Thursday 22 December 2016

Sydney Atheists' Submission:

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) including sections 18C and 18D

To:       Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
Date:  22nd December 2016
Re:       Racial Discrimination Act, sections 18c and 18d 

Dear Joint Committee

Thank you for permitting a submission from our group, “Sydney Atheists” in relation to the above issue. Below is our submission approved by the Sydney Atheists' executive committee for your consideration.

Our submission briefly states the following:

·         Who we are;
·         The legislation under review;
·         The mischief;
·         What the Sydney Atheists position is; and
·         Recommendations by Sydney Atheists.

Summary of our Position

Sydney Atheists consider that there should be no changes to Section 18C (1) (a) and (b).

Background - Who we are

Sydney Atheists

“Sydney Atheists” is a non profit organisation of over 1,600 persons based in Sydney. Sydney Atheists have been in existence since 2007. Sydney Atheists are an open and welcoming community for atheists and atheist-friendly people. We have an interest in ensuring that whatever a person’s faith or non-faith, that everyone is treated fairly, equally and without discrimination.

We provide a platform for members and guests to express their views on society including the relationships of atheism and religious faith to the common good.


The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 s. 18c currently provides as follows;

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

The Mischief

While the objective of this legislation is laudable, there have been instances of mischievous and vexatious cases brought to the courts in relation to sections 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act (“the Act’).  While the courts have taken a pragmatic approach to the interpretation of the legislation and they have dismissed what might be considered to be frivolous and vexatious litigation, people of race, colour or national or ethnic origin should feel physically and socially safe and unthreatened nonetheless.

To a certain extent, the legislation under review seeks to achieve this.  In no way should racism be tolerated and, so to whatever extent necessary, the law should ensure that.

Position of Sydney Atheists and Recommendations

Sydney Atheists understand that some religious groups are seeking to be included in Section 18C (1) (b).

Sydney Atheists consider that there should be no changes to Section 18C (1) (b). We fully endorse the right of individuals or groups to criticise ideas, ideals, philosophies, doctrines and of course religions. We see religions as a subset of ideals, philosophies and doctrines. They are alterable in the minds of adherents. Furthermore, it is our view that most, if not all religions, and their adherents consider competing ones to be inferior to the one that they follow. No religion is universally deemed to have any higher authority than other competing ones.

As a result, religions deserve no more respect than any other ideas, ideals, philosophies or doctrines. They should NOT be protected in the way that people of race, colour or national or ethnic origin are protected. Indeed, society should be free to expose beliefs as inappropriate or indeed fraudulent.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Marton on behalf of the Committee of Sydney Atheists
0450 123 211

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