The Ruddock Review was created during the marriage equality debate, its objective to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.
Equality Campaign have been working on a submission, as well as supporting leading experts, LGBTI organisations, lawyers, NGOs and supportive faith groups with their contributions to the Review.
Here’s how you can contribute
Take the opportunity to make our voice heard by sharing your reflections and experiences with the Review. Submissions can be made online at https://pmc.gov.au/domestic-policy/religious-freedom-review/submission until Wednesday 14 February 2018.
The first step in making a submission is to read over the terms of reference, to ensure your contribution fits the scope of the Review and is considered by the panel.
You can read the full terms of reference here at https://www.pmc.gov.au/resource-centre/domestic-policy/religious-freedom-review-terms-reference, but in short, the Review is tasked with considering the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights.
What is the current situation?
Faith-based organisations including schools, hospitals, welfare programs, and housing services currently have exemptions under anti-discrimination laws. These exemptions allow them to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Looking for evidence and case studies
Many LGBTI people have experiences where they have been denied their own rights for simply being who they are or loving who they love. Many LGBTI people are also religious and have an experience that understands that their religious beliefs should not convey a right to discriminate against others.
The Review would benefit from hearing these experiences. Some examples of discrimination the Review should hear about could include the sacking of a teacher because they are gay or a single mother, or refusing homelessness services to trans people or unmarried couples.
Has this happened to you? You can help by sharing your story with the Review if you have experienced unfair treatment by a religious organisation.
Preparing a submission
Some of points and principles you might consider covering when preparing your submission or statement:
- The Dean Smith Marriage Equality Bill was the result of a robust Senate Inquiry that explored how to balance different rights, delivering marriage equality for LGBTI couples while protecting religious celebration of marriage.
- The Australian community voted overwhelmingly for fairness and equality for LGBTI people. They did not vote for more discrimination. The parliament clearly rejected legally unorthodox and unnecessary amendments that would have wound back discrimination protections for LGBTI people. This inquiry should not be used opportunistically to re-litigate these arguments. The Parliament and the Australian people have shown there is no interest in these changes.
- Freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a fundamental human right and should be protected under law, but should not come at the expense of other rights. Rights need to be protected and balanced in a coherent legal framework.
- There are areas where the law already goes too far in allowing religious organisations to discriminate through broad exemptions in federal and state discrimination laws. Religious charities who provide publicly funded welfare and social services can legally turn away LGBTI people, single mothers and others where this refusal is in line with the charity’s religious beliefs.
- Religious exemptions act as a barrier to vulnerable people accessing the support services they need. Many unmarried couples, LGBTI people and single parents have faced discrimination from religious charities but are reluctant to speak out or lodge a complaint because they still rely on these services. Others are afraid of seeking support for fear of discrimination and mistreatment, even when faith-based service providers do not seek to enforce the exemptions available to them.
- Any further religious exemptions should not specifically target LGBTI people. This would allow religious organisations to discriminate against people, not because of religious reasons, but because of a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
- Discrimination should not be allowed on the basis of an individual’s conscientious belief.
- All charities should be treated equally and should have an equal right to advocate.
- Where businesses are providing goods and services in the secular marketplace there is no place for discrimination.
- Australia is a successful democracy where people are free to express political, philosophical and religious views and observe, practice and teach their faith.
- Strong discrimination laws promote equality and foster happy, healthy and safe societies. Blanket exemptions or carve-outs privileging the interests of certain groups over others should be avoided.
- There may be opportunities to strengthen the protection of religious freedom in the law. For example, adding ‘religious (and non-religious) belief’ as a protected attribute to federal anti-discrimination law. If freedom of thought, conscience and religion is to be protected under the law it should ideally be part of a comprehensive bill of rights that protects and balances all fundamental human rights.