The following Joint Submission regarding the Second Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill was initially composed by one of our members and has been edited by the committees of Sydney Atheists and the Atheist Foundation of Australia:
Religious Discrimination Bill – Second Exposure Draft
Submission type: Non-Profit – Atheist Foundation Of Australia and Sydney
Confidentiality: For Public Release
The Atheist Foundation of Australia is an organisation that
represents atheists and other people without religious beliefs across the
To encourage and to provide a means of
expression for informed free-thought on philosophical and social issues.
To safeguard the rights of all non-religious
To serve as a focal point for the fellowship of
We put forward this submission with the hope that it will
lead to a society in which everyone can live harmoniously. In providing this
submission, we aim not only to safeguard protections for non-believers but also
those who also hold religious beliefs, as these people could just as easily
fall foul of the proposed legislation depending on their degree of religiosity.
Overall, the Religious Discrimination Bill appears to be
very weak in protecting those who are irreligious or moderately religious.
There is also a sense of double standards, in that some religious people and
institutions are permitted to hire staff, enrol students, serve or treat
clients/customers/patients, and rent properties on the basis of their religious
beliefs. Conversely, there is no provision that people of no religion can
insist or prefer to hire staff who are secular, give preference to customers or
students who are atheist, or refuse to rent out properties to those who are of
religious persuasion. Thus, point 20 and point 21 in the explanatory
notes are not well served.
Some key specific concerns are raised below.
from the summary of amendments to the bills since the first exposure draft
1. Religious bodies are now expressly able to give preference to persons
that share their religion (compared with people not of that religion)’
This presents a double standard, as secular or atheist
bodies, are not provided with the right to give preference to persons who share
their non-beliefs in religion compared to people who are of religious
A more extreme body of a particular religion could likewise
discriminate against persons who are more moderate in that religion.
2. The Bill now expressly provides that religious bodies do not
discriminate by engaging in conduct to avoid injury to the religious
susceptibilities of adherents of their faith.’
The Bill does not expressly provide that non-religious,
secular or atheist bodies do not discriminate by engaging in conduct to avoid
injury to secular susceptibilities of adherents to secular, rational or atheist
lifestyles. It presents a double standard – in that there are no
protections for bodies and individuals who do not subscribe to the beliefs of
religious entities, for example, the LGBTIQ community.
3. Religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation
providers can take faith into account in staffing decisions. This
includes giving preference to employees of the same religion as the relevant
facility (when compared with people not of that religion).’
There is no provision for secular and atheist hospitals,
aged care facilities and accommodation providers to take non-religion into
account in staffing decisions and to give preference to employees without
religious convictions. If religious hospitals, aged care facilities and
accommodation providers receive any taxpayer-funded support, they should not be
permitted to give preference to employees of the same particular religious
beliefs as the relevant facility. Indeed, regardless of their funding sources,
they should not be allowed to perform preferential or discriminatory actions at
4. Religious camps and conference centres will now be able to take
faith into account when deciding whether to provide accommodation, in
accordance with a publicly available policy. This includes giving
preference to people or groups who are of the same faith as the camp or
As with religious hospitals, aged care facilities and
accommodation, there is no provision for non-religious camps and conference
centres (such as the Sydney International Convention Centre) to take non-faith
into account when deciding to provide accommodation and to give preference to
people or groups who are secular or atheist. This presents a double
standard, as non-religious camps and conference centres would still be obliged
to provide accommodation to those belonging to religious groups.
5. ‘The conscientious objection provisions now expressly make clear
that they do not permit discrimination (but relate to rules that apply to
health practitioners at work). An objection must be to a procedure, not a
person. The list of health professions has been narrowed to medicine,
midwifery, nursing, pharmacy and psychology.’
This could have severe and detrimental impacts on individuals
who have limited access and choice of health services and health practitioners,
such as those living in rural or remote areas. If the health practitioner
is the only one in the area and refuses to provide treatment or services on the
basis of their religious beliefs, patients could suffer greatly. Apart
from the obvious problem if a pharmacist refuses to provide emergency
contraception because of their religious beliefs, it is conceivable that a
breast cancer survivor could be denied breast reconstruction because the local
health practitioner considers it is “God’s will” and that she should learn to
live with her altered appearance.
6. ‘The Bill now makes clear that a court will now need to consider
whether a person of the same religion as the religious body or person could
reasonably consider the act to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets,
beliefs or teachings of that religion’.
This suggests that the behaviour of a person who professes
to be of a certain religion will be protected if they can find someone of
authority in that faith to support them. However, the same behaviour from a
secular or atheist person would not be acceptable and would be considered
discriminatory or illegal. This presents an unacceptable double standard.
The statement regarding a court’s consideration also calls
into question the consistency within a religion. If for example, we were to ask
ten people of a particular religion what “God” is, or what various scriptures
meant, or what set of specific beliefs the religious group holds, we would
likely receive ten different answers.
arising from the explanatory notes of the second exposure draft
7. Point 5: All Australians, regardless of their religious belief or
activity, should be able to participate fully in our society.
