Media Release: What does “Religious Freedom” actually mean?

Philip Ruddock’s review panel will report on new protections for “Religious Freedom” 
following passage of the Marriage Act, that provides equal status for same-sex couples.

“Religious lobbyists have misled the public and media with their calls for more ‘Religious Freedom’, since same-sex marriage became a front-page story 3 years ago.  The term ‘Freedom’ has been deliberately twisted,” says NSL Ambassador and former Senator, Chris Schacht.

“People are guaranteed the ‘freedom’ to choose any faith under our constitution, but the agenda of some religious leaders and parliamentarians is to gain new exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

“They are lobbying for the American concept of ‘Religious Liberty’ -- to discriminate against same-sex couples publicly and commercially, even though they have equal status under the new Marriage Act.

“Church leaders also want the right for all marriage celebrants -- religious and civil -- to refuse to marry gay couples.  And, also based on faith, for business owners in the marriage industry to deny services.”

Mr Schacht referred to the Law Council of Australia (1) having clearly stated there are no legal restrictions of any kind to prevent people of any faith from exercising their ‘Religious Freedom’.

“Indeed, the LCA has quoted a long list of statutes that give churches “strong protections in domestic and international law”, and these include exemptions from taxation and anti-discrimination laws -- giving the religious community ‘special privileges’ not enjoyed by other citizens,” he said.

Under two international charters (2) there is a specific article that is meant to limit the ability to “manifest” a religion where “such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

“In Australia such laws are entirely inadequate.  There is ample evidence for this in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

“But religious groups are now lobbying the Ruddock Review to remove any remaining obstacles to what they may say and do publicly -- and to give them the ‘liberty’ to discriminate against other citizens.

“Australia is one of the last western countries to have finally removed historical discrimination against the LGBTI community -- when we tentatively legalised gay marriage in December last year.

“So why on Earth would the federal government impose new discrimination allowing devout Christians in the marriage industry to refuse retail, and other services, to same-sex couples?”  Mr Schacht said.

“NSL has lodged a 10-page submission to the Ruddock Review (3) with more than 40 recommendations that detail all legal privileges enjoyed by religions -- and why federal and state governments must review these anomalies, many going back to Federation. They are inappropriate in today’s secular society.”

LCA letter to the “Freedom of Religion Roundtable”, dated 9.10.2015.

Article 18 (4) ICCPR (the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights).
Article 18 of UDHR (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

NSL submission to the Philip Ruddock ‘Religious Freedom Review’.

National Secular Lobby Limited
Media Contact for NSL Ambassadors
Brian Morris, Media Director

(t)  (08) 8338 7777
(m) 0403 379 170