‘Shock’ consequences of new law
THE Government's proposed religious discrimination laws would have "irrational" outcomes for millions of Australians - including those of faith - opponents have warned.
In December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison released the second draft of the legislation, which seeks to enshrine the protection of faith-based activities.
Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby today launched the #DontDivideUs campaign, saying the Government's push "facilitates intolerance and will work to divide rather than unite Australians".
"All Australians - whether they practise a religion, are 'lapsed' or belong to the quickly swelling ranks of those declaring 'no religion' - could be worse off on grounds of religious belief," Mr Kirby said.
"The Government should heed the chorus of opposition to this law and abandon this ill-considered measure."
The campaign - which the Government said is misleading - highlighted 10 examples of potential outcomes of the law, impacting women, people with disabilities, the LGBTIQ community, people with mental illness and people with no religious beliefs.
Some of the scenarios that the legislation would permit include a pharmacist refusing birth control to a woman who's unmarried, a church-run daycare centre refusing to accept the children of non-religious parents, and divorced women being ridiculed in the workplace, the group said.
Another example is an Uber driver of faith refusing service to a passenger carrying pork products or being assisted by a service dog.
An elderly same-sex couple in a nursing home could be confronted with posters saying 'Being gay is a sin', the group said, while a person with a mental illness could be bullied without consequence if comments were statements of religious belief.
"A woman working for a boss who says her divorce was a sin because women should submit to their husbands would have no avenue of complaint," the group said.
"Medical centres might be pressured to announce denial of care to people wanting advice on contraception or vasectomies because of the religious views of their doctors."
And on the flip side, a person of Christian faith could be ridiculed by a co-worker or employer provided the statement was based on beliefs - such as a different religion or even atheism.
The proposed law would overrule all other state and federal laws, Mr Kirby said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter hit back at the campaign and said while he respected a difference of opinion, "deliberate misrepresentations and blatant falsehoods diminish us all".
"For example, in NSW right now, it would be legal for a rideshare driver to refuse to carry a passenger holding a Christmas ham," Mr Porter said.
"In South Australia right now, it would not be discrimination for an early learning centre to refuse to accept children who are Muslim, or who don't go to church. This is actual, real-world discrimination that is legal right now."
The Bill "simply says ordinary Australians should not be discriminated against because of their religion - or lack thereof - as they go about their everyday lives", he said.
There are "very tight ring-fencing" when it comes to protecting statements of believe, Mr Porter pointed out, but that didn't extend to conduct that was malicious or in bad faith.
"You are not protected for statements that harass, vilify, threaten, seriously intimidate, or urge the commission of serious offences," he said.
Dr Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society, believes the laws will "divide the community on religious grounds, instead of bringing us together in the spirit of Australia's traditional 'live and let live' tolerance".
"This is not an anti-discrimination bill - it is a bill which actively enables discrimination on the basis of religion," Dr Doig said.
"Our groups represent the views of millions of Australians who do not identify as religious - thirty per cent of the population ticked 'No Religion' in the last Census, more than any single religious group."
Dr Doig described the real-world impact as "quite extraordinary", resulting in potentially detrimental outcomes "such as women being denied contraception and people with disability being denied stem cell treatment".
"This is not the sort of Australia we want to live in. Religion can be a divisive issue at the best of times, but we should 'live and let live', not turn every religious debate into a court case," she said.
The Bill also undermines the important feature of separation of church and state in Australia's system of government, she said.
"These laws will pit Australian against Australian and divide us just when we need to pull together to face unprecedented national crises. This Bill is unnecessary, unwelcome and divisive, and our lawmakers should reject it outright."
In December, Mr Morrison said he was confident the law would "unify our country's firm belief in religious freedom".
What Australians believe, both those of faith and no faith, is "such a personal matter", Mr Morrison told reporters at the time.
"It's hard to imagine something more personal," he said, adding it was for that reason the process had to be one that was "on a platform of tolerance and inclusion that brings people together around the big issues".