Churches push for religious freedom law

Patrick Parkinson (Sydney University)

Exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations would be permanently enshrined in federal law under a proposal from several Christian churches made to the religious freedom review. Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

The submission to the religious freedom review headed by Philip Ruddock was made by the Freedom for Faith think tank, which is led and endorsed by Hillsong, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

The proposal calls for a Religious Freedom Act, similar to a charter of rights, which would codify and expand the exemptions to anti-discrimination laws currently extended to churches when it comes to hiring and firing.

As well as furthering protections for people who don't want to associate with same-sex marriages, the act would limit and override the anti-discrimination laws of Australia's states and territories.

"We’ve never needed to protect religious freedom before, but now we do," said author Patrick Parkinson, a professor of law at the University of Sydney and a Freedom for Faith board member.

Essential to the proposed law is the right for church-run organisations – including schools and aged care homes – to hire and fire staff in accordance with their values. That would extend to employees who enter into a same-sex marriage following its legalisation late last year.

"Any religious organisation would want to maintain its moral standards around family life and sexual conduct – at least the right to do so," Professor Parkinson said.

"Christians are not into freedom to discriminate, they’re really into freedom to select."

The submission described that freedom as "an existential issue for faith communities of all kinds", saying if a Christian school cannot select its employees then it "will be indistinguishable from the state school next door".

Although the Ruddock review was sparked by the legalisation of same-sex marriage, the churches said the issue of religious freedom was much broader, and it was a "completely false dichotomy" to claim religious rights were in conflict with LGBTI rights.

Mr Ruddock's inquiry will also receive submissions from Catholic dioceses and same-sex marriage campaigners. It is due to report to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in March.


Churches demand new 'religious freedom' law to combat era of 'hatred' (Sydney Morning Herald)

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