To whom it may concern,
We write to you on behalf of Satanic Australia with a view to making a public submission concerning the second exposure draft of the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, 2019. This is a bill, that like its earlier draft, has been much discussed by both the Australian media and by a variety of expert commentators and bodies concerned with legal and human rights.
Upon reading these commentaries and the explanatory notes provided by the Government however, it is our conclusion that this second draft has resulted in only very minimal improvements on the first and remains irrevocably flawed across a wide array of domains.
The bill has three clearly stated objectives.
The bill appears to be successful in achieving the first of these: “to eliminate, so far as is possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life”, and also successful in achieving the third: “to ensure that people can, consistently with Australia’s obligations with respect to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and subject to specified limits, make statements of belief” with the caveat that the legal definition of ‘statement of belief’ is highly ambiguous.
It is however, egregiously deficient in achieving the second: “to ensure, as far as practicable, that everyone has the same rights to equality before the law, regardless of religious belief or activity.”
In short, the proposed bill succeeds in its objectives of protecting people of faith from discrimination when making statements of belief by, without apparent awareness of irony, allowing those persons to discriminate against other members of the community. This concern is further compounded by the fact that those most likely to be subjected to such legally protected discrimination are already marginalised persons such as members of the LGBTIQA+ community.
As noted above, this proposed bill will impact across a wide array of areas affecting the lives of most people. Four of these that we believe to be of special concern are the domains of employment, education, healthcare and freedom of speech as an overarching concept.
With regards to employment, it is intensely concerning that this bill would allow employers to hire and fire employees on religious grounds. It is further our understanding that this would apply regardless of whether or not religious belief was necessary to fulfilling the duties required by the role. That is to say, a religious body could refuse applicants for a cleaner’s position on basis of that person’s faith or lack thereof. Similarly, this bill would enshrine in legislature the ability of religious organisations such as many private schools to terminate the employment of members of staff if their sexuality or marital status was considered diametrically at odds with that organisations’ religious ethos. Apart from being an inherently unfair basis upon which to base any organisation’s human resources policies, it is of note that the survey recently conducted by the Centre for Independent Studies, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on December 2nd 2019, noted that 64% of Australians do not agree with employment decisions being made on religious grounds.
Similar problems are to be found in the education sector with this bill enshrining the right in law of religious schools to preference admittance to students of their own faith. While this may seem reasonable at a cursory glance, it is completely unacceptable where these schools continue to be heavily subsidised by the taxes paid by all Australians. As such, these schools are obligated to provide their services to all eligible Australian students, not just those adhering to preferred faith of the school in question. Further, the passage of this bill will cement into place the already highly contentious ability of private faith-based schools to expel students on the basis of their sexual orientation, or indeed upon the basis of their parents’ sexual orientation or marital status, if the school considers these to be unsanctioned by the institution’s religious beliefs. To allow this is not only unfair and outrageously meanspirited, it is irreconcilably at odds with Australia’s stance on discrimination in general and on sexual orientation in particular.
As the proposed bill pertains to provision of health care, it is our understanding that it will allow health professionals to refuse to provide a range of procedures if they find them objectionable on religious grounds. Such procedures are likely to include, but may not be limited to, termination of pregnancy, assisted reproduction, birth control, hormone therapy and voluntary assisted dying. Despite the fact that best evidencebased medical practice can be superseded by faith-based decisions is a ludicrous situation, under the religious freedoms bill, these decisions could not even be overridden by rulings from professional bodies such as the Australian Medical Association. Further, this bill would likely ensure the continuation of controversial practices favoured by religious ideology such as so-called gay conversion therapy, despite such ‘therapy’ having long been demonstrated to be at best ineffective and at worst, psychologically damaging to participating clients.
Finally, we arrive at freedom of speech as an over-arching concept. Australian law at present does not recognise a concept of freedom of speech however, this proposed bill seeks to create such a concept, yet one restricted only to be for the benefit of people of faith. As a concept, freedom of speech is generally understood not to extend to freedom from the consequences of what is said. Yet, this is precisely what this bill aims to achieve, granting anything said as a ‘statement of belief’ protection under law regardless of its defamatory nature. This could include a wide range of statements including, but not limited to, “homosexuals are damned to Hell”, “women must be submissive to men”, a single mother being told that she is “sinful”, or “the disabled are being punished by God”. Made as a ‘statement of belief’ these are all things that could be said in either the course of employment or the public domain and legally shielded from any repercussions. This is not only outrageous in and of itself, but as noted by The Law Council of Australia, ‘statement of belief’ is a concept not well defined by law and likely to lead to legal confusion with the result that the principle beneficiaries of the passage of this bill will be barristers.
We note that the second exposure draft of the bill has included a definition of ‘vilify’ as to ‘incite hatred or violence’. This is in fact setting the bar for what may be said as a ‘statement of belief’ way too high and would still permit quite extreme statements of a defamatory or ridiculing nature to be made in relation to groups or individuals who are perceived to not meet with Christian or other religious ideals. This is of particular concern where the message may be received by a large number of people where the mode of delivery is by public speaking, street preaching, televangelism or Christian radio.
In summary, the second draft of the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill represents little to no improvement upon the first. In the first instance, it is completely unnecessary, The Law Council of Australia noting in 2018 that “existing protections arising from domestic and international law provide strong safeguards for religious freedom in Australia”. In the second, it is unwanted, an Essential poll released in October 2019 finding that only 38% of Australians believed that stronger legal protections for religious expression were warranted. In the third, as observed by The Law Council of Australia, the bill is legally confusing which is likely to consume a great amount of unnecessary court time debating the correct interpretation and application of the bill. Finally, and as illustrated throughout this submission, the proposed bill will result in a wide range of inequalities, privileging the religious above other Australians while legalising discrimination against a number of often already marginalised groups in the community.
It is the opinion of Satanic Australia that if the Morrison Government is serious about protecting the rights of its citizens then it would be far better advised to focus on developing a bill of rights that is of benefit to all Australians rather than this piece of ill-advised and unworkable legislation that serves only to promote the discriminatory rights of a minority who persist in clinging to outdated and increasingly irrelevant systems of superstitious belief.
On behalf of Satanic Australia,
In nomine Dei nostri Satanas Luciferi excelsi.
So, It is done.