Religious Freedom Review

In the wake of the overwhelming vote in favour of marriage equality, Mr Turnbull ordered a review to see whether Australian law "adequately protects" the human right to freedom of religion. Liberty Victoria has told the inquiry that religious privileges are far too extensive and must be rolled back. Such privileges are inconsistent with the freedom of religion because this freedom is based on equality, meaning equal treatment and no special advantages or disadvantages between religious bodies or people with no religion. A small number of deficiencies, such as the lack of Commonwealth legislation protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of religion, should be fixed by enacting a Human Rights Act or Charter.
Liberty Victoria

Freedom of religion is properly understood to mean the freedom for an individual to have, or not have, a religious belief, to join a religion and take part in its rites and rituals, or change religion, or leave a religion, and not to be discriminated against because of their having or not having a religion; and also the right of religions - taken to mean (more or less) organized groups of persons adhering to a common belief system—to coexist in society on a basis of equality with each other and with individuals or groups of no religion.

Freedom of religion in Australia, properly understood, is not in need of further protection beyond what might be afforded by the enactment of a Commonwealth Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities implementing the obligations Australia has accepted by ratifying international human rights treaties including the ICCPR, ICESCR and CRC.

The many privileges that religions in Australia enjoy are incompatible with the principle of equality that underlies the freedom of religion and belief, and indeed adversely affect the human rights and freedoms of others, and being unjustifiable they should be revoked. In particular, the actions required include:

  • Remove “religious exemptions” from Commonwealth, State and Territory laws, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Fair Work Act 2009 and the Age Discrimination Act 2004, except for provisions necessary to comply with s.116 of the Constitution; or, if necessary as an interim measure, make the operation of any remaining religious exemptions open and transparent (as outlined in this submission); 
  • Repeal the provisions of the Charities Act 2013 and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 that treat the “advancement of religion” as inherently charitable, and abolish any related rule of the common law; 
  • End all exemptions from Commonwealth, State, Territory and municipal taxes, rates and duties allowed to religious bodies, including preferential reductions, other than those generally available in relation to services of benefit to the community at large;
  • End the school chaplains program and reallocate the funds to the provision of professional psychological and counselling support to students and teachers according to need; 
  • End the practice of allowing “Special Religious Instruction” by agents of particular religions in public schools which receive any form of Commonwealth funding, direct or indirect, and ensure that if a school includes religious materials in its teaching it is done only by qualified teachers and fairly includes non-partisan reference to the many religions in or relevant to Australia, including the existence of non-religious ways of being; 
  • Abolish the offence of blasphemy, and any associated rules of the common law; 
  • Conduct a careful inquiry into any other law or practice that is inconsistent with the letter or spirit of s.116 of the Constitution and must therefore be changed or discontinued, amended or repealed.

Read full media release here.

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