Some parts of the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB) are fine. These are the protection for people of faith from discrimination in the provision of education, accommodation, finance, club memberships etc.
The draft Bill also provides that faith-based schools, public benevolent institutions, hospitals and aged care facilities can prefer to employ faith-based staff. Also, that faith-based camps can prefer to accommodate those of the same religion.
This progress has been achieved over the course of the provision of two exposure drafts of the Bill; in September and December 2019. ACL has been involved in extensive consultation with Government, Crossbench and Members of the Opposition throughout this time.
However, there is still considerable work to be done before the Religious Discrimination Bill can be considered satisfactory. Details of necessary improvements are set out in our submission recently filed with the Attorney General’s office. One area that we continue to work with the government to improve is:
Protecting your right to make non malicious statements of belief inside and outside of the workplace.
It is a relevant aspect of religious practice that people are free to speak their faith.
If you wish to state your religious views on social media, say in relation to marriage or gender, if you are non-malicious and not inciting violence, those statements should be able to be made.
The current RDA provides very limited protection for your statements of belief.
If your employer is a government department or a small to medium size company and it can effectively assert that it is “reasonable” to do so (for example to create ‘a safe workplace’) you may be restricted from making statements of religious belief, inside or outside the workplace, in relation to marriage and gender. We will continue to advocate that such restrictions can only be put in place if it is “necessary”, not the significantly lower threshold of “reasonable”.
If your employer is a larger company (turnover > $50 million) your statements of religious belief outside of the workplace might have better protection under the RDB. However, that protection may be illusory. Your large employer may prevent or restrict statements of belief by effectively making the case, at induction or staff meetings, that such restriction is necessary to “avoid unjustifiable hardship” to the employer. Sounds a lot like Rugby Australia considering that the non- dismissal of Israel Folau for quoting the bible on Instagram, in his own time, would cause loss of sponsorship by Qantas! If we entrench the risk of threats by sponsors or 3rd party boycotts in the RDB, then the freedom to make statements of religious belief that others may disagree with is effectively lost.
ACL will continue to lobby the government to ensure that people of faith can express non malicious statements of belief regardless of the size of their employer and regardless of whether they work in the public sector or the private sector.
For more details on freedom of religious speech and other issues raised in our submissions please click here.