Episode 218 – The Religious Discrimination Bill 2019

In this episode, we examine the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019.

The Religious Discrimination Bill 2019

We start off with a quick look at the important sections.

20:12 The Iron Fist thoughts on how to argue against the Bill

We don’t need any Religious Discrimination Bill because:

  1. Religious People are not discriminated against. They are not victims. They are in charge. (Look at who is in charge of this country (Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Christian Porter, Anthony Albanese (Anthony has often said that he was raised with three great faiths: The Catholic Church, The South Sydney Football Club and Labor), Mark Dreyfus (Jewish) Kristina Keneally, The Governor-General David Hurley (He was raised an Anglican, while wife Linda is a Presbyterian. They both keep fit. Mrs Hurley hula-hoops while reading the bible every morning, but it is their faith they say that binds them);
  2. When federal parliament is in session, the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship meets fortnightly, with about 60 members from all sides of politics in attendance. This is more than a quarter of total parliamentary members. Not all Christians in parliament choose to attend the fellowship. Anecdotal evidence suggests that guest speakers, prayer and Bible studies with focused discussions are regular features of these meetings. 37 lower house MPs elected to make an affirmation, compared to 114 who swore oaths on religious texts. In the Senate, 25 oaths were sworn and 15 affirmations made;
  3. Look at the conclusion of the Ruddock report after reviewing 15,000 submissions (The Panel found that, by and large, Australians enjoy a high degree of religious freedom, and that basic protections are in place in Australian law. Ruddock himself said afterwards “We didn’t find a lot of evidence of actual material discrimination that would be of concern but where we did we brought forward some recommendations to help deal with it”);
  4. This will create more red tape and rules from a government that claims to be business-friendly; and
  5. Religion is not special enough to justify its own Bill (It is just an ideology. If you want to protect it then protect other groups like communists, neo-liberals and vegans. See ideological argument below).

We don’t need this particular Bill because:

  1. It grants special rights to religious speech by individuals. The Israel Falou case. No other discrimination law in Australia has this “employer conduct rule”.This means an employer could sack you for expressing almost all views except those that are religious.
  2. It grants special rights to religious practice by individuals (A vegan by choice can’t insist on vegan meals at an employer function but a vegan by choice of religion could. An atheist with a regular Friday night activity can’t insist that Friday night staff drinks be moved but a Jew might be able to);
  3. It gives special rights to religious organisations. It recognises that religious organisations can have an ethos and it privileges that ethos. ( You can object to or discriminate against a religious person if you are a religious organisation but you can’t if you are non-religious) The end result is as Scott Morrison said – you can have freedom of religion but not freedom from religion;
  4. It privileges institutions over individuals (Look at Josiah Falou or a nurse who adheres to the Islamic faith is asked to remove her hijab by the Catholic-run aged-care home that employs her, whose freedom will be the priority? And these are favours for the institutions who are guilty of mass child abuse)
  5. The effect will be to allow religions to discriminate against gay and lesbian people (who are actually suffering discrimination and who have characteristics worth protecting). When they got protection they didn’t ask to discriminate against straight, white able-bodied people.
  6. We don’t know the conflicts of interest that the various politicians hold. Many of them are religious and their votes will benefit their religions. They should state their religion on the register of interests.

The Ideological Argument

Why do we have any anti-discrimination laws? There are two reasons, namely, to protect the individual and to protect our society. At the individual level, it is obviously unfair to treat a black person poorly just because they are black. It is an inherent characteristic they could do nothing about and skin colour is not something that can be described as morally good or bad. At the society level, we need a harmonious inclusive society in order for society to operate effectively. Inclusive societies perform better. Accordingly,  we have developed suitable laws prohibiting unfair discrimination based on race and other fixed characteristics such as gender, sexual preference, age and disability.

Do we need anti-discrimination laws regarding religion?

