Australian PM revisits religious freedom fight

Australian religious freedom fight

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reignited the Australian religious freedom fight with a reworked bill protecting expressions of faith-based views even if they offend others.

Morrison’s religious discrimination bill, a 2019 election pledge, will shield Australians from prosecution if they express reasonable and genuinely held faith-based views despite offending others.

Senior government sources said the revised bill removed some of the more controversial or “extreme” measures in earlier drafts and offered a “sensible compromise”.

The government has removed the ‘Folau clause’ but retained exemptions guaranteeing that professional bodies cannot dismiss people based on religious beliefs. The clause refers to rugby union player Israel Folau who was stripped of his  contract in 2019 after posting “hell awaits” gay people on social media.

It is understood faith-based groups have adopted a pragmatic approach to the bill, realising that outcomes gained from the proposed laws would offer more protections than they currently have.

Catholic Bishops Conference spokesman Peter Comensoli, the Archbishop of Melbourne, said a religious discrimination bill was “an important progression towards parity with other anti-discrimination protections”.

However, doctors have called for a halt to draft federal laws to enshrine religious freedom out of concern the changes would curb access to health services for women. They believe it will also compound discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians.

“It’s unnecessary to introduce ‘religious freedom’ laws when these rights are already protected under Australian law,” said Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

“Furthermore, we remain concerned about the potential impact of the bill on the delivery and access to some women’s health services, and vulnerable groups’ access to suitable healthcare or particular health services.

“The proposed law could compound negative community attitudes toward those most vulnerable, including minority groups and the LGBTQI+ community.

“Given Australia is already in the grips of a mental health crisis, we must do everything in our power to prevent this.”

The religious discrimination bill will be debated by the lower house next week. It will then be sent to the Senate, where it is expected to be referred to a committee process.


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