Father Brian Lucas
Religious organisations running schools, health and aged-care services face losing key exemptions to Labor's new anti-discrimination laws under recommendations that could see them sued by people who disagree with church ethos, reports The Australian.
A parliamentary inquiry has found Labor's proposed laws need to be substantially changed, including to dump exceptions that would have allowed religious organisations to discriminate against individuals when providing services, where such discrimination would otherwise be unlawful.
Under Labor's draft bill to consolidate the five pieces of legislation that make up Australia's anti-discrimination laws, religious exemptions were to be largely preserved -- except in relation to commonwealth-funded aged-care providers because of concerns about discrimination against older same-sex couples trying to get into facilities.
In a majority report, Labor and Greens members of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee had found "no organisation should enjoy a blanket exception from anti-discrimination law when they are involved in service delivery to the general community".
Instead, the committee recommends amendments modelled on Tasmania's 1998 Anti-Discrimination Act -- which has the narrowest religious exceptions of any state or territory.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general-secretary Brian Lucas said last night the recommendations made by the Senate committee would "undermine religious freedom" and have "some impact" on services provided, from aged-care facilities to health providers to schools.
"Anti-discrimination law has to strike a balance between competing values, and the exemptions as they are currently expressed by the commonwealth express that balance," Father Lucas said.
"The fundamental value here of freedom of religion has to be recognised, not just as an exemption but as a significant part of the way we live in a pluralist society. I don't think the Senate committee report has done justice to that."
FULL STORY Religion to lose protected status (Australian)