In relation to protecting individuals, religious belief contains ideological content and is therefore different to inherent characteristics. Unlike race, some religions can be described as morally corrupt. At a personal level, it could be justifiable to refuse to associate with a person because of their offensive religious practice. For example, I discovered a Jewish friend insisted on his one-year-old son being circumcised without an anesthetic. I no longer want to associate with that person. That is justifiable. If my shunning of that person was based on skin colour, it would not be justifiable. The point is, personal discrimination based on offensive religious practice may be reasonable. The point of all this is to show that religion is different to race, gender, sex and sexual orientation. Religion relies on ideological content which may be morally corrupt and undeserving of protection, let alone privilege.

Religious people tend to cherry-pick the bits of doctrine they choose to follow so the tricky part is discovering which bits a particular person believes in. It would be wrong for me to condemn all Jewish people because not all of them believe in circumcision without anaesthetic. In terms of protecting society by encouraging harmonious inclusivity, we must assume benign religious belief and offer protection from discrimination unless given good reason not to.

So, based on that, it could be reasonable to offer protection (not privilege) for religious belief but for intellectual consistency and fairness, if religions are offered protection so should other ideologies and protection for ideologies should clearly play 2nd fiddle to protection for inherent non-ideological characteristics such as race, gender, sex and sexual orientation.

Countering the Religious Ethos argument

Michael Kellahan, the head of Christian legal thinktank Freedom for Faith, told Guardian Australia that religious discrimination was different to other forms of discrimination because it was inherently about people who “gathered together.”

“That isn’t a tricky legal argument, it’s the very nature of religious belief that people don’t have it in isolation,” he said. “It is not just an individual right, it is actually a right to gather with others, it is a right to teach children it’s a right to gather on the basis of belief.”

He said that even though there was a push from conservatives for a broader religious freedom act, a religious discrimination act that captured religious organisations would be a welcome “first step”.

“But it would be a strange result if this first piece of legislation dealt just with an individual’s rights divorced from institutional kinds of rights,” he said.

The Fist says:

The right to gather together to worship is fine. The right to exclude others when worshipping is fine. The problem is when the gathering is not for worship but is for normal community activities such as education, work or leisure and religious groups want to exclude non-religious from those non-worship activities. That would divide and cripple our society. Of course, religious groups say that worship activities cannot be separated from other lifestyle activities. I disagree but if you really want to do that then you can take the benefits of an integrated society while erecting your own gated community. Go and live on Libertarian island if you want that.

39:24 The Rally in Melbourne

Hi Trevor

I attended yesterday’s rally in Melbourne. Thought you might be interested in our observations.

There were a number of speakers, similar in nature to those you had in Brisbane. We also had a young woman from the Safe Schools Coalition, who was very interesting. The crowd was disappointingly small though – about 500, despite the nice sunny weather. We then marched around the block from the State Library. There were crowds of people in the CBD yesterday, so we at least had plenty of exposure (and lots of curious stares from Chinese students, who must have wondered why the police weren’t beating us up).

As in Brisbane, the rally was organised by the LGBTI community. I’m really glad that they did this, as they clearly have very well organised activist resources. And as you correctly pointed out, they will be the primary targets of this legislation. However, as the legislation will affect a wider range of people, I wonder whether the rally might have had broader appeal (and therefore more participants) if they had involved other organisations, such as the atheist/rationalist/humanist groups, or even some unions such as the teacher unions. Maybe something for them to consider next time, as I understand that more rallies will be organised over the coming weeks and months.

Best wishes as always,


41:15 We need to know the religious belief of our politicians. There is a clear conflict of interest.

You can check out the House of Rep’s register of interests and The Register of Senators’ Interests

Scott Morrison


Christian Porter

From the IFVG secular index:


55:43 Adam Goodes

The basket of deplorables rule in action.

When the credits rolled on The Australian Dream after its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival, it was met with a 10-minute standing ovation.

Jump a few weeks ahead to when the film opens in Australia and it ranks 12th at the box office on opening weekend.

The Australian Dream is a film that’s ahead of its time in many ways, but, like Goodes, while its heart is in the right place, the nation did not rise to meet it.

Ticket sales prove the film’s point.

