Religious freedom cannot be properly protected by giving grudging exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. The present conflict over religious freedom arises because the exemptions are seen as concessions to people of faith from otherwise applicable law. It remains our view that the better course is to have a clear commitment to religious freedom as a positive right.
Exemptions more and more look like an inexplicable concession to bigotry. Both the government and Labor will follow the electorate and want to chip away further at the existing exemptions. That they may differ on how many exemptions to remove is less significant than the agreement that exemptions seem objectionable.
Exemptions therefore cannot provide an adequate basis for religious freedom. Much heat could be taken out of this debate if the Commonwealth Parliament enacted a law which protects the right of faith based organisations to maintain their identity and ethos through the freedom to select staff appropriate to the mission of the organisation, or to give preference to the employment of such staff. For Australian parents wanting to ensure the education of their children in accordance with their religious and moral convictions, this is a serious concern that should not be underestimated.
Once the parliament starts down the road of deciding which beliefs are acceptable in schools and which aren’t they become theologians making rulings on orthodoxy. They will inevitably set up a pattern of conflict with schools that do not share the same convictions as the political parties or the community.
This certainly won’t end with LGBT issues. Should a faith-based school be entitled to sack a married school principal who is having an affair? Should some religious orders only be open to men? It is one thing for a political party to say that it does not matter what people do in their private lives. It is quite another to insist on that standard at law for faith-based organisations. The state should not interfere in how faith-based schools choose their personnel. This is the very kind of encroachment of freedom that deserves protection.
Australians should not take for granted the freedoms we currently enjoy.
15th of October 2018
Freedom for Faith
Professor Patrick Parkinson may be available to speak to this release and the recommendations
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