Don’t dump religious discrimination bill

Australian religious leaders are increasing pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese not to dump the religious discrimination bill ahead of the election.

So far the bill has faced stiff opposition from all sides. Its only successful amendment was  on Wednesday, which saw the removal of Section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act. This gave religious schools the right to discriminate on sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status in accordance with the tenets of its faith.

The amendment followed weeks of claims that Christian schools will use religious freedom laws to discriminate against LGBT students. Proposals by the Government to address this issue were not considered comprehensive enough by advocates and progressive MPs.

The bill accordingly did not proceed to a Senate vote. As the Senate will not sit again until the Budget is handed down on March 29, the bill will either wait until then or be put on the back-burner indefinitely.

Meanwhile, religious leaders are urging both sides to get it done in this term of parliament amid concerns it could be sidelined.

They are concerned Labor could face difficulties legislating religious protections while balancing concerns of interest groups.

They want the Coalition to have another go when parliament returns for the March 29 budget.

In a homily last Sunday, Maronite Catholic Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay said “Freedom of religion is one of a few rights specifically protected in the Australian Constitution.

“And … we are mostly disappointed … for the way in which people of faith were spoken about during the debate of the bill and denied protections to practise their faith and their values away from any discrimination”.

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli says many people probably think the main purpose of the religious discrimination bill  was to allow religious schools to expel students because of their sexuality or gender. That’s because debate about the bill circulated rather than what the bill actually said.

However, expelling kids for such reasons “is antithetical to the notion that all children are created in the image and likeness of God. This was not the intention of the bill, nor what it would have done,” he says.

“People of faith might have gained something had the Government found a way to deliver the law it promised”, he added.

They would have received “a positive message that being a believer, holding to that belief and living by that belief is a valuable thing in our society”.

Furthermore,  it would have added religion to sex, age, disability and race as attributes protected under Commonwealth law.


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