By allowing religious persons or institutions to choose who
to employ, serve or enrol on the basis of religious belief, this Bill restricts
those with lesser or no religious beliefs or whose lives do not conform with
particular religious tenets. It prevents people from participating fully in
8. Point 7: The Bill aims to ensure all people are able to hold and
manifest their faith or lack thereof in public without interference or
However, when religious people manifest their faith by
protesting outside of clinics that provide abortion services and intimidate
patients with pictures of foetuses, or impose their faith on others by publicly
preaching or evangelising, this serves to intimidate people who are not of
these particular faiths. The Bill does not provide any protection to the
9. Point 8: This Bill will bring legislative protections for
religious belief and activity to the same standard as those already afforded
under federal anti-discrimination law to discrimination on the basis of age,
disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, family
responsibilities, marital or relationship status, pregnancy or potential
pregnancy, breastfeeding, race, colour, national or ethnic origin, descent or
Many religions do not accept sexual orientation outside of
heterosexuality, gender identity other than cis-gendered identity, or de facto
relationship status. This Bill would legally protect individuals who
might invoke a religious defence in their denouncements or discrimination
against LGBTIQ individuals, women with children who work and individuals in de
facto relationships or same-sex marriage. These are some of the most vulnerable
people in our society
10. Point 9: The Bill is intended to promote attitudinal change, to
ensure that people are judged on their capacity and ability, rather than on
generally unfounded negative stereotypes that some may have about people who
hold certain religious beliefs or undertake certain religious activities.
says nothing about promoting attitudinal change towards those without religious
beliefs. Further, there is no protection for those who are recipients of
a religious person’s negative attitudes towards them. We do not consider
it acceptable that a person’s negative attitudes based on their religious
beliefs towards others should be protected.
statement at Point 9 would suggest that some people may have
assumptions about others. What are the statistics for this? What assumptions
are valid or invalid? Why should a bill appease such undefined terms?
11. Point 31: That acting ‘in good faith’ in accordance with religious
beliefs or religious tenets is not discriminatory.
We strongly disagree with this, as it can serve to
intimidate people whose lives do not conform to these religious beliefs.
We consider that the intention does not matter. To say “I acted in good faith”
is not a reasonable defence in discriminating against others. The outcome is
that the recipient of these religious declarations or actions is offended
and/or intimidated. The outcome is a critical point.
12. Point 32 states “does not discriminate under this Bill by engaging
in reasonable conduct intended to meet a need arising out of a person or
group’s religious belief or activity …”
We disagree that a person does not discriminate by engaging
in ‘reasonable conduct’ intended to meet a need arising out of a person or
group’s religious belief. This is very broad and could easily allow
legally protected discrimination against those who do not subscribe to the
person’s or group’s religious beliefs. Further, a more extreme religious group
could well deny or intimidate a less religious group.
13. Point 33 states that it is unlawful to discriminate on the ground
of religious belief or activity in the areas of work, education, access to
premises, the provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation, the
disposal of land, sport, membership of clubs (etc).
There is no protection when a religious group
discriminates against others in the same areas. For example, a Christian
church refusing to hire out its premises to a Tai Chi or yoga class if they
were to deem those activities to be heretical.
As stated in the point (4) above under the
‘amendments’ section, there is a double standard if religious groups are
permitted to hire out their facilities and accommodation to those of the same
faith, but secular groups cannot give preference to those who are atheist,
rationalists or non-believers.
14. The frequent use of the phrase “in good faith” appears to
be a convenient clause whereby an individual can use religious beliefs as an
excuse to vilify others.
There is nothing to stop someone disingenuously professing a
religious belief to allow themselves to say insulting, harassing or
intimidating things. At point 39 of the explanatory notes, it states: ‘This
will ensure that the ability of people to simply express their genuine
religious beliefs in good faith, without malice is not restricted by the
operation of any Australian anti-discrimination law, so long as such statements
do not harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify a person or group’.
This statement appears to allow constant low-grade vilification that can be
highly damaging. An example would be a religious person constantly
telling a single mother that she was immoral, or that she would not go to heaven.
It opens up to legal dispute contradictory statements. It allows
discrimination, and surprisingly, it legislates that the religious can
moderately ‘intimidate or vilify’ persons or groups.
The points raised above highlight just small portions of the
Bill that we see as anathema to a tolerant and cohesive and society. Whilst
this bill apparently endeavours to empower some forms of some religions, it
will also empower any and every current and potential cult. This bill is quite
likely to cause new, and possibly extreme sectarianism, the likes of which we
have never seen before in this country. Rather than social cohesion, it will
enable new tribalism causing virtual ghettos.
This Religious Discrimination Bill will likely bring about a
situation whereby people will come to mix only with like minds. Frighteningly
it may reinforce confirmation bias, whereby people of a particular belief
system will only hear the same things over and over again, with no meaningful
challenge to their thinking.
It may encourage cognitive dissonance whereby people of a
particular persuasion will make excuses in their thinking for obvious
inconsistencies, inconsistencies within their scriptures, between their
scriptures and observations, and inconsistencies between their scriptures and
the outside world. Religious isolation will likely lead to social isolation and
breed contempt by the isolated, toward others.
The Atheist Foundation of Australia considers that this
proposed Bill seeks to empower the more extremes of religion at the expense of
those who are moderately religious or those who have no religion.
A fair, equitable, just and secular society would not permit
new legislation to be passed which would allow for more injustice, bigotry and
As such, we advocate that the Religious Discrimination Bill
Atheist Foundation of Australia and Sydney Atheists