Australia

Aspects of proposed religious discrimination bill ‘do not meet international human rights obligations’, say Law Council

He compared the bill to existing sex, racial, disability, and age discrimination laws.

But Law Council of Australia representative Katherine Eastman told the committee the council was concerned some aspects of the proposed bill did not meet international human rights obligations.

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“The bill does more than simply build defences into existing discrimination laws, it preferences rights based on religion over and above the equality rights that sit under the suite of other discrimination laws,” she said.

Freedom of Faith board member Neil Foster said the bill’s inclusion of the contentious statement of belief clause was reasonable.

The clause said it will not be discriminatory for a person to say something they “genuinely consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion”.

However it does not apply if the statement is malicious or threatening.

Associate Professor Foster said any concern people would use the clause to infringe on the rights of others was unrealistic.

“We don’t see religious groups at the moment engaging in this sort of bizarre, hateful speech,” he said.

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“It may be wrong, it may be terrible, it may be bad for religious people to say things based on their faith which upset other people, but it’s not unlawful.”

But the Australian Human Rights Commission said that meant the statement of belief clause was unnecessary because it does not address an issue that needs fixing.

President Rosalind Croucher said current discrimination law was not preventing people from making the kinds of statements the proposed bill would allow.

She said the commission supported a religious discrimination bill that was more similar to existing discrimination law, but the bill as proposed was not.

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