The Australian Christian Lobby recently made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Religious Freedom Roundtable. ACL raised a number of issues that impact on religious freedom and are of concern to people of faith in Australia.

Of concern was the issue raised in the terms of reference, querying whether it is appropriate to remove religious exemptions for charities receiving government contracts or grants.

ACL submitted that people of faith have a legitimate contribution to make to the social good of our communities. Religious organisations receiving taxpayer funds should be able to determine their own identity without government interference. It is not the role of government to interfere in a religious organisation’s mission or vision. Section 116 of the Constitution has been read narrowly by the High Court and restrains the Commonwealth from establishing a religion or prohibiting a religion but does not bar the Commonwealth from making service contracts with religious bodies. The Commonwealth already does so in a number of charitable areas, not the least of which includes religious schools. To seek to remove religious exemptions for charities receiving government contracts or grants shows a misunderstanding of the notion of separation of church and state and its applicability to Australia and would itself be a form of discrimination against those organisations.

Attention was given by ACL to some of the issues with anti-discrimination law across certain Australian jurisdictions. In addition, laws that exclude the exercise of conscience and issues around the drafting of the ACT and Victorian charters of rights were discussed.

A model suggestion for the amending anti-discrimination law to add a general limitations clause was suggested. It is vital that law reform is achieved in order to remove the current potential within the law for differentiations of treatment in the exercise of basic rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, to be wrongly defined as unjust discrimination.

Click here to read the ACL submission