Thursday, 31st January 2013

The Australian Christian Lobby welcomes the decision from the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to remove conduct that offends from the draft anti-discrimination bill but warns concerns still remain about religious freedom.

Ms Roxon announced that her department will be given the option to remove section 19(2)(b) of the draft bill, a section which would prohibit conduct that “offends, insults or intimidates”.

But ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said more needs to be changed in order to provide adequate protection for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

“The removal of the ‘offends or insults’ section, while a positive step, does not completely remove the threats to freedom of religion this bill poses - particularly in Section 23, 32 and 33,” Mr Wallace said.

“Currently the exemptions are too narrow in their protection of religious freedom.

“Just as any political party can choose employees who share the aims of the party - churches, Christians schools and other faith-based organisations must be confident they can choose staff who will uphold the ethos of the organisation.

“They should be able to retain their right to employ staff who are committed to upholding the tenets and beliefs of the organisation – no matter what their role.

“Also Section 3 of the Act needs to be amended to acknowledge freedom of religion as a fundamental right, as it is in international human rights law with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” he said.

Mr Wallace added that even with the removal of section 19(2)(b) the bill still represents an extension of anti-discrimination law.

“The bill expands the number of attributes protected under current anti-discrimination law from four – race, sex, disability and age – to 18,” he said.

“Whilst religion is included as a protected attribute, it’s only protected in work and work-related areas whereas most of the other attributes are protected in ‘any area of public life’.

“This places religion at a lower priority for protection in government policy when it should be afforded at least the same protection as other attributes.

“The aim for non-discrimination must be balanced against the right to freedom of religion.”