Far from being a ‘shield’ for religious people in making statements of belief, the draft ‘religious freedom’ bill provides a ‘sword’, says constitutional expert Dr Luke Beck.
In his submission to the Morrison government’s proposed bill, Beck identified a number of “serious problems” that would arise from the definition of ‘statement of belief’.
In particular, he pointed to the positive right that would be granted under section 41 allowing religious people to ignore any other law that might prevent them from making a statement of belief. Also, he said section 8 would make unlawful any employee code of conduct that prohibited the making of statements of belief outside of work.
The definition of ‘statement of belief’ deliberately gives preferential treatment to religious people compared to non-religious people by allowing for statements of religious people on a wide range of topics while limiting non-religious people to statements on the topic of religion only.
“The second way [it does this]...concerns the degree of the connection a statement must have with a person’s religious belief or lack of religious belief,” says Luke, who is an ambassador for the National Secular Lobby.
“For religious people...the statement need only satisfy the low threshold of being of a belief that ‘may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion’. For non-religious people...the statement needs to satisfy the high threshold of being of a belief that ‘arises directly from the fact that the person does not hold a religious belief’.
“Because the definition of statement of belief very clearly discriminates between religious and non-religious people and between religious and non-religious beliefs and does not ensure the enjoyment of rights freedoms on an equal footing...the provisions of the bill...are inconsistent with international human rights law.”