Commonwealth’s religious freedom laws are ‘morally repugnant’, says Barr

Dominic Giannini 17 February 2020 75
Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr provided a scathing submission to the Federal Government about its proposed religious freedom laws. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

The Federal Government’s religious freedom bill has been labelled as unnecessary and morally repugnant by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who said the bill would privilege one set of human rights over another.

In a submission on behalf of the ACT Government, Mr Barr was scathing of the proposed laws, calling the bill friendless and a targeted attack on non-religious people.

“I cannot really explain what the problem is that this legislation is trying to solve,” Mr Barr told Region Media.

“This has to be among the most friendless legislation that has ever been proposed by an Australian government. Those whom it purports to support are not supportive of it, by and large, and those whose rights and protections it would strip away are implacably opposed.

“We want to maintain the situation where people are free from religion in their lives and it does not require intervention from the Federal Government to protect religious freedom.

“This is a clumsy, unnecessary dimension that goes well beyond protecting religious freedom and goes into the arena of providing religious privilege and persecuting those who are not religious and that is very dangerous territory.”

Mr Barr says religious protections are already in place.

“That protection is already enshrined both in the Constitution and through state and territory discrimination acts,” he said.

The submission from the ACT Government focused heavily on the repercussions for the education and health sector, claiming that the bill “appears to allow schools to discriminate on the grounds of religion after a student is enrolled”, which Mr Barr called abhorrent.

“An organisation who is in receipt of public funding and has admitted a student should not be expelling that student. There is no demand from any school in the ACT to be kicking out any gay kids so, again, why is this legislation necessary?” Mr Barr said.

“It would be entrenching religious persecution of people who were accepted into an educational institution; so in this instance, it would be entrenching religious persecution of children.

“It is morally objectionable on those grounds alone, let alone the awful precedence it sets for Australian society. It is just morally repugnant.”

A second draft of the proposed laws was released on 10 December 2019, with 11 changes being made.

The Federal Government first floated the policy as a caveat to appease religious institutions and right-wing MPs during the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017. An inquiry into religious freedoms, which was headed by Philip Ruddock, was announced in November that year.

The proposed bill would make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religion and creates a new office of the Freedom of Religion Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The ACT submission objects to the proposed anti-discrimination laws, raising concerns about public healthcare providers privileging one group of people over another, stating that the new legislation could “risk creating a new legal basis for health practitioners to conscientiously object to providing reproductive health services, including abortion”.

“What we want to ensure is that any non-government, religious-based health service provider that is provided public funds to provide health services does so for the entire community, with no discrimination on the basis of a patient’s attribute,” Mr Barr said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter

Attorney-General Christian Porter speaking at the National Press Club in November 2019. Photo: National Press Club.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter rejected this assertion.

“The bill makes very clear that, while religious hospitals and aged care facilities can maintain a faith-based ethos amongst their staff, they cannot turn away patients or deliver services differently based on religion,” he said in a statement to the ABC.

Mr Barr reiterated that the legislation was moot as there was no problem with religious freedom in Australia. When questioned about the validity of proactive legislation, or clarifying potential problems before they arise, Mr Barr rejected the assertion.

“Well no, because what they are proposing are not protections it is persecution, so the logical position starts from a flawed basis,” he told Region Media.

“What is proposed here is religious preference, not religious freedom. In the simplest possible terms, religious freedom is the right to practise your religion, it is not the right to impose your religion on others and so that is the fundamental philosophical issue.”

He was similarly skeptical if a new bill were to exclude organisations that receive public funding, a common criticism of the bill where organisations that receive taxpayer funds are allowed to conscientiously object to providing certain services.

“[An exemption for public funds] would address many of the concerns in that it would almost entirely limit the right of exclusion within religious organisations to matters that are private in nature, but that is not obviously the key intent of the legislation,” he said.

“The key intent of the legislation is to elevate religious privilege ahead of other rights, including the right to be free from discrimination.

“Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion.”

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75 Responses to Commonwealth’s religious freedom laws are ‘morally repugnant’, says Barr
alisond alisond 12:20 pm 19 Feb 20

“Morally Repugnant”? is a perfect example of nonsense, and it demonstrates that Australia does need rules for “religious freedom”.
If I find Mr Barr’s actions m”morally repugnant” too, I can ignore him, but I’d much rather that he got on with his job.
Remember that those who preach tolerance are themselves often intolerant and not-inclusive.

rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:02 pm 18 Feb 20

Simply substitute climate change for religion in most of these posts to see if the logic stacks up.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 8:09 pm 18 Feb 20

Yep, this religious freedom bill probably has quite a lot to do with dog-whistling.

Cavoodle-whistling is, of course, quite a different matter, and we can’t have too much of that (and almost certainly will in the days leading up to 17 October).

Cliff Wil Hopey Cliff Wil Hopey 2:57 pm 18 Feb 20

Does the Easter Bunny even get a mention

I believe in the Easter Bunny

Frank Booth Frank Booth 11:26 am 18 Feb 20

Andrew Barr and his government, however, treated this programme with the contempt (ie. implementing inclusive rational and considered public policy) it deserved.

Frank Booth Frank Booth 11:20 am 18 Feb 20

This is another example of what we non-believers have to put up with. Apparently religious chaplains are better equipped to cater to the needs of our children in our schools.