57:58 Indigenous Spirituality Vs Christian Spirituality

Church leaders and community elders have warned that ­remote indigenous communities are bitterly opposed to voluntary euthanasia and its introduction would undermine trust in the health system.

Rose Elu, an elder in Brisbane’s Torres Strait Islander community, said she recognised the compassionate argument for easing the suffering of dying people, but the taking of human life would offend the deep sense of spirituality and Christian faith permeating remote indigenous communities, whatever the circumstances.

“Because of the strength and wisdom of our faith, we feel that when the time comes for someone to depart, that is in God’s hands,” she said yesterday after Sunday service at St John’s Anglican Cathedral.

“It would be very difficult for the people to understand why you would do this, why you would take action to cause someone to die. It is not our way.”

Indigenous state MP Josie Farrer from the Kimberley in Western Australia’s far north says she is conflicted by VAD for cultural reasons, though she supports the McGowan government legislation.

“Where I come from, it is our belief in our traditional culture that if a person receives assistance in passing on, their spirit will be trapped,” Ms Farrer told state parliament last week when the debate on the bill opened. “We ­believe that when it is your time, it is your time.”

Bishop Joseph, who holds a PhD in medical ethics, said he had not encountered a single indigenous person who was in favour of VAD — though he acknowledged it was not a priority for communities confronting entrenched public health, social and law and order challenges.

Cape York indigenous leader Gerhardt Pearson, an observant Lutheran from the former mission town of Hope Vale and executive director of the Balkanu community development organisation, said the voice of indigenous people needed to be heard in the debate.

The Fist:

Simple, don’t use it yourself if you don’t want to but let others, if they want to.

1:04:56 Qld Confession Laws

From Palace Chook:

No crime is more sickening than those committed against children.

That’s why we’re introducing laws compelling priests of all religions to report the confessions of child abusers.

Queenslanders expect more.

And that’s what we’re doing.

When do Australian priests have to report child abuse?

Here is a summary of the situation in various states.

Vic, TAS – currently debating

SA, ACT – priests must report

WA, QLD – laws being drafted

NSW – Historic abuse only

NT- there is a confusing conflict of law

1:07:28 A good summary

Of the history of religion in Australian politics.

Phases of Christianity in party politics

A snapshot of the relationship between Christianity and Australian politics reveals three phases:

  • the sectarian phase (when Labor was primarily Catholic and Liberals were Protestant);
  • the Catholic migration into the Liberal Party phase; and
  • the strong Christian personality phase – where politicians from both parties came out to wear their faith on their sleeves.

Traditionally, Labor and Liberal politicians were staunchly divided as Catholic and Protestant respectively. Catholics in Australia, primarily from the working class (and of Irish descent), were attracted to the Labor Party. Liberals came from the non-working class and were mainly of Anglican and Presbyterian backgrounds.

In the years that followed, Catholics continued to vote mainly for Labor. But with changing socioeconomic patterns, many Catholics moved into the middle class and were more inclined to vote Liberal. The Labor Party split in 1955, when its anti-communist faction broke away to give birth to the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).

This was the start of a new development in the political landscape of the nation. When the DLP lost momentum Catholic Labor politicians soon started migrating to the Liberal Party, ushering in the second phase of politics and faith. Together with “Howard’s battlers”, Catholic politicians successfully kept the Coalition in power from 1996 through to 2007.

Throughout John Howard’s leadership, the Coalition gained votes from regular church-goers of both Catholic and Protestant persuasions, ostensibly bringing sectarianism to an end. Howard’s Coalition also made overtures to the newer non-denominational churches.

More recently, Australian politics and religion has entered another phase with those willing to boldly posture their faith in the public sphere.

Unlike Menzies, John Howard and Paul Keating, who though religious kept their faith quiet, Kevin RuddTony Abbott and former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi moved Christian values from the periphery to the centre when they declared their strong convictions on faith and policy.

Negotiating Christian values

While religion and politics operate quite differently in the US to Australia, the high numbers of Christians in Australian parties are sometimes under-reported.

