Media Release: Monday, 23 February, 2009

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today questioned the motivation of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s freedom of religion review, following revelations in Senate Estimates this morning that it was not in response to public concern for freedom of religion.

“When asked in Senate Estimates this morning about how many complaints the Commission had received from members of the public regarding threats to freedom of religion in Australia, race discrimination commissioner Tom Calma said they would be ‘very minimal’,” ACL Managing Director Jim Wallace said.

“This is despite there being a specific link on the Human Rights Commission website inviting people to lodge complaints.

“If that is the case why is the Commission wasting $245,000 on this inquiry? It seems that the review is itself determined to question the rights and freedoms of those who hold a religious belief to participate fully in a democratic society. This is something that has long since been beyond debate,” Mr Wallace said.

“For example, one of the questions asked in the Commission’s discussion paper reads: ‘Is there a role for religious voices, alongside others in the policy debates of the nation?’ Surely the democratic rights of everyone to enjoy freedom of speech and to engage in public debate in Australia are well established in international covenants and practice!”

Mr Wallace said that many Christians are also concerned that the review seeks to recommend laws that would ultimately be used to stop Christian churches and organisations having the freedom to employ staff who share their ethos and values.

“Answers from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner on this issue in Senate Estimates this morning would have only added to their concerns, as they seem to point to an agenda to remove or narrow exemptions that are perceived to limit gender equality, but in fact guarantee freedom of religious expression ” said Mr Wallace.

Media Contact: Glynis Quinlan