Religious exemptions targeted in anti-discrimination rally

A Brisbane rally to oppose anti-discrimination exemptions for religious groups will be held this weekend.

The proposed legal changes could see organisations owned by religious groups, such as schools, hospitals and aged care facilities, be given the right under federal law to legally expel students and fire staff on the grounds of sexual orientation, trans status or marital status.

A bill in relation to the proposed exemptions that was expected to be passed last month was delayed as a result of opposition from the LGBTQI community.

During the rally the Morrison government will be asked not to “further entrench and broaden discrimination” with new “religious freedom” laws, organisers say.

Speakers will include Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) spokesperson Shelley Argent, Anglican Minister Jo Inkpin, transgender activists and school students.

“After marriage equality was achieved, the right-wing of the government decided Christian rights were at risk,” Argent says.

“A religious review chaired by Phillip Ruddock was held, and it found there was very little of concern to Christians.

“But now LGBTIQ people and their supporters fear religious groups and businesses, large and small, will soon be given the right to refuse any retail service, healthcare or employment just because their clients, customers or staff are LGBTIQ.”

Although Australia’s Attorney-General will probably introduce an as-yet undisclosed Religious Discrimination Act before the end of the year, conservative MPs want broader laws than those they suspect are being developed.

An unseen “omnibus” bill addressing recommendations from the Ruddock “religious freedom” review has also concerned advocates, with Equality Australia warning the legal detail of the bill may undermine federal marriage equality.

“We need to change the conversation around religious freedom”, they say.

Anglican priest Father Rod Bower says those pushing for “religious freedom” laws did not represent the majority view of Australian Christians.

“But you need to know, and especially vulnerable young LGBTIQ people need to know, that the Australian Christian Lobby does not represent Christians in this land.

“We need to change the conversation around this because religious freedom is not about discrimination. To be truly religiously free is to be free from the need to discriminate.”

Other LGBTIQ anti-discrimination rallies have been planned and will be held in Perth, Melbourne and Canberra later this month.

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