Here’s What We Know About The Religious Discrimination Bill Scott Morrison Is Trying To Pass
"A statement that is discrimination today could be lawful tomorrow."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally revealed the government’s long-awaited religious discrimination bill proposal, which is intended to give greater protections to religious people.
The laws have been widely debated, with critics worried the bill will allow for discrimination of minority groups such as LGBTIQ children in schools. Morrison first promised religious protections back in 2019 following the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017.
The aim of the bill is to eliminate discrimination “so far as is possible” against people for religious reasons. The bill says that religious bodies can “generally” act in accordance with their beliefs without being guilty of discrimination.
So what’s in the bill? And how will it impact your daily life? Let’s take a look.
Freedom of Religious Speech and Expression
Basically, the bill will make it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on their faith — both in their personal and/or professional working lives. This includes in the workplace and at places of education.
Additionally, the laws include a clause that will protect Australians who make statements of belief from anti-discrimination laws. Under this law, moderately expressed religious views are protected under religious freedom, provided they do not incite hatred or violence. Statements that are “malicious” or that “a reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group” are not included under the protection.
“[If] the statement is made, in good faith, by written or spoken words or other communication (other than physical contact), the person [and] is of a belief that the person genuinely considers to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion,” the bill reads.
So basically — under your religious freedoms — you would be able to express your beliefs in any manner you see fit, provided you’re not inciting hate or violence towards another group.
This caveat could have some unfortunate real world consequences across the board, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.
“So a statement that is discrimination today could be lawful tomorrow. Say, things like a nurse saying to a patient with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from god, or a disability worker saying to a girl with a disability that her disability is caused by the devil,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown told The Project.
If that wasn’t enough, the bill also gives religious institutions the right to hire candidates based on their religious faith. For example: hiring Catholic teachers at Catholic schools.
This specific part of the legislation was campaigned for by private schools, which asserted that personal faith should be a determining factor in employment in these facilities. Currently, many teachers at private, religious schools are not religious — or do not follow the same religion as the school in which they are employed.
“A statement that is discrimination today could be lawful tomorrow.”
In addition to schools, religious-run aged care homes, accommodation services and other care providers could also be included in this clause. “It is not discrimination for a religious hospital, aged care facility, accommodation provider or disability service provider to seek to preserve a religious ethos amongst its staff by making faith-based decisions in relation to employment. Such conduct is therefore not unlawful,” the bill reads.
Under this law, religious institutions would not contravene state or territory discrimination laws if it “gives preference, in good faith, to persons who hold or engage in a particular religious belief or activity.”
However, Education Minister Alan Tudge has clarified that the law would not allow things like religious schools to refuse to hire LGBTIQ teachers, for example.
The ‘Folau’ Clause
Perhaps the most controversial part of the legislation was the so-called Folau Clause — nicknamed after disgraced rugby player Israel Folau, who was infamously sacked over a homophobic Instagram post. However, this clause has been removed from the bill.
As the name suggests, the clause would’ve protected individuals from being fired for expressing religious beliefs. While this part of the legislation did have a clause excluding behaviour deemed to be “malicious” or that a “reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group,” it was eventually axed entirely.
Another clause that has been removed from the proposed legislation is a loophole that would’ve allowed healthcare providers to refuse the treatment of patients based on “conscientious objection”. To put it simply, this would’ve allowed doctors not to prescribe birth control, perform abortions or simply treat patients that don’t fit their religious beliefs.
When Is The Bill Expected To Pass?
The bill passed a Coalition party room meeting on Tuesday, but is still facing backlash from the opposition, as well as some Liberal MPs and crossbenchers. It is expected that Scott Morrison — who first promised the bill back in 2019 — will personally introduce the legislation to parliament this week, where it will be voted on.
However, it is unlikely we will see the laws passed before the end of the sitting Parliamentary year, as the bill still needs to go through a Senate inquiry before it will be signed into law.
What Do People Think?
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese isn’t sold on the bill, and wants more time for Labor to read through and consider the impacts of the bill before voting on it. “I’m of the view that people should be allowed to, of course, practise their faith, that should be respected,” he said on Wednesday. “[But] not discriminating on the basis of faith shouldn’t be discriminating on the basis of other people. We’ll look at the bill but I haven’t seen it.”
Albanese isn’t the only person still holding doubts about the proposed legislation, with Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown telling SBS that “some of the worst parts” of the bill are still included. “This bill will license people to say statements in the name of religion that would be discrimination today but tomorrow under this bill they would be lawful,” she told SBS News.