Yet again, “anti-discrimination” laws are being used to punish, rather than protect, everyday Aussies. Recently proposed revisions to the Northern Territory’s anti-discrimination laws threaten the freedom of religious organisations.
Currently, under the Northern Territory anti-discrimination laws, religious organisations are allowed to prefer to employ those who share their beliefs, just like political parties can. However, if LGBTI activists in the Northern Territory get their way, such religious exemptions would be eliminated.
The Modernisation of Anti-Discrimination Act (MADA) discussion paper claims that the changes are necessary “To promote equality of opportunity for all Territorians, the removal of some of these exemptions is being considered.”
The paper also claims that religious organisations need to be more “accountable” and “inclusive.” Under the new laws, churches would have no recourse if a same-sex couple wanted to be married in their sanctuary. Faith-based schools could be forced to hire anyone, including LGBT activists, who do not share their beliefs – and who evenly actively campaign against them.
One of exemptions that could be removed is section 30(2) that permits religious schools to exclude prospective students who are not of that religion.
Another exemption that could be removed is section 37A that permits religious schools to discriminate against employees on the grounds of religious beliefs, activity or sexuality if done in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion. For example, under this exemption a religious school could justify not employing a prospective employee on the basis that they identify as LGBTI, if the religious doctrine does not support LGBTI relationships.
Churches could also be forced to hold same-sex weddings against their will, which MADA fully endorses:
In respect to access to cultural or religious sites section 43 could also be removed. Section 43 permits restricted access to land, building or place of cultural or religious significance on the basis of sex, age, race or religion if it is in line with the religious doctrine or necessary to avoid offending the cultural or religious sensitivities of people of the culture or religion.
While proposed same-sex marriage laws might not force ministers of religion to marry a same-sex couple against their beliefs – yet – the laws would not protect against the use of a church for such a ceremony, and the proposed NT anti-discrimination laws would make it illegal to refuse.
The only grounds left that organisations would be allowed to discriminate on would be in the education and ordination of clergy, roles in liturgical settings, and members of a religious order.
Michael Kellahan, chief executive of the organisation Freedom for Faith, said that if the law is enacted, the Northern Territory would have “the worst laws in the country for religious freedom,”:
There will be concerns for free speech; there will be concerns for faith-based schools and their ability to really live out those convictions that help to form them.
Bishop Eugene Hurley, the Catholic bishop of Darwin, also expressed deep concern about the changes:
If we remove these exemptions, which are few and paltry, we may end up with a situation where people may not be able to practise their faith or teach their religion, even in a religious school.
These proposed changes are part of the Northern Territory’s blueprint for limits on religious freedom after same sex marriage is legalised. This is why we need to ensure that marriage is not redefined; we need to protect Australians’ rights to religious freedom.