Weekend Wrap for 24 March 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 24 March 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

There's a lot this week on the fallout from the ALRC's report on recommended changes to religious schools' rights to discriminate -- read the report here.

Videos from the Secularism Australia Conference 2023 are now available. The NSL was a proud co-organiser and co-sponsor of this event.

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At the National Level

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has sparked a political firestorm over gay rights, gender and religious freedom by vowing to shelve changes to discrimination law unless he gains Coalition support for new rules for thousands of schools and other faith-based institutions. The sudden move marks a retreat on Labor’s election pledge to update the law to protect the right of religious schools to practise their faith while also shielding teachers and students from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality. (19 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Australians will be promised new legal protection from extreme hate speech despite a political impasse over reforms to religious freedom and sex discrimination, as Labor blames the Coalition for wrecking an attempt to make a bipartisan deal on the broader changes. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will bring forward the tougher law on hate speech, splitting it from the dispute over the religious discrimination package, in a move that has been backed by church leaders. The plans also include new laws against “doxxing” to make it a criminal offence to reveal someone’s personal information in a malicious way without their consent. But the government is being strongly criticised by crossbenchers, the Greens, the Coalition, church groups and equality campaigners for airing plans to shelve the religious discrimination laws unless it can be sure of a bipartisan deal to pass the changes. (20 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Blanket exemptions allowing religious schools to discriminate against staff and students on the basis of sexuality and gender identity should be repealed, a key report to the federal government has recommended. The long-awaited report from the Australian Law Reform Commission, released on Thursday, says the institutions should be allowed to preference staff in line with their beliefs so long as it is proportionate and “reasonably necessary” to maintaining a community of faith and does not breach existing discrimination laws. (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Religious schools should lose their unfettered right to dismiss teachers and expel students over questions of sexuality or gender identity, the nation’s law reform commission has found, in an explosive report that calls for action to safeguard human rights. The conclusions pile pressure on the federal government to scrap a controversial exemption for religious schools in discrimination law, with Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe joining campaigners for equality in calling on Labor to honour its election pledge to change the law. But the report was swiftly denounced by religious schools and major churches due to concern they would lose their ability to build communities based on faith, making it clear they would not accept any move by Labor to put the new proposals into force. (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

A major report from the Australian Law Reform Commission has recommended faith-based school should no longer be allowed to discriminate against staff and students based on their gender identity or sexuality. The government has not given an indication of how it will respond to this report, but a number of organisations have reacted to the recommendations. National Policy Director of the Australian Christian Lobby Christopher Brohier and Legal Director of Equality Australia Ghassan Kassiseh joined Ali Moore to give their views on the recommendations. (22 Mar 2024)
Listen to this segment at ABC Radio Melbourne

Progressive crossbench senators have challenged Anthony Albanese to bypass the Coalition and work with them to settle years of debate over religious freedom laws and guarantee LGBTQ students are protected at school, adding to the pressure on the prime minister as he tries to placate faith groups. Albanese on Friday repeated that he wanted Coalition support to pass the long-awaited reforms because he was determined to avoid a “culture war” over a package that would abolish the right of religious schools to dismiss staff or expel students because of their sexuality or gender identity. (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Around the Country

TAS: Labor says it wants to right the wrongs of history by compensating two groups of Tasmanians who suffered through “shameful” chapters of the state’s past. Ella Haddad said it was “long overdue” to set up redress schemes for Tasmanian women who were forced to give up their children for adoption, as well as gay people charged under the state’s former anti-homosexuality laws. (15 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Mercury

NSW: Gay conversion practices will be banned in NSW after the state’s parliament passed new laws following a marathon debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday morning. Bleary-eyed members of the upper house supported Labor’s Conversion Practices Ban bill just after 6.30am on Friday after debate kicked off at 11pm on Thursday with a number of attempted amendments from the Coalition, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and the Greens. However, the government had stressed it would not be changing its bill and when it returned to the lower house just before 7am, NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley said, “history is made”. (22 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

VIC: Clergy abuse survivors fear their ongoing struggle for acknowledgement from the Catholic Church may be forgotten, after parishioners cut the ribbons adorning the "Loud Fence" of St Patrick's Cathedral on Sturt Street. The ribbons have been removed as part of maintenance and repairs to the cathedral's historic fence, the Ballarat Diocese says, but the church has not given a guarantee the ribbons will be able to replaced once works are completed. (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Courier

