To Exempt or Not Exempt
The big news for the LGBTI community in the last couple of weeks has been the Federal Government’s attempt to rationalise its anti-discrimination law from five pieces of legislation into one Act.
The thorny issue for many is the way religious bodies - and organisations owned or operated by them - are granted exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation. One problem for the Feds is that exemptions for religious bodies exist in all state anti-discrimination laws, with the noble exception of Tasmania. How to reconcile this?
For other people the definition of hate speech is too vague and may lead to the unintentional curbing of free speech, or to a great deal of vexatious litigation.
Some religious organisations have made submissions to the government suggesting that their religious freedom will be trampled on unless they are allowed to discriminate against whomever they please.
Others, like Anglicare SA (in the person of their CEO Reverend Peter Sandeman) have suggested exemptions are unnecessary because it is only by embracing and cherishing diversity that any organisation can continue to truly serve the population at large.
Interestingly, while this debate has been surging back and forth in Australia, the European Court of Human Rights recently rejected three out of four appeals from Christian workers who claim they were sacked or penalised for refusing services to same-sex couples. The cases included a registrar from north London who was disciplined for refusing to conduct the civil partnership of a same-sex couple, and a relationships counsellor in Bristol who was sacked for denying sex therapy to gay people.
In cases like these it’s also interesting how the victim mentality comes into play, with those who are actually being discriminatory complaining they are being “persecuted for being Christian”, which is patently not the case.
Meanwhile back in Oz, Melbourne’s august The Age newspaper ran an online poll last week asking readers whether they thought religious institutions should continue to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws. I don’t know how the final figures turned out, but when I checked late in the day those who said such organisations should not be exempt from the law had reached a staggering 92 per cent.
This actually speaks volumes about how out of touch our nation’s leaders are when it comes to the opinions of the vast majority of Australians who reject discrimination in all its forms.
For my part, I agree with the Reverend Peter Sandeman. I believe it is entirely possible to hold private religious convictions and maintain the right to congregate and worship with people of the same or similar convictions, and still perform the duties of a good citizen by treating all others (whether they agree with you or not) with respect, fairness and equality.
In which case, no exemptions need apply.
How’s that for an Australia Day message?
Ron Hughes is the editor of blaze.