God reigns over other rights
The Federal Government’s draft religious discrimination laws have been accused of privileging faith above all else.
Attorney-General Christian Porter released the draft Religious Discrimination Bill last week, seeking to add “religious belief or activity” to existing federal discrimination protections for race, sex, disability and age.
While there is strong general support for protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their faith, the bill appears to weaken existing protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, and those from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.
This bill contains what some analysts believe is the first and only example of a federal discrimination law explicitly overriding other discrimination laws.
Australian discrimination law allows for concurrent federal and state systems, and generally does not allow for one to override the other.
The Religious Discrimination Bill contains explicit override provisions for statements of religious belief, giving them priority over other discrimination laws.
This suggests that someone could make a statement that would otherwise breach anti-discrimination laws, but be protected if they can prove they had a religious or spiritual basis for their statement.
It also spells out a very wide set of circumstances that would not be considered religious discrimination.
The draft bill says that an act by religious bodies acting in good faith in conduct reasonably regarded as being in accordance with their religious beliefs cannot constitute unlawful discrimination.
The broad wording means that, hypothetically, religiously affiliated charities could refuse to assist people of a different faith or of no faith, for example.
Another section of the draft law prohibits any rule imposed by an employer on a health practitioner requiring them to perform services they object to on religious grounds.
This may allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions or any services for LGBTIQ+ people.
Experts say there will be a lot to try to correct during the one-month consultation period for the laws.