Media Release: Press Club forum – NSL on religious discrimination

Press Club forum - a watershed for the secular voice

By line: Brian Morris

  • NSL ambassador Fiona Patten: "ACL unable to justify religious bill"
  • NSL’s Peter Monk: "public oppose employment based on religion"


“The Press Club forum on Wednesday – a head-to-head debate on ‘religious freedom’ – marks a watershed moment for the National Secular Lobby (NSL), ” says its president, Peter Monk.

“Church leaders and Christian lobbies have been the dominant public voice on religious privilege since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017 – and they are still unable to accept this new law which is embraced by the vast majority of Australians.”

“But the National Press Club’s invitation to NSL – to debate with the Australian Christian Lobby the contentious Religious Discrimination Bill – marks a turning point for a more balanced range of ideas on religious freedom and privilege,” Mr Monk said.

Fiona Patten, an NSL ambassador and Victorian MP, challenged ACL’s Martyn Iles to explain why the Morrison government’s bill was necessary.

She said the government’s own review on religious freedom – headed by former attorney general, Philip Ruddock; “showed people of faith were already free and unencumbered to ‘manifest’ their beliefs.

Following the hour-long forum, Ms Patten said, “ACL were unable to give any rational reasons why this divisive bill was necessary – especially given the critical economic and political issues currently faced by this government.”

"We can see no reason for this legislation, except as a sop to various conservative groups still unable to come to terms with passage of the Marriage Equality Act."

“This bill is more an attempt to enshrine ‘religious liberty’ – primarily a right to hire and fire staff in religious institutions who did not conform to their Christian ‘doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings’.

“Section 41 of Christian Porter’s draft bill is the key to greater religious privilege – it acts not a ‘shield’ but as a heavy ‘sword’ to discriminate against anyone who fails to conform to their beliefs.”

Ms Patten said this presents, “as a religious solution just looking for a problem.”

“This Religious Discrimination Bill does not foster tolerance; it doesn’t cultivate mutual respect.  In fact, it does quite the opposite – it is socially and politically divisive.”

She echoed the complaints of human rights advocates that the proposed legislation would override existing anti-discrimination laws, including those preventing sexism and racism.

NSL president, Peter Monk, said the Press Club forum exposed clear weaknesses in Martyn Iles’ arguments for greater religious privilege – resting primarily on calls from the Catholic Bishops Conference for greater powers to fire employees who don’t conform to a “Christian sexual ethic”.

He said ACL had no clear explanation of why the bill was essential, other than to reaffirm that “sexual relations are for one man and one woman” – which led to further lapses into what can only be described as evangelising.

“Mr Iles seemed to be interested primarily in damage control.”

“He knows marriage equality has majority public support, and the idea of hiring and firing on sexual identity is widely opposed – particularly when religious institutions are the largest non-government employer in Australia.

“The Press Club forum brought into stark contrast the secular and religious viewpoints – and it has solidified NSL’s position as a clear secular voice calling for reason and tolerance.”

“We call on parliament and the public to firmly reject the polarisation and prejudice which underpins this flawed religious bill,” Mr Monk said.


National Secular Lobby