For release: October 11, 2010

VCAT ruling says some rights more equal than others

The recent ruling of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to fine a youth camp owned by a Christian organisation for seeking to operate in accordance with its religious creed and ethos sets a dangerous precedent for religious freedom in the state, the Australian Christian Lobby’s Victorian Director, Rob Ward, said today.

“The decision of VCAT to fine Christian Youth Camps Limited, established and owned by the Christian Brethren, for refusing to accommodate Cobaw Community Health Service's Way Out project, which supports same-sex-attracted young people in rural areas, was a clear case of rights ideology triumphing over common sense.

“Although the State has a legitimate obligation to protect its citizens’ right to equality and freedom from unreasonable discrimination, it is equally obliged to protect the rights of religious believers to live in accordance with their genuinely held religious beliefs, as individuals and in community.

“Section 14 of Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 states that, ‘Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, including the freedom to demonstrate his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either individually or as part of a community, in public or in private’.

“It would appear that VCAT has overlooked the Government’s own directive to protect religious freedom in order to elevate equal opportunity to the top of the human rights pile”, Mr Ward said.

ACL has been particularly vocal in its opposition to both the Human Rights Act and the winding back of exemptions in Equal Opportunity Law for religious believers and faith communities because of fears their fundamental rights would be crushed by a minority rights agenda.

“This ruling demonstrates that our warnings about the growing intervention of human rights law have come to pass. There is now a dangerous hierarchy of rights, which not only tramples the rights of religious believers and their communities, but creates needless conflict between people from diverse social groups, beliefs and backgrounds.”

Mr Ward said that the Government and its human rights bureaucracy must do more to assure religious believers and faith organisations that it takes seriously their fundamental human rights to live and operate in accordance with genuinely held beliefs.

Mr Ward questioned the rationale of the VCAT ruling that Christian Youth Camps ‘are not entitled to impose their beliefs on others in a manner that denies them [Way Out] the enjoyment of their right to equality and freedom from discrimination’.

“It could equally be argued that the Way Out project is not entitled to impose its beliefs on others in a manner that denies them the enjoyment of their right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.”

Contact: Rob Ward 0408 348 352