Commentary and Analysis

David Patterson: Why I’m speaking out about discrimination in Christian schools.
"I’ve worked for the Christian Schools Australia (CSA) network as a finance and risk manager for a number of years. Close family members have also had decades of experience working in this network. So I’m talking here from both a personal experience but also a collective experience. It is a Christian duty and a moral human duty to speak out against injustice, regardless of the rejection that it may cause at times. And that’s why I am writing this piece about the discrimination that takes place in faith-based schools – discrimination that is funded by taxpayers." (18 Mar 2024)
Read more at Rationale Magazine

Neil Foster: NSW Conversion Practices Bill- risks to religious freedom.
"The NSW government has introduced a Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024 into the Parliament, with the apparent aim of moving it through very quickly. Legislation of this sort has been introduced in other jurisdictions around Australia and elsewhere. The aim of banning oppressive and violent practices designed to “convert” someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual is good, of course. But those practices, while they may have existed some time ago, are really no longer around. The problem with these laws now is that their drafting can be so broad that they interfere with the ordinary teaching of religious doctrines and life within families. These laws are also often premised on the assumption that “gender transition” is a good thing which should be freely available to children, whether or not with parental permission. They raise important issues of concern to all those interested in the welfare of children, whether or not from a religious perspective." (18 Mar 2024)
Read more at Law and Religion Australia

Cherie Gilmour: What “Prosper” can teach us about Hillsong, hypocrisy, and the danger of becoming too big.
"The 'Sleep Out' scene from Prosper is arresting because it captures the complexity and contradictions of Hillsong’s corporate approach to running a Christian church: using the money it collects from members of its congregations and the benefits it receives from the government, to both engage in charitable activities and richly reward its leaders. But in light of their 'receiving', what are we to make of their giving? Last March, in a speech accusing Hillsong of breaking financial laws in Australia and other countries on the basis documents given to him by a whistleblower, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said: 'Hillsong followers believe the money they put in the poor box goes to the poor, but these documents show how that money is actually used to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.' The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission later confirmed they were investigating the allegations." (18 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC Religion & Ethics

Luke Beck: Why are religious discrimination laws back in the news? And where did they come from in the first place?
"On March 21, the federal government will release the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on ensuring religious schools cannot discriminate against LGBTQIA+ students and staff. But the political debate is already well under way – and has been going on since 2017. So how did we get here?" (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Conversation

David Crowe: Why Albanese refuses to take this leap of faith without Dutton.
"Anthony Albanese has managed a remarkable feat with his decision this week to shelve a religious freedom law unless he can secure approval from Peter Dutton to give it a smooth passage through the parliament. Everyone feels they have lost, whether they wanted more rights for religious schools or more protection for gay teachers and transgender students. ... And Dutton was incensed. The opposition leader worked himself into a tirade at a press conference on Tuesday, as if it was an outrage for one side of politics to seek a bipartisan agreement with another. He seemed truly angry that Albanese only wanted to pass a law the Coalition could accept. The anger seems overdone. Perhaps the real frustration in the opposition is that Albanese will not give it the fight it wants. That’s because there will be no chance for the Liberals to start a culture war about Labor and the Greens joining forces to limit the liberty of religious schools." (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

David Speers: A long shadow looms over Albanese's plan for a religious discrimination act as he holds out for a deal.
"Just weeks before the last election, the Labor leader promised to introduce a religious discrimination act 'this term'. 'One of the big differences between me and Scott Morrison', he said, was that he would 'implement the policies that I'm taking to the election'. He said there was 'evidence of religious discrimination', including a senior Catholic figure he knew who had been abused for 'walking down the street dressed as a Catholic'. He said he'd spoken to 'women who've been spat on for wearing a hijab in the street'. He wanted to stamp out such behaviour with a religious discrimination act. At the same time, he wanted to protect LGBT staff and students from facing discrimination because of their gender or sexuality, amending, or removing, an existing exemption for religious schools in the Sex Discrimination Act. The Morrison government had been unable to land an outcome. Albanese promised he would. Now, however, the prime minister says he will only take on this reform if the Coalition agrees not to put up a fight." (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at ABC News

Mark Fowler: More issues with the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Bill 2024.
"The Bill implements various (but not all) of the recommendations of the Queensland Human Rights Commission’s (QHRC) Building Belonging Report, released in September 20221. If enacted the Bill would legislate the most restrictive regime for religious institutions and religious schools in Australia. To illustrate, it would prevent a church from disciplining a Bishop or Imam who engaged in extra-marital affairs, whether heterosexual or homosexual, or even where they engaged in prostitution. Although the Government states that the proposal responds to the QHRC’s concern that the current law is ‘complicated and difficult to apply’, in my view the Bill would vastly increase complexity and uncertainty for both religious institutions and those with whom they engage." (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at Law and Religion Australia

