Religious Exemptions Bill presents a new attack on religious freedom
The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill has now passed in the Legislative Assembly and will be discussed in the Legislative Council from this week (11th October). This petition will now be sent to members of the Legislative Assembly asking them not to support the proposed amendments which undermine the principles key to a pluralistic society.
The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill was tabled in Victorian State Parliament on the 31st August. The aim of the bill is to amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to remove religious exceptions in relation to the employment of a person by religious bodies and organisations. If passed, the outcome will restrict many religious organisations and schools from promoting a Christian worldview through their staff and perhaps more critically, challenge their very reason for existence.
The amendments to the proposed bill will remove religious grounds as an exception for employers to discriminate against hiring an individual. The bill also proposes to reinstate an "inherent requirements test" for any religious organisation or school which will force the institution to validate why, in any given circumstance, they choose to take a particular action. Such as, why they might choose not employ a teacher who would not agree to support the Christian ethos of the school in their teaching of religion.
It is reasonable to predict that the consequences of the changes to this legislation could result in the scenario where a Christian school would be forced to hire a person that is opposed to the ethos and values of the school. These proposed changes, therefore, represent a gross attack on parental choice and religious freedom.
Catholic Education executive director in Melbourne, Stephen Elder, told The Age newspaper it was important that Catholic schools had the freedom to employ staff who supported the Catholic faith and did not undermine a school's ethos. “Parents choose to have their children educated in Catholic schools because our traditions are not only passed on through what is taught but what is practised and what is witnessed in our learning communities,” he said. This highlights that a person employed in a religious organisation such as a school is done so not only on the basis of what they teach but also on their witness and example in all aspects of their conduct.
Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O'Doherty has said that the proposed laws were a "draconian attack on religious freedom principles".
If the legislation passes, an individual who feels that they have been discriminated against on the basis of religion could take their complaint to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal's human rights division. It is then proposed that the religious organisation would have to justify its reason for discriminating, on a case by case basis. This process could prove to be burdensome and costly.
Further, the rationale behind the introduction of this bill is highly questionable. It appears to be discriminatory by its very nature. The proposed bill singles out religious organisations, it does not apply to other organisations who might exclude members on the basis of their beliefs. A sustainable living group, for example, is free to discriminate among its members and forbid a person to join who is advocating for increased fossil fuel burning.
It is arguable that the real intent of the bill proposed by the Victorian State government is simply an attack on the freedom of religious institutions and schools. It seriously undermines the principles of a pluralist society in which one view will not fit all members of our community, despite which we can productively co-exist.
Please sign this petition now calling on all State Members to withdraw this bill. We will deliver your names to Members of the Legislative Council where it is now to be discussed.