Religious groups disagree about the impact the proposed new discrimination laws could have on them.
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will hear from religious groups, legal experts and education officials on Thursday as part of an investigation into the religious discrimination bill.
The bill would protect people who express their religious beliefs as long as it is not done maliciously or in a way that defames, threatens or intimidates others.
Schools and religious organizations might also prefer to hire people of the same faith.
Representatives of the Islamic and Jewish communities say such laws are necessary to protect them from discrimination in Australia.
But Australia’s largest Buddhist representative body – the Buddhist Council of NSW – and the Hindu Council of Australia oppose the bill because they believe it will restrict religious freedoms rather than protect them.
In a submission to the committee, Hindu Council national deputy chairman Surinder Jain said the bill should protect discrimination of individuals only, not organizations.
“No organization should be allowed to provide services, jobs, etc. based on the religion of the employee or service recipient,” Jain said.
“This discrimination based on religion sanctioned by law will lead to the exploitation of minority religions by powerful organizations run by other religions.”
The board director of the Buddhist Council of NSW, Akaliko Bhikkhu, said that despite the bill’s intentions to protect religious freedom, it could deepen discrimination against people from minority faith groups.
In his submission to the committee, Mr Bhikku said the ability for religious bodies to discriminate on the basis of religious opinion would impact people’s existing employment rights.
“While some protections against discrimination based on faith are warranted, the permissions given to religious bodies to discriminate so broadly means that this legislation will act as a sword to discriminate against others, rather than a shield to protect religious freedom,” did he declare.
Still, Australia’s Jewish community says it has specific educational, healthcare and cultural needs, and organizations should be able to hire people based on that.
Council for Jewish Affairs executive director Colin Rubenstein says people’s needs are largely met by community institutions and cannot be replaced by services offered by secular or other faith-based organizations.
The Australian Islamic body says the discrimination faced by Australian Muslims threatens their freedom to practice their religion.
Australian National Council of Imams spokesman Bilal Rauf said the bill sent a message to religious people that their faith was valued and that they did not need to hide their religious identity.
“Australian Muslims (and indeed people of faith more generally) need some form of remedy to challenge those who openly discriminate against them, defame them and incite hatred or violence against them on the basis of their beliefs. or religious activities,” Rauf said.
Australian Associated Press