Next week, the federal government is expected to introduce a long-awaited religious discrimination bill that will make it illegal to discriminate against religious Australians. The largely trite bill will extend protection to religious belief that other attributes such as gender, race and sexuality have enjoyed for many decades.
If enacted, it will extend protection to citizens of New South Wales and South Australia who, at present, may be legally refused service, dismissed from their jobs and dismissed for jobs solely on the basis of their faith. Yet even before a bill was seen, a preemptive and very vocal fear-mongering campaign against the bill began.
If anti-religious critics are to be believed, the religious discrimination bill is nothing less than a step backwards into the Dark Ages. This opposition reflects the growing antipathy towards religion in Australian society. In particular, Christians in Australia face increasing threats to employment, denial of public benefits, removal of qualifications and discipline from academic institutions because of their faith.
The Human Rights Law Alliance works for many people of faith across Australia facing hostility, including employees disciplined for voicing their beliefs on social media and a couple deprived of foster children in because of their faith. Australiawatch.com.au contains a database of growing cases of Australian religious discrimination, not to mention many other cases that cannot or do not reach the public.
Recent international research on religious discrimination by Professor Jonathan Fox of Bar-Ilan University documents the increase in “social” discrimination against religious minorities in Western countries, Australia being cited as an example.
It is perhaps not surprising. According to a 2021 report by social policy research firm McCrindle, a third of Australians would like to see any expression of religion banned in the public arena. Over the past year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet have been publicly ridiculed for their deep personal Christian faith. Such unbridled animosity would be unthinkable for any other attribute of a public figure.
A series of ostensibly compassionate legislation, but which limits the ability of individuals and religious groups to live in accordance with their views and values, has also been passed in various states and territories in recent years. In this context, where protection is needed, it is no wonder that the bill is being aggressively targeted by a loud slam from anti-religious secularists.
Reports on the likely substance of the bill suggest it will be benign and restricted. The machine room of the bill will look like other discrimination laws. It will provide religious Australians with a shield against unfair treatment on the basis of their religion, whether experienced directly or indirectly.