Religious discrimination laws might make Chaplaincy program illegal

Constitutional law expert, Associate Professor Luke Beck from Monash University, has highlighted that the introduction of religious discrimination laws might put the government’s school chaplaincy program on the wrong side of the law.

Speaking to ABC radio in Perth on Tuesday the academic said the Chaplaincy program, which is only open to Christian applicants, may be deemed illegal once the new laws came into effect.

Beck said that in the current debate the phrases “religious discrimination” and “religious freedom” are often being used interchangeably, but they should be seen as two separate and different approaches.

While a religious discrimination law would operate like current sex and race discrimination laws and stop from people being discriminated against, a religious freedom would make legal to undertake certain acts citing religious belief as justification.

Associate Professor Back said a religious freedom law would open the doors to groups such as gay people, divorced people and single mothers are being legally discriminated against.

The law expert said the proposal for a religious discrimination act had flowed on from the marriage equality debate and was a way for the government to tell people who were opposed to same sex marriage that they were being recognised.

“They’re proposing to pass a law, a religious discrimination act, that has the sort of symbolic effect of saying ‘yes we still think that conservative religious people are special and important.'”

Beck said in reality the law was likely to have very little effect at all. While there was little legislation at a federal level banning discrimination on religious grounds, there were a range of laws at a state level.  A federal law would bring additional protections to people in South Australia and New South Wales, but would make little different in WA because we already have broad legislation at a state level.

“A federal religious discrimination act will also apply to what the federal government does, and interestingly one of the worst offenders when it actually comes to engaging in religious discrimination is the federal government itself.” Associate Professor Beck said.

The law expert said Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and Atheist youth workers would likely have a good case against the federal government if they were not able to apply for chaplaincy roles.

“If we have a federal religious discrimination act it will apply to the federal government, and they will have to stop discriminating against people on the ground of religion where they operate their school chaplaincy program. So interestingly it may have a “shoot yourself in the foot effect.” where conservative Christians will lose a benefit they currently have.” Associate Professor Beck said.

OIP Staff


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