1. A Fundamental Freedom
The universal and fundamental nature of the right to freedom of religion and belief is clear…
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
This protection is supported by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which came into force in 1976. Article 18 provides:
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
- No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
- Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
- The States parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
2. Cases of Injustice
Since 2019, The Human Rights Law Alliance has received over 250 inquiries and acted for 40 Australian clients who have been fired, investigated, harassed and ostracised because of their religious beliefs.
Watch Katrina’s story:
Watch Dr Pat’s story:
Watch Cathy’s story:
Watch Josh’s story:
Read more stories here:
3. Conversion Laws in Australia
Watch ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles explain the new law:
The new Conversion law – to be implemented soon by the Andrews government in Victoria – is the biggest attack on religious freedom in Australia’s history.
This law could put you in jail. It will certainly see criminal action against Christian parents. It could even outlaw the teaching of the Bible.
It has been described by the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli as,
“A dramatic over-reach of the state into the contexts of prayer, conversion, pastoral conversation, spiritual accompaniment, family life and the freedom of individuals.”
The McGowan government is introducing similar laws in WA and there are moves toward it in Tasmania. Qld and the ACT have already introduced versions of the law.
4. Legislation Before Parliament
The Australian federal government has promised a significant religious freedom reform. If passed it will be called the Religious Discrimination Act.
Such an act should mean that a person cannot be treated unfairly or detrimentally because of a particular characteristic. In this case, the characteristic is religion. So, you can’t be treated unfairly, or suffer detriment in certain areas, because of your religion.
An exposure draft Religious Discrimination Bill was released in October 2019. ACL, along with a number of faith community leaders, provided input that resulted in a second exposure draft in December 2019. The changes in the second draft were a slight improvement, but fell short of the minimum requirements of faith community leaders.
These shortcomings included:
- It allowed employers to limit expressions of belief (inside and outside of the workplace) if an employer could establish that it was “reasonable” to do so.
- Employers could still restrict freedom of expression for employees of faith.
- An employer with a turnover above $50 million could limit expressions of belief, outside of the workplace, if it could be established that these would cause “unreasonable financial hardship”.
It second exposure draft offered little protection to people of faith and their expressions of belief.
Covid-19 took the bill off the agenda in 2020. With a Federal election possible in the second half of this year, it is now vital to see this legislation passed!
5. ACL's Submission
Below is the ACL's Submission to the government in response to the second exposure draft.
6. What You Should Expect
As an Australian, you should be able to live out your faith and engage in faith-related activities—not just activities that are intrinsically religious like prayer or Bible reading.
You need your faith-in-action protected. This means not just your beliefs, but your speech and conduct as well. If you’re not free to express your beliefs in any public way, that’s no freedom at all!
A Christian school, church or ministry needs to be able to employ staff who share their faith and conviction – not be forced to employ people who don’t share their vision.
Employers, universities and qualifying bodies should not be able to restrict Christians from living out their faith in a work or educational setting.
These are just some of the issues that must be addressed by new legislation.