For release: Wednesday April 16, 2014

A dissenting judge in an anti-discrimination case against a Christian youth camp has warned that religious freedom is being eroded.

The Victorian Court of Appeal today dismissed an Appeal from a VCAT decision in 2010 which ruled that Christian Youth Camps had discriminated against Cobaw, a group for same-sex attracted youth, in the provision of accommodation. The Victorian Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell & Justice Marcia Neave (the majority) ruled that discrimination (pursuant to Part 3 of The Equal Opportunity Act 2010) had taken place and that the refusal by CYC to provide the accommodation was not covered by any of the religious exemptions to the EOA.

However, Section 77 of the EOA provides that:

Nothing in part 3 applies to discrimination by a person against another person if the discrimination is necessary for the first person to comply with the person’s genuine religious beliefs or principles

Contrary to the approach taken by VCAT & the majority, Justice Robert Redlich decided that s.77 is an exemption available to a corporation and that CYC and its employee Mark Rowe, who refused the booking, were taking steps necessary to comply with their genuine religious beliefs that promotion of homosexuality was wrong.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Victorian Director Dan Flynn welcomed Justice Redlich’s dissenting judgement saying it was important religious organisations retained the freedom to protect their ethos.

“The dissenting judgement of Justice Redlich correctly states the balance between the competing rights of equal opportunity and religious freedom. His judgement emphasises that if the scope of the religious exemption is read down by judges this frustrates the very purpose of the exemption – which is to protect religious freedom,” Mr Flynn said.

“Justice Redlich has made a critical contribution to Victorian human rights jurisprudence by articulating the principle that religious belief may give rise to an obligation of obedience to that principle in the commercial sphere.

“The clear sighted conclusion that once CYC became aware of the particular purpose for which the campsite was to be used was contrary to their beliefs or principles, they were compelled by those beliefs to refuse to allow their camp site to facilitate such a purpose.”Mr Flynn said that he hoped human rights lawyers in Australia would study the decision of Justice Redlich to better understand the intended scope of section 77 of the Act.