The Prime Minister’s Religious Discrimination Bill, which will allow room for religious schools to refuse to hire gay teachers, is “necessary” to protect people with faith from the “bots, bigots and bullies” of the “cancel culture”.
Scott Morrison has personally introduced the Bill to the House of Representatives on Thursday, saying people shouldn't be “cancelled or persecuted or vilified” because of their beliefs.
The Bill, which seeks to protect people who prescribe to a faith or religion, as well as those who do not, from discrimination, has been described as Mr Morrison as “sensible and balanced”.
He said discrimination against people of faith was not a new thing, but that the rise of social media and “cancel culture” allowed room for increased risk of persecution.
“Many people from various religious traditions are concerned about the lack of religious protection against the prevalence of cancel culture in Australian life,” he said.
“It’s true, it’s there, it’s real.
“The citizens of liberal democracies should never be fearful about what they believe, the lives they lead, or the God they follow if, indeed, they choose to follow one or acknowledge one at all.
“Australians shouldn’t have to worry about looking over their shoulder, fearful of offending an anonymous person on Twitter, cowardly sitting there, abusing and harassing them for their faith, or transgressing against political or social Zeitgeists.
“We have to veer away from the artificial, phony conflicts, boycotts, controversies and cancelling created by anonymous and cowardly bots, bigots and bullies”.
In his statement, Mr Morrison said the Bill “does not seek to set one group of Australians against another”, but many moderate Liberal MPs had voiced their concerns about elements of the Bill, especially about what it could mean for gay students and teachers in religious schools amid fears the statement of belief clause could override anti-discrimination laws.
The government had earlier in the week offered assurances that those students and teachers would be protected from expulsion and firing, and Mr Morrison said that there was “nothing” in the Bill that allowed for “any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity … such discrimination has no place in our education system”.
But just hours earlier, the Deputy Attorney-General, senator Amanda Stoker said religious institutions could have power to refuse employment to a gay person if it was against that institution’s public, recorded views.
Senator Stoker told RN on Thursday morning that under the Bill, schools needed to have a “mission” that made their beliefs clear, and whether the school went so far as to stipulate that they would not hire a gay teacher “depends a great deal upon what that school is prepared to be upfront with the community about”.
“I suggest that there would be very few schools want to be in a position where they’ve got to say to the community that this is what we believe, and we’re not going to hire people unless they subscribe to a version of beliefs that is very, very strict on that front,” she said.
Senator Stoker was asked to clarify whether or not it would be illegal for a school to state they didn’t accept homosexuality and therefore would not hire homosexual staff.
“I think as a matter of principle, it should be the case that a school, who can show that they have a belief set that is justified from the core of their religious beliefs, that they are prepared to make public and claim, and that they are prepared to be upfront about with people who apply to work in a place should be able to require that people act consistently with it,” Senator Stoker said.
“Now, for many people, they’ll look at that and go – well, you know, that’s pretty intense, that may not be somewhere that I want to work.
“Other people will say, that’s the way I think and that’s the way I want to believe.
“If we look at the big picture here, what these schools do is provide education in an environment, a school culture that is shaped by the way that religious belief is implemented across that community.
“And, if you take away the ability of a school to be able to deliver a community that’s based on that, then you might as well have public schools across the board.”
In introducing the Bill on Thursday, Mr Morrison said it was “sensible and balanced”, and was the product of a “tolerant and mature society that understands the importance of faith and belief to a free society”.
“It balances, as Australia always must, freedom with responsibility,” he said.
“To so many Australians, religion is inseparable to their culture. They are one and the same.
“To deny protection from discrimination for their religious beliefs is to tear at the very fabric of multiculturalism in this country.”
Mr Morrison said faith and freedom were “inseparable” in the formation of liberal democracies around the world, and that it was “no wonder” people of faith and religion had played such prominent roles in the “creation and establishment of free societies”.
“The protection from discrimination of faith and religion in the public sphere is central to the strength of our civil society and the health of communities, families, and indeed our very selves,” he said.
“This Bill is about helping protect what we value as Australians – difference, fairness, choice, charity. And if we are not hurting others, the right to live our lives as we choose to.
“This Bill … does not take from the rights and freedoms of others. We do not seek to set one group of Australians against another, because to do so would diminish us all.
“ … The Bill protects the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff, to maintain their religious ethos in accordance with a publicly available policy.”
Mr Morrison said the Bill was based on four years of work, in which the government had “consulted widely”.
The Bill has attracted criticism from leading LGBTIQ+ activist group Equality Australia, which says it’s a “step backwards” and is “winding back the hard-fought rights of women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people and even people of faith”.
“The damaging ‘statement of belief’ provision … would override existing state and territory anti-discrimination protections,” the group said in a statement.
“These provisions undermine everyone’s right to respect and dignity at work, school, and whenever they access goods and services like healthcare.
“ … We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to send the Bill to an inquiry, and urge the government to establish a select committee to allow the participation of both houses to ensure the members hear from those that will be impacted by the Bill.”
Labor has yet to state a position on the Bill, having only seen it on Tuesday afternoon, and have said they will go through it in detail.
The Bill will be put to a vote next week and if it passes will be sent to a senate committee. The committee would conduct a review into the Bill and report back in early 2022 with recommendations, with the option of a debate in the upper house a possibility shortly thereafter.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has said the government is prepared to consider any recommendations made through the senate process but believes the Bill strikes a good balance between religious discrimination and protecting human rights.
She has also rejected claims from equality advocates that the new laws could be used to overturn state bans on gay conversion practices.
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( Information from news.com.au was used in this report. To Read More, click here )