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Australian government proposes religious discrimination bill

The flag of Australia (Rob Wilson/Shutterstock)

Australia’s coalition government has proposed the introduction of legislation that would make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the ground of their religious belief or activity.

The proposal is being made to implement a commitment made in the 2019 federal election.

The legislation would also establish a religious freedom commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Moreover, it would amend existing laws regarding religious freedom, including marriage and charities law, and objects clauses in anti-discrimination law.

It would be made clear that religious groups cannot be required to make their property available for same-sex marriage celebrations.

The office of prime minister Scott Morrison said in December that “Australia is a place where discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity – including their religious identity – is unacceptable.”

“It is also a place where we respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values.”

The government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also hopes to ensure that groups rejecting same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.

A review of religious freedom in Australia was finished in May 2018, making 20 recommendations; among these was a Religious Discrimination Bill.

The government has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to report on how to balance competing claims of religious freedom rights and LGBT rights.

Australia has seen debate over religious freedom in recent years with respect to the seal of the confessional, hiring decisions, and same-sex marriage.

When same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia in 2017, efforts to include amendments that would protect religious freedom failed during parliamentary debate.

Morrison’s coalition government is led by the Liberal Party, which is joined by the National Party.

The opposition is the Australian Labor Party.

Labor senator Kristina Keneally told the ABC July 3 that “we are willing to have discussions with the government and work with the government on a religious discrimination and freedom act.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney noted last year that “we cannot take the freedom to hold and practice our beliefs for granted, even here in Australia,” and that “powerful interests now seek to marginalize religious believers and beliefs, especially Christian ones, and exclude them from public life. They would end funding to faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies, strip us of charitable status and protections.”