Big fines, jail for breaches of religious freedom laws

LANDMARK religious discrimination laws would make it a crime to fire someone based on their religious views, but rugby star Israel Folau's sacking still would have end up in the courts, under a new proposal.

The draft laws, unveiled by Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday, mean religious doctors would be allowed to refuse to perform abortions and workplaces would have to take into consideration religion when setting behaviour and dress rules.

The laws would give added protection for employees expressing religious views outside work, but it would not be absolute.

Anyone found to have discriminated against someone based on their religion would face up to six months jail or fines of up to $6300.

 

Rugby Australia’s sacking Israel Folau sparked heated religious freedom debates. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.
Rugby Australia’s sacking Israel Folau sparked heated religious freedom debates. Picture: Jane Dempster/The Australian.

Religious freedom has been in the public eye since Rugby Australia sacked star player Israel Folau for paraphrasing the bible and saying people who were gay would go to hell.

Mr Porter said the laws were a shield to protect people's religious beliefs, rather than a sword to prosecute them.

"The Bill would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life," he said.

Big businesses imposing standards of dress or behaviour of their employees, which could conflict with religious views, would have to prove it was necessary to avoid financial hardship.

It means, Rugby Australia would have had to prove it lost sponsorship or crowd numbers to justify dropping Mr Folau.

Small businesses, with a turnover of less than $50 million, would be exempt from this provision.

The laws would protect employees from speaking about their religious views outside of the workplace, as long as they were not "malicious" or inciting hatred.

Quoting or paraphrasing the Bible, or similar religious text, would not be considered malicious.

Employers would not be able to refuse employment based on religion, or create unreasonable rules which would prevent someone practising religious views like observing the Sabbath.

There would be exemptions for religious institutions, which for example, would allow a Catholic school to hire Catholic teachers.

There will be a Freedom of Religion Commissioner who would sit alongside existing race, disability and age discrimination commissioners.

There has been a mixed reaction to the draft from religious and LGBTI groups.

Labor attorney-general spokesman Mark Dreyfus criticised the government for not consulting more, but said he would examine the detail closely.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has released a draft bill introducing new protections against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Attorney-General Christian Porter has released a draft bill introducing new protections against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the supported the concept and would consider the detail, while Equality Australia said it was "a sword for people of faith to use their religious beliefs to attack others in our community".


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