Arguably, the large proportion of Christians in the main parties enables Christian politicians to negotiate their religious values in four main ways:

  1. A strong parliamentary Christian fellowship

When federal parliament is in session, the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship meets fortnightly, with about 60 members from all sides of politics in attendance. This is more than a quarter of total parliamentary members.

Not all Christians in parliament choose to attend the fellowship. Anecdotal evidence suggests that guest speakers, prayer and Bible studies with focused discussions are regular features of these meetings.

  1. Faith-based delivery of social and community services

The government has outsourced approximately two-thirds of community services to faith-based agencies at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Typically, these services focus on youth, aged care, family support, homeless programs and mental health.

  1. Selective faith keeping

Christian politicians are typically circumspect and only “walk the talk” on vital matters. They have their own hierarchy on faith values.

  1. Invoking the conscience vote on controversial moral issues

The use of conscience votes demonstrates the high place given to religious convictions and sensibilities.

As Australia becomes less religious, paradoxically, Christianity seems to be flourishing in both the Coalition government and the Labor Party. Thus, politicians are influencing the nation in particularly interesting ways.

1:10:09 Primary Ethics

FIRIS thinks it’s a problem

For the last four years, FIRIS in NSW has remained neutral regarding Primary Ethics. However, PE’s recent announcement that it is planning to move into secondary schools undermining the efforts of those organisations working towards real legislative change means that it is time to make it very clear –

Special Education in Ethics and Primary Ethics as the sole provider of SEE do not offer a solution to the divisive and discriminatory and broken system of SRE in NSW Government schools and are now clearly part of the problem.

The email below from a former CEO of PE (dated 27 November 2015) makes it very clear that PE had/has no interest in being part of a movement for real change.

PE is invited to inform FIRIS if this is no longer the case.

However, the fact that the current Special Education in Ethics Procedures state –

“If no SRE providers are available, SEE may still be delivered.

Principals must ensure that no academic instruction or formal school activities occur during time set aside for SEE.”

– means that PE can no longer make the claim that they are simply an alternative for the students in ‘alternative meaningful activities’ (AMA). SEE now creates the need for AMA by requiring the ‘academic instruction’ and ‘formal school activities’ of non-participants to be suspended while SEE classes are taking place!

PE is now no different to the 106 self-interested SRE providers disrupting and interfering in the work of principals and professional educators and their efforts to maintain an inclusive and quality public school system in NSW.

1:16:24 Female Engineers

From the SMH

In an effort to reduce the gender imbalance within engineering, the University of Technology Sydney will reduce its ATAR requirement by 10 points for female students.

Civil engineer and Victorian general manager of Engineers Australia Alesha Printz said it would send a message to women that they were welcome in the field. The 10-point adjustment was recently approved by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board.

UTS director of women in engineering and IT Dr Arti Agarwal explained “nobody [would be] getting a free pass” and that once admitted to the course women would have to meet all its requirements.

Agarwal explained how those with lower ATARs wouldn’t necessarily get the lower grade-point average in class. I firmly agree, but how is it fair that girls are afforded this special chance to demonstrate this is true?

This did not work out in the USA

Coleman Hughes on The Godless Spellchecker podcast provides an interesting insight into affirmative action. Minority students are placed in colleges where they would not normally qualify and are therefore in the bottom half (intellectually) of the cohort. A math student at MIT could be in the bottom 10% at MIT but be in the top 10% in the country. They struggle and drop out at higher rates than if they had been placed in a lower grade college. The problem cascades down through the lower colleges who have to offer places to unqualified students to meet their own quota requirements. California reversed the affirmative action law and graduation results improved. See this article in the Spectator.

1:26:07 Facebook Comment from Keiron

The case re the public servant was a very extreme set of facts. Extreme too were the lengths the employer went to in order to breach the public servant’s anonymity. You should consider the import of that decision on more mundane scenarios. Does this decision enable the dismissal of, say, an Immigration Dept employee for ‘liking’ one of your posts in relation to private school funding, or school chaplains? If not, why not. If so, do you still think that’s fair enough?

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