The Religious Freedom Review headed by Howard Government Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock delivers its findings to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today. The review was commissioned after concerns from conservatives about how the passing of same-sex marriage would affect religious freedom in Australia. This was compounded by the fact that no religious protections were included in the resulting same-sex marriage bill.
The review had its reporting date extended after it was inundated with submissions which at March 30 stood at 16,000. While submissions were publicly released testimony from its hearings were conducted in secret. While the review was designed to have the intent to further strengthen religious freedom, LGBT activists have attempted to turn the review on its head by lobbying for a rollback in religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and forcing religious schools to embrace the LGBT lifestyle and Safe Schools like programs.
While the review’s recommendations are not expected to be released publicly for a couple of weeks, the Courier-Mail has reported that it will recommend strengthening federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure that religion will have the same protection federally as sexual orientation, race, age and disability. It also recommends Australian Human Rights Commission be empowered to hear complaints from aggrieved parties and conduct conciliation proceedings, and if that failed, a federal court.
This recommendation could divide conservatives, given the left-leaning nature of the Human Rights Commission it would not be the most trustworthy organisation to oversee such a process. There is no word on if the government would appoint a religious freedom Commissioner to help oversee such new laws.
The review does not recommend changes to the amended Marriage Act which passed in December last year. There is no word on whether the review will recommend that parents be allowed to withdraw their children for sexuality and gender education classes in schools as was supported by John Howard this week; or that religious schools can retain their existing freedom to fire gay teachers and expel gay students which has been the topic of discussion this week.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton this morning on Sky News signalled his support to protect such religious freedoms. The Prime Minister’s Office only issued a statement outlining that the government was now considering the report and that Turnbull was consulting with his Ministers.
Despite all of the hype over this review and the number of submissions it attracted, one can conclude the final recommendations are extremely mild. They won’t satisfy radical LGBT activists who want all religious freedoms gutted and compulsory LGBT sexuality education in all schools. But its recommendations will also underwhelm many conservatives who were promised this review would recommend stronger religious protections.
Including religion in federal anti-discrimination laws would still need to pass the Senate, Labor supports current religious exemptions but they are yet to officially respond. We also need to await what legislate form these recommendations will take.