its recommendations at the end of March.