The Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia has made a submission to the Federal Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the Uniting Church supported the Government’s efforts to improve protections against religious discrimination for all people in Australia.
While the Uniting Church is supportive of much of the Draft Religious Discrimination Bill, it has called for changes to ensure the legislation will not override other human rights or existing protections from discrimination.
The President has been involved in ongoing consultation with the Government on the proposed laws, including meetings with the Prime Minister and Attorney General and other faith leaders.
Dr Palmer said the Uniting Church had consistently highlighted the importance of balancing the right to religious freedom with the rights of people to be free from discrimination.
“We support protecting the human right to religious freedom for all people, but in exercising our rights, we want to ensure we also uphold the human rights of others,” Dr Palmer said.
“Any provisions for religious freedom or protection from discrimination should be driven by an overriding focus on enabling and maintaining a society which encourages mutual respect and where all people are free from discrimination.”
The Uniting Church submission has raised concerns the legislation in its current form will diminish protections for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
In particular, it would limit the protection against discrimination for women, LGBTIQ people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disabilities and other groups, from a range of statements that could be defined as statements of religious belief.
“We wholeheartedly encourage religious beliefs to be expressed in the public domain, however we maintain that religious bodies and individuals must be accountable for the language they use, the context and the likely impact it might have on others.”
The Uniting Church has also expressed concern that the legislation needed to uphold the religious freedoms of minority communities.
The submission calls for an extension to the consultation time to allow all people with legitimate concerns to be consulted. The submission also addresses a number of other issues.
Dr Palmer said the Uniting Church will continue to engage in consultations in relation to the legislation as the Government progresses its work.
You can read the full submission here.