Natassia Chrysanthos: Teacher Steph Lentz was fired for her sexuality. Will the law finally change?
"Steph Lentz worked happily as an English teacher at Sydney’s Covenant Christian School for more than three years. But when she told the school she was a lesbian, Lentz was fired. It was all perfectly legal, under a special exemption that exists for religious schools. Over the past seven years, federal parliament has been repeatedly engulfed in a debate about religious freedom and whether laws need to change. But it has never been able to agree, and the issue split the Coalition on the eve of the last election. At the centre of political debate are two pieces of legislation: an existing provision in the Sex Discrimination Act that allows schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students and staff, which the nation’s law reform commission this week said should be scrapped; and a potential Religious Discrimination Act, which faith communities want introduced. The two issues have been bundled together over years of argument about religious freedom, making them some of the country’s most intractable political issues." (21 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Bert Hetebry: Human Rights or the Right to Discriminate?
"The Religious Discrimination Bill, in draft form has been presented to open the way for consideration in the Parliament and Senate to ensure that those who choose to hate can do so legally. At least that is what is looks like to this citizen. Religious schools can discriminate when employing staff, ensuring that all teachers comply with a morality standard and that will inevitably affect the way education is delivered, especially when dealing with ethics and morality." (22 Mar 2024)
Read more at the AIMN

Michael Bachelard: Inside the ‘ecosystem’: the Brethren businesses in the sights of the tax office.
"The Australian Tax Office conducted an extraordinary unannounced raid this week on the global headquarters of businesses run by the conservative Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren searching for evidence of misuse of funds by high-net-worth individuals in the church. ... The sect, now known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church (PBCC), is a closed organisation which preaches a “hatred” for people outside the church. Women are treated as second-class citizens and homosexuality is not tolerated. ... This masthead has spoken to six former members of the religion who believe the Tax Office investigation was examining what the church calls its “ecosystem” – a complex web of interwoven businesses and tax-free entities including charities and schools." (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Age

Paul Karp: Australia’s religious and sex discrimination laws need fixing, a new report says. What happens next?
"It’s 2024 and Australia’s federal parliament still can’t decide whether and how to prohibit religious discrimination and remove religious exemptions to sex discrimination laws." (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Karen Middleton: Albanese is looking for a show of faith on the religious discrimination bill but common ground looks vanishingly thin.
"It’s taken a couple of years but faith is back in politics. Not literally – let’s not get carried away – but as the subject of debate and in its varied forms: good, bad and religious. This is not a conversation that brings joy. Even those who have restarted the discourse kind of wish it would go away." (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at The Guardian

Neil Foster: Challenges to Religious Freedom: Conversion Practices law passed, ALRC report released.
"A brief update on two significant challenges to religious freedom which have emerged over the last few days. First, in NSW, the Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024 has been rushed through both Houses of Parliament, receiving final approval on Friday March 22 after an all-night debate in the Legislative Council, and is now awaiting the Royal Assent. ... The second concerning development is that on Wednesday 21 March the Australian Law Reform Commission released its report Maximising the Realisation of Human Rights: Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws (ALRC Report 142). Far from “maximising” human rights, the report (as expected by those who spoke to some of its researchers) would have the effect, if adopted, of seriously impairing the operation of faith-based schools around Australia." (23 Mar 2024)
Read more at Law and Religion Australia

Events and Campaigns

Support Independent MP Kate Chaney's proposed laws dealing with the “telehealth problem” preventing access to timely voluntary assisted dying across the country.
Contact your federal MP and senators here.

Residents of NSW, there is a petition running that calls on the state parliament to run scripture (SRE) and ethics (SEE) lessons outside class time in NSW public schools.
View the petition at the NSW Parliament House website

The Australia Institute are calling on federal parliament to pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.
View the petition at The Australia Institute

The Human Rights Law Centre are running a website for those who want to support an Australian Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms.
Visit the Charter of Rights website here

A change.org petition has been started, calling for churches to lose their tax-free status and for "the religious influence of churches in Australian politics and society" to be limited. It's currently up to 30,000 signatures.
View the petition at change.org

Reason Australia are encouraging Victorians to email the state government asking to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read more at the Reason Australia website

Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!

The Australian Education Union is running a campaign calling for “every school, every child” to receive fair education funding. Support the campaign here.

The Human Rights for NSW alliance has launched a campaign calling for NSW to pass a Human Rights Act.

That's it for another week!

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