Religious laws designed for cases like Folau

25 Jul Religious laws designed for cases like Folau

Tom Mcilroy – Australian Financial Review – Thursday 25 July 2019

Attorney-General Christian Porter is being pressured by conservative MPs and equality activists after he cited the Israel Folau case as the sort of dispute that would be covered by the Coalition’s planned religious discrimination protections.

As Mr Porter runs private briefings with government MPs and prepares to consult with churches, charities and other groups about the structure of new laws, Coalition MPs have warned of a credibility gap from raised expectations during the election campaign.

The concerns centre on whether the laws will proactively protect religious freedom in Australia or simply add to existing anti-discrimination rules.

On Wednesday, Mr Porter stressed the draft legislation would be “orthodox” in nature and would follow the architecture of existing discrimination bills.

“All present discrimination bills have a clause which deals with indirect discrimination,” he told ABC radio.

“I would have thought it’s precisely that type of clause that someone like Israel Folau or others in similar circumstances would argue, that the rule of general application by their employer, in this case Rugby Australia, indirectly discriminates against them because of their religious views.

“A bill like this following the orthodox pattern of discrimination bills would allow another avenue for an action to be brought by someone in those circumstances.”

Folau was fired over an Instagram post that paraphrased the Bible by saying hell awaits homosexuals, as well as drunkards, atheists and other “sinners”.

NSW Liberal Concetta Fierravanti-Wells used a speech in Parliament to call for an act that enshrined protections for freedom of speech, thought, conscience and religion.

Outlining a series of cases where individuals have been punished for their religious beliefs in universities, small business and schools, she told the Senate that religious leaders wanted “robust positive protections enshrined in law, not merely as grudging exemptions”.

“They want a positive right that allows people to live in accordance with their convictions. And while religious leaders may have theological differences, there is strong solidarity amongst them, unified in their fight to protect freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson said he was bound by confidentiality after taking part in one of the workshops run by Mr Porter but welcomed the Coalition’s progress.

“I’m very happy with how he’s handling it and I think the government is heading in the right direction, that will both give comfort to people of faith that their religious freedom will be protected in Australia, but shouldn’t alarm anyone else in the community that it’s going to come at their expense,” he told Sky News.

Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown is meeting with MPs in Canberra this week.

“We’re urging politicians to oppose any legislation that would give faith groups a license to discriminate, or that overrides existing state and federal protections for LGBTIQ people, women or others,” she told The Australian Financial Review.

The government expects to have a completed draft of a new religious discrimination law ready by mid-August and believes some concerns about the scope of new protections from some conservative Coalition MPs will be satisfied by the final plan.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants the laws to pass Parliament before Christmas.

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