Faith Leaders Express Concern over Draft Discrimination Bill in Australia

Questions have emerged regarding the potential ramifications on religious education.

Tracey Bridcutt, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review
Faith Leaders Express Concern over Draft Discrimination Bill in Australia
Michael Worker and other faith leaders meet with senators Cash and Henderson (front row, center). [Photo: Adventist Record]

A representative from the Seventh-day Adventist Church is among faith leaders who have expressed “deep concerns” to the Australian government regarding the potential ramifications on religious education institutions of proposed legislation.

Forty faith leaders, including Kojo Akomeah, associate director for Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist Church in Australia, recently signed an open letter addressing the government’s purported negotiations with The Greens party to implement recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) and pass a religious discrimination bill.

“While the government has had access to the ALRC report since last year, it has only just been made available to those most affected by its recommendations, particularly religious schools,” the letter states.

“Only a select few have seen the two draft pieces of legislation, meaning there has been no opportunity for people of faith to offer detailed feedback to the government or the Opposition.

“We consider the reluctance of the Opposition to offer support to a legislative proposal for religious freedom which is — at this point — unseen and untested by faith communities to be reasonable and prudent, rather than an indication that a bipartisan approach endorsed by the faith communities is unachievable.”

In the letter, the faith leaders express reservations about any potential collaboration with The Greens, citing concerns over the party’s policies. 

Meanwhile, Australian Union Conference general secretary Michael Worker was among a group of faith leaders who met with Senator Sarah Henderson and Senator Michaelia Cash last month to discuss government changes to the Sex Discrimination Act and the proposed religious discrimination bill.

 “The Coalition’s guiding principle is that any legislative package brought forward by the Government must be one that takes people of faith, including faith-based schools, forward and not backwards,” Cash wrote in a Facebook post following the meeting.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has since stated that religious freedom protections for faith groups “will not go backwards while I’m Prime Minister of Australia,” a commitment welcomed by faith leaders.

According to the ALRC, the implementation of the government’s policy in accordance with the organization’s recommended reforms “will substantially narrow the circumstances in which discrimination by religious educational institutions of their students and staff is permissible at law.” It will also “maximize the enjoyment of human rights and appropriately manage the intersection of rights,” “ensure any restriction of rights is justifiable under international law,” and “make federal law more consistent with state and territory laws and the law in comparable overseas jurisdiction.”

It is something that, if implemented as proposed, faith leaders emphasized, could have negative ramifications for religious schools in Australia.

The original version of this story was posted by Adventist Record.

Tracey Bridcutt, Adventist Record, and Adventist Review