Everyone deserves to live, study, and work with dignity, no matter what they believe, who they are, or whom they love.
Everyone should be afforded an equal opportunity to access the services and support they need, such as education, housing and healthcare, to realise the best lives they can achieve for themselves and the people they love.
Unfortunately, One Nation NSW’s Religion Bill fails to protect all of us, equally.
“The Bill allows religion to be used as an excuse to hurt, exclude and demean others, including other people of faith. The Bill makes it harder for employers, educators, and professional and licencing bodies to foster inclusive cultures and protect their employees, customers and clients from harmful conduct motivated by one person’s beliefs.”
People who engage in certain activities motivated by their religious beliefs that harm, offend or humiliate their colleagues, clients or customers may be immune from consequences from employers, educational institutions and professional or trade licensing bodies, if those people engage in those activities outside of traditional occupational or educational settings, or outside hours.
Employers, educators and professional bodies will only be able to respond to inappropriate conduct in these circumstances if these activities:
- directly criticise or attack the organisation; or
- cause the organisation ‘direct and material financial detriment’, but not including any boycotts, or the ‘withdrawal of sponsorship or other financial or corporate support’.
This means that certain activities motivated by religious beliefs that harm others, or that cause reputational or even certain forms of financial harm to the organisation itself, may be immune from consequences.
These provisions may override employment contracts, codes of conduct and professional standards which regulate behaviour.
These provisions however do not apply to organisations which define themselves as having a ‘religious ethos’, meaning these organisations can continue to regulate the behaviour of their employees and students at any time and place.
- An employee sends an email at night using their company email address which tells a co-worker that she is wrong to deprive her child of a father. Because this conduct occurs outside work hours and is motivated by the employee’s religious beliefs, it may be unlawful for the employer to restrict, limit or sanction the employee for harassing their co-worker.
- A doctor tells a young man from his church, who comes to visit him at his home, that his homosexuality can be ‘cured’ with medication. Because this conduct occurs outside the workplace or after hours and is motivated by the doctor’s religious beliefs, health regulators may not be able to enforce standards regarding professional conduct.
- A teacher makes anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic statements on her Facebook profile that are seen by parents from her school who complain to the principal. Because these statements occur outside the workplace and after hours, and are motivated by her own religious beliefs (or lack of belief), the principal may not be able to ask the teacher to refrain from conduct that makes her students feel unsafe or unfairly treated at school.
“Conduct that is unlawful or even criminal today, could also be protected in the name of the religion.”
The Bill protects people who engage in ‘religious activities’, provided those activities are not imprisonable crimes. This means that people who engage in conduct that breaches civil obligations or criminal offences that are only punishable by fines are protected by the Bill.
For example, the Bill would protect activities motivated by religious beliefs that breach:
- professional standards, such as codes of conduct applying to health and other professionals;
- legal obligations that are not criminal in nature, such as breaches of contract, negligence, confidentiality, anti-discrimination and vilification obligations.
- An aged care worker refuses to provide care to a same-sex couple, despite an obligation not to discriminate in the provision of services.
- A doctor refuses to provide a woman with information on how to locate a doctor willing to perform a termination, despite an obligation that he provides that information.
- A disability care worker who proselytises to a person with different religious beliefs while providing them care, despite a contractual obligation that they provide culturally appropriate care.
“The Bill also privileges institutions over people, by setting standards for others to meet which those institutions are not willing nor required to meet themselves.”
Organisations which define themselves as having a ‘religious ethos’, including schools, charities, hospitals, aged care facilities and even those established with commercial purposes in mind, will be broadly exempt from the new protections.
This means that it will remain lawful for such bodies to discriminate against those with different or no beliefs in areas such as employment, education and service delivery, even if they are in receipt of public funding and/or where religion is not relevant to the role or service.
- A Christian school fires a teacher who marries a Muslim, or refuses to accommodate the religious dress or holidays of a Sikh or Jewish student.
- A Christian charity refuses to hire Christians who have different personal views to the organisation on matters of religious doctrine.
Organisations which define themselves as religious will also be able to challenge NSW government programs, policies, contracts and decisions made under NSW laws which contradict their particular religion.
- A faith-based organisation challenges a NSW government funding agreement which requires it provide its services to all couples equally, because it believes marriage must be between a man and a woman.
- Religious organisations could challenge executive orders made under NSW laws, such as COVID-19 public health orders restricting religious gatherings.
“The One Nation NSW Religion Bill seeks to divide our communities; it creates double standards in our laws.”
The Bill does not extend existing hate speech (anti-vilification) provisions which apply to some ‘ethno-religious’ groups to people from all religions.
This means that while Jews and Sikhs may be protected from vilification, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and people from other faiths are not.
- A woman is abused on the train by a fellow passenger because she is wearing a hijab (Muslim headdress). Because anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act do not currently extend to Muslims, she could not complain to Anti-Discrimination NSW about this behaviour.
The Bill allows employers to prohibit the wearing of religious symbols and clothing during work hours where this reasonable, having regard to workplace safety, productivity, communications and customer service requirement, and industry standards.
This means that courts will be required to consider whether bans on religious dress in workplaces are reasonable by reference to existing standards and ways of doing things, which may themselves be discriminatory.
- The explanatory note to the Bill says that there would be no discrimination if a Muslim woman who wore a full-face covering were refused a job as a bank teller.
ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF THIS STATEMENT
This statement has been organised by a collection of organisations committed to equality for all, including: