Australia introduces controversial bill to combat religious discrimination | religion news

Australia introduces controversial bill to combat religious discrimination |  religion news

The prime minister says the bill will protect believers from “abolition of culture,” and critics say it will make what is now considered discrimination legal.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, has introduced to Parliament a controversial bill on religious discrimination that he says will protect believers from “abolition of culture”.

The bill, introduced Thursday, is seen as an attempt to win over religious voters ahead of next year’s elections, and comes amid concerns that followers of churches, schools and workplaces are unable to express their religious beliefs.

If approved, the new legislation would protect Australians who make “statements of belief” from operating under existing discrimination laws, but only if the statements do not “threaten, intimidate, harass or discredit a person or group”.

It would also allow religious organizations to prioritize the recruitment and registration of people of their faith.

“People should not be abolished, persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from those of others,” Morrison, a devout Pentecostal Christian, said while introducing the bill in the lower house of Parliament.

“Australians should not worry about looking over their shoulder, for fear of offending an unknown person on Twitter or infringing on the political or social zeitgeist,” he said, describing the bill as “reasonable” legislation balancing freedom with responsibility.

But equal rights advocates, LGBTQ groups and academics have criticized the new bill, saying it will enable people to make discriminatory statements in the name of religion and allow discrimination against LGBT students and teachers because it allows hiring and enrolling people to be prioritized on the basis of faith.

“What constitutes discrimination today, will be legal tomorrow, allowing people to say things that are hurtful, offensive and insulting. Things like a medical worker saying to a person with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from God, or a person with HIV,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia. He suffers from a disability because his disability is caused by Satan.”

She said in a statement that the bill also enhances the ability of religious schools to refuse to hire pro- or supportive LGBT employees, and called on lawmakers to conduct a joint parliamentary inquiry before the bill is put to a vote.

The opposition Labor Party said it would “carefully review” the bill and consult with gay rights groups as well as religious bodies. The party also said it wanted the bill to be examined by a joint committee of members of the lower house and upper house of parliament.

Luke Beck, professor of constitutional law at Monash University, also supported the call for increased parliamentary scrutiny.

In his book The Conversation, Beck said the new bill eliminates some controversial features of previous drafts, including provisions allowing health care workers to refuse treatment to people for religious reasons and protecting people from being fired for expressing any religious belief.

The latter case has been called the Folau case, named after the incident in which he sacked Australia rugby player Israel Folau after he posted anti-gay posts on Instagram.

However, he wrote that the current draft contains disturbing provisions. For example, the provision on “statements of belief” would protect those who offend Christians, as well as those who offend gays, women, or people with disabilities.

Beck also noted that the bill would specifically bypass state and territory anti-discrimination laws to ensure that preferential religion-based employment in religious schools is permitted, even in those states where the practice is currently illegal.

Morrison wants to bring the law to a vote in the House of Representatives next week, but it is not clear if the bill can turn into law before the election with Parliament already in its last two-week session of the year.

Elections should take place by May 2022.

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