Media Release: National Press Club Face-Off – Christian and Secular Lobbies

By line: Brian Morris

  • Secular Lobby vs Christian Lobby on the divisive 'Religion Discrimination Bill'
  • High-profile reformer, Fiona Patten, explains why 'pro-religion' Bill is flawed

“Church leaders and Christian lobbies have dominated the ‘religious freedom’ debate since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017. But this Wednesday, at the National Press Club in Canberra there will equal time given to the ‘secular’ view,” says National Secular Lobby (NSL) president, Peter Monk.

He said, NSL’s new Ambassador, Fiona Patten – the high-profile reformer, and Victorian MP – “will expose many of the fatal flaws in Christian Porter’s religious Bill. It is simply a legislative attempt to enshrine new privileges to discriminate against others – for the befit of a religiously conservative minority.”

Legal opinions are already critical of the contradictory and complex framing of this Draft Bill, with Human Rights barrister, Simeon Beckett, stating the document is “unworkable”.

Peter Monk says the Canberra Press Club lunch on Wednesday is vitally important “as it provides an opportunity for the ‘secular’ perspective to directly challenge damaging sections of the Bill – which are numerous.”

“Section 8 allows religious professionals to deny services (or referrals) to anyone who doesn’t conform to their own ‘doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings' – with one example being free access to abortions or contraceptive advice.”

“Section 10 gives licence to religious institutions – in health, education, aged care, et al – to hire and fire staff based on a ‘religious test’; one that reflects the religious beliefs of that service provider.”

“Section 116 of our constitution prohibits “religious tests” for government jobs, but this Bill seeks to create and enshrine new 'tests of faith' for all religious institutions – which are the largest non-government employers in the nation.”

“There is also the ‘Israel Folau clause’ that exclusively protects inflammatory religious statements – by any staff of a private employer which has an annual turnover in excess of $50 million. It’s not sufficient that the employer’s ‘brand’ is damaged – they must also prove financial loss to the company, due to the provocative statements.”

Mr Monk said there are dozens of specific examples where privilege is gifted to any religious organisation – and which includes bodies such as the Church of Scientology and various cults that attain religious status.

“This Bill is socially divisive and morally objectionable. Its faith-based mission is to deny the secular rights of 78 percent of citizens who want the separation of Church and State – and specifically with regard to 'secular' legislation.”

“We look forward to the Press Club debate and to a greater public awareness of this badly flawed Religious Discrimination Bill,” Mr Monk said.


National Secular Lobby