It was a privilege to join Christian leaders this week in Canberra to discuss the ongoing need for religious freedom laws in Australia.
What many do not realise is that over 60% of Australians (14 million people) identify as religious, and almost 3 in 10 Australians (29%) report having been discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs. This is, unfortunately, a growing trend.
Increasingly, churches, faith-based schools and organisations are being targeted for simply adhering to Christian beliefs and practices. An example of this is the recent experience of Westside Christian College in Queensland. An advertisement posted on the job site SEEK for a new music teacher included,
“It is a genuine occupational requirement of Westside Christian College that all staff members, in the course of, or in connection with their work, act in a way that is consistent with the religious beliefs of Westside Christian College. Whether directly in school hours of duty or not, nothing in their deliberate conduct should be incompatible with the intrinsic character of their position. In the expression of human sexuality, for example, this includes deliberate choices for heterosexual, monogamous relationships, expressed intimately through marriage. Staff are required to regularly and frequently attend a Christian church and to regularly and frequently support staff devotions and staff worship services.”
The response to these fairly banal requirements was brutal and swift. Media reported the backlash, including a comment from Queensland’s Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman that she was, “absolutely appalled to see these unacceptable and damaging requirements in WCC’s staff guidelines.”
Interestingly, the Federal arm of Ms Fentiman’s party, is also currently advertising for new staff. Unsurprisingly, their advertisement states, “Successful candidates will share the values and priorities of the new Australian Government.”
This makes perfect sense, but the inconsistency is blatant and should not be tolerated.
After the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill was shelved prior to the Federal election, there has been concern that the opportunity, being lost, would be difficult to revive. However, following Monday’s meeting, I can report that the enthusiasm for laws to protect all Australians – both those of faith, and those of no faith – is alive and well.
Prior to the election, the ACL, along with other faith leaders, received separate letters from both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Attorney General, outlining their commitment, should they be elected, to pursue laws that would prohibit religious discrimination in our nation. At this stage, we have every reason to believe that the commitment to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill will be honoured by the Albanese government who have described it as an “important area of reform.”
In his letter to ACL, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus (Labor member for the Victorian electorate of Isaacs) affirmed that Labor believes Australians of faith have the right to live their lives free from discrimination, and, if elected, he committed to introduce legislation that would, among other things, prevent discrimination against people of faith, and maintain the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.
Please pray that our ongoing conversations with Attorney General Dreyfus and other members of Parliament will be fruitful according to 1 Timothy 2:2 where we are urged to pray for those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.