Proposed religious freedom reforms provide privilege not protection, say lawyers

The proposed religious freedom legislation needs substantial changes to be workable and fair, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“The current legislation will privilege people with religious beliefs over others,” said Mr Andrew Christopoulos, National President, ALA. “We are concerned that the legislation prioritises religious rights over others also requiring protection from discrimination such as gender, race, disability and age.”

In a submission to the Attorney General’s Department, the ALA says that if the proposed legislation becomes law it will weaken existing protections for people who rely on other discrimination laws to protect them from offensive, insulting or intimidating conduct.

“Australian discrimination law operates on the basis that there are concurrent federal and state discrimination laws. This works as neither has sought to override the other. However, Clause 41 of the proposed legislation undermines this convention by determining that religious speech in good faith cannot be unlawful discrimination.

“This is unacceptable because it allows religious belief to be used as a cloak for sexism, racism, homophobia and other prejudices.

“While we support laws that protect against discrimination of any kind, we are not convinced that there is a strong, evidence based rationale for the need for this legislation.”

Read the ALA’s full submission here.

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