The National Catholic Education Commission has slammed the Australian Human Rights Commission for mischaracterising exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. Source: The Australian.
As debate ramps up around the Morrison Government’s religious freedom bill, the NCEC has taken issue with “assertions” made by the commission in a recent policy document and its framing of exemptions as an “impediment” to human rights.
In a sharply worded letter to AHRC president Rosalind Croucher, NCEC executive director Jacinta Collins said the organisation rejected the AHRC’s characterisation of exemptions as “freezing in time community standards”.
“The statement is … with respect, a misstatement and suggests a lack of appreciation about the purposes of exemptions in anti-discrimination laws,” she writes. “We are concerned this language has the effect of ‘othering’ those with religious beliefs. It suggests that religious believers and communities which may rely on these exemptions sit apart from society and operate outside community standards.”
Othering refers to singling out a minority on the basis that their culture and beliefs are fundamentally different and therefore a risk to the majority.
The Catholic Church and education sector, which includes almost 1800 schools across the country, have been lobbying to retain their religious rights, currently afforded via religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law. For schools, exemptions enable them to operate in accordance with their faith, including preferencing enrolment of baptised students and hiring staff who support their teachings.
As the Attorney-General seeks to introduce religious discrimination laws by the end of the year, the AHRC has run a concurrent inquiry into the status of human rights, examining religious freedom protections and the operation of exemptions to anti-discrimination law.
A discussion paper outlining the AHRC’s priorities for reform, released last month, argues that “permanent exemptions have the effect of ‘freezing in time’ community standards in relation to sex, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity”.
Ms Collins’s letter points out that, in the absence of other legislation protecting religious freedom, the exemptions were effectively “balancing clauses … crucial to ensuring the freedom of all to act in accordance with religious beliefs and mission”.
Catholic anger at rights body ‘errors’ (The Australian)