The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multinational treaty that commits nations to respect the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.

The covenant was finalised in 1966 and Australia became a signatory in 1980. It is listed by the Attorney General’s office as one of the seven core international human rights treaties that Australia is a signatory to.

The ICCPR is a major reference point when discussing freedom of religion. As a signatory, Australia is required to protect the rights listed in it. However, at this point, there is no Federal legislation to protect these rights. Instead, they exist as a patch-work of exemptions in other legislation, or are simply not protected in law. The 2018 Ruddock Review highlighted this deficiency and called for the implementation of a Religious Discrimination Bill.

Article 18 of the ICCPR is the most significant article regarding religious freedom:

Article 18

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.