New discrimination laws support religious beliefs

Australia’s Christian leaders hope new religious discrimination laws will ensure church-run aged care homes do not have to support people when they access euthanasia services.

They also hope the new laws will protect churches’ ability to selectively hire school staff who share their religious ethos. They have been urging the government to frame religious protections “positively”, without any exemptions.

Cabinet ministers approved the proposed legislation on Tuesday, and the bill will be taken to the coalition partyroom when parliament returns next month.

A draft of the new bill is due to be released publicly “during the next few weeks”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says while there is still work to do on the bill, he wants the new laws to unite rather than divide Australians.

He says he will continue to consult with religious groups and others to progress the legislation, which could be passed by the end of the year.

Patrick Parkinson, a spokesperson for Christian legal think tank, Freedom for Faith, said the Morrison government had “shifted” its thinking in response to consultation with church groups.

The new laws won’t deal with the issue of how schools deal with gay staff and students, however. LGBTIQ advocates are preparing to push back against “religious privilege”, arguing churches should “not be above laws that apply to everyday Australians”.

In addition, the Australian Law Reform Commission is expected to release a discussion paper shortly on whether religious schools can expel gay students.

The Bishop of South Sydney says he hopes the bill will mean it is “not discrimination” for religious schools and community organisations to employ staff who subscribe to the organisation’s religious ethos.

He is also optimistic it would not be discriminatory to operate a school in accordance with a religious ethos, such as expecting students to attend chapel services.

In Victoria, the law allows doctors to conscientiously object to providing care to people who want to use the state’s voluntary assisted dying scheme.

If terminally ill patients in Catholic-run hospitals and hospices in the state want to access the scheme, they have to move to other facilities to do so.


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