Limits on religious freedom

a submission to the inquiry by the Attorney-General’s Department Human Rights Unit on the Religious Freedom Bills package

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Abstract

Executive Summary Limits on Legislation: One’s religious freedom requires limitations, to ensure respect for others’ religious freedoms and rights. In international law Australia is a party to, clear limitations were written into protections for religious freedom. These limitations include, for example: public safety, health and other individual’s rights, including their enjoyment of freedom of thought without coercion. These limitations also include key protections for rights against discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and intersex status. Australia’s Constitution pro-actively prevents religious theocracy, and particularly government evangelising or dominionistic religious rule in law and programs. However, proposed protections for religious bodies (alongside existing Commonwealth funding and protection for such bodies) appears an over-step by the Australian Government in support of religious organisations rather than Australians. This section of the submission argues that extensive protections for religious freedom already cover individuals, whilst proposed protections for religious organisations sometimes go too far in allowing discrimination against Australians. Specific Sector Considerations: Research on LGBTIQ+ peoples’ experiences highlights the need for more careful limitation of religious freedom to prevent discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, and intersex status in a variety of sectors. For brevity, only three are addressed in this submission: health, employment and education. The submission outlines the existing problems in healthcare of widespread refusals of service for transgender people, enforced interventions for people with intersex variations and complexities in finding mental health support for same-sex attracted people. These issues make it especially important not to limit healthcare provisions to this group. The submission then explores data on employment discrimination for transgender and gender diverse people, data on people with intersex variations who usually did not tell their employers and colleagues about their variations, and organisational discrimination by some religious schools against LGBTIQ+ teachers – problems which would be worsened by the introduction of this bills package. Finally this section explores education issues including transphobic discrimination, high drop-out for people with intersex variations and heterosexual conversion attempts in education settings – urgently emphasising the need to ban discrimination against LGBTIQ+ students. Conclusion & Recommendations: The conclusion argues against progressing the Religious Freedom Bills package in its current form. It makes the case that there is a greater need for a bill of rights, and for limitations on coercive discrimination and any enforced treatment intervention on the basis of religion than for more (already protected) religious freedom protections. It points out the need to consider ‘belief’ and ‘activity’ as distinct, with the latter as carrying more potential for harm in some cases. Some key bodies and groups are recommended, for consultations, around complexities that arise in the very wide-reaching and problematic proposed package.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCanberra
PublisherAustralian Parliament
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

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Keywords

  • religion
  • religious
  • freedom
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • intersex
  • law
  • constitution
  • education
  • health
  • wellbeing
  • mental health
  • human rights

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