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Rights juggle in religious freedom bill

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Diversity advocates say a contentious clause protecting religious statements of belief would override people’s other rights.

But representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference argue the clause in the proposed discrimination legislation is necessary due to “hard truths” in religion.

On Thursday, the federal parliamentary committee on human rights began its second hearing on a religious discrimination bill controversially introduced to parliament in the final sitting weeks of 2021.

Representatives from business, church, education and diversity groups appeared before the committee in the first half of the hearing.

A point of contention with the bill is the inclusion of a statement of belief clause.

The clause says it will not be discriminatory for a person to say something they “genuinely consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion”.

However it does not apply if the statement is malicious or threatening.

Australian Catholic University professor Rocque Reynolds said the clause was important because religions often had “hard truths” that were offensive to some people.

“Religions can have hard truths … and people might find them offensive but they’re not intimidatory or threatening,” she said.

“We think the bill has found a good balance with that.”

Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli told the committee the proposed religious discrimination bill completed the suite of existing anti-discrimination laws.

But Diversity Council chief executive officer Lisa Annese said advocates were concerned the statement of belief clause would override protections of other rights.

She said the council supported people being protected from discrimination due to their faith, but did not want to privilege religious rights over others.

“This is an unprecedented intrusion into other jurisdictions by protecting expression of religious speech over acts of discrimination and creates different standards for statements of belief,” the council said in a submission to the committee.

National employer association Ai Group says the legislation as written will not bring harmony to Australian workplaces.

Ai Group workplace relations policy head Stephen Smith said his organisation’s preference was to fix the gaps in state and territory anti-discrimination legislation rather than introduce another law over the top.

– AAP

We’ve Already Come Too Far To End This Now.

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