Daffydd T Blaidd Daffydd T Blaidd 9:45 am 18 Feb 20

Decades fighting for anti discrimination and what does ScuMo send us back to the dark ages!!!

John Moulis John Moulis 8:24 am 18 Feb 20

The Constitution states that the Federal government cannot make laws with regard to religion. If this bill becomes law it will be struck down in the High Court.

    chewy14 chewy14 3:42 pm 18 Feb 20

    That’s not what the constitution says.

    These laws would be perfectly acceptable from a constitutional perspective, they do not establish any religion or impose any religious observance on people.

Frank Booth Frank Booth 7:56 am 18 Feb 20

Perhaps churches and other religious organisations should consider paying tax if they wish to lobby governments to legislate public policy. Your man in the sky is looking after you. I’m not interested.

chewy14 chewy14 7:39 am 18 Feb 20

Barr is really throwing out the whataboutism’s to hide the recent economic and budget information in the ACT isn’t he?

Must be an election in the offing.

Hint: Andrew, you aren’t a Federal politician, if you want to focus on Federal matters, apply for a different position.

    kim2614 kim2614 1:21 pm 18 Feb 20

    Economic and budget information? What economic and budget information are you talking about? The media over the last week has been reporting that the ACT government is putting aside plans for a budget surplus and will boost efforts to invest in the ACT health system, bushfire recovery, education, tourism and the Coronavirus response (to name a few) to support the economy. Walk around any of the Canberra university campuses and they are currently dead. I have been attempting to find out what the Canberra Liberals’ plans are on boosting the ACT economy but can’t find anything in the media, not even on their website.

    chewy14 chewy14 10:12 am 19 Feb 20

    I think you’ve mistaken political press releases for the “media”.

    See above, did you miss the bit where the budget deficit has tripled? or how our hospital system is massively struggling with increased demand and nowhere near enough capacity?

    And that’s without the overall impact of coronavirus and the bushfires being factored in, the budget will almost certainly degrade further in the next 6 months.

    Although with your last statement about the Canberra Liberals, it’s clear what the intent of your post is.

    “Wah, the other team is bad so it automatically makes my team good”.

    Sorry, just because one political party is woeful, it doesn’t make our current government any better.

Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 9:29 pm 17 Feb 20

Forward to the medieval times ... serfdom with religion controling rorting autocracies.

    Andrew Duncan Andrew Duncan 10:32 pm 17 Feb 20

    Forward to 20th century: governments ban religion, execute or torture those with religious beliefs. All under the guise of ‘the people’ who advocate their distorted view of equality.

    Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 11:00 pm 17 Feb 20

    Andrew Duncan Funny thing Andy ... only religions demand death for the unbelieving ... the different ... hmmm ... seems like your arguement is backed by religions history of tyranny. You loose again.

Aldith Graves Aldith Graves 8:02 pm 17 Feb 20

I so hope the rest all get together & vote it down. We do not need this sort of devicivness

Elizabeth Crockett Elizabeth Crockett 7:48 pm 17 Feb 20

This bill should never see the light of day it's unconstitutional

Charlie Sgroi Charlie Sgroi 7:44 pm 17 Feb 20

Cant have it all your way...barr

Carolyn McGrath Carolyn McGrath 7:36 pm 17 Feb 20

We are seeing the shutting down of our democracy!

    Loren Carminati Loren Carminati 12:47 am 18 Feb 20

    Carolyn McGrath I don't care about "race " , religion, colour or sexual orientation . Why do religious fanatics think they have a right to discriminate, insult or offend . They want a law change then stop taking federal money and pay taxes .

    April Waldron April Waldron 3:39 pm 18 Feb 20

    Loren Carminati agree only charitable aspect of religions should get tax deductions.

    However they should no yt? Get the right to vilify or discriminate in any circumstances just like the mutuality of existing discrimination laws where I can't vilify or refuse to serve or employ a person due to religion, race , sexuality gender identity etc.

    I'm sure discrimination is subtly done and in such cases impossible to prove and that will never change until a genuine commitment to act in a ethical way .

Vander Leal Vander Leal 7:09 pm 17 Feb 20

Now is the time to see Barr's face several times a day, right? Campaigning, but not...

Veronica Lucia Veronica Lucia 6:55 pm 17 Feb 20

Sadly for you, your truth is not the majority’s truth. Labor/Greens are not destroying freedoms they are trying to uphold them. We need freedom from religion not of it.

Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 6:52 pm 17 Feb 20

They are there to protect our freedoms that the labor/green wish to destroy. Mainly our freedom to speak the truth.

    Carol Gainey Carol Gainey 6:59 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki mainly to discriminate in the name of religion. Our discrimination laws are fair and adequate as they are. This bill would be a divisive and discriminatory step.

    Tim Hollo for Canberra Tim Hollo for Canberra 7:00 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki You have, and deserve to have, the right not to be persecuted because of your religion. You do not have the right to persecute others because of your religion.

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 7:18 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki what is it you want to say; that you feel you can’t say unless this bill gets through?

    Narelle Ford Narelle Ford 7:27 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki I don’t have a problem with the current situation.

    Narelle Ford Narelle Ford 7:30 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki No one is coming into our church services to stop our minister preaching.

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 8:11 pm 17 Feb 20

    Carol Gainey Rubbish. The greatest discrimination and attacks are coming from the left. This whole entire movement is predicated on bringing the world under a socialist system where the government is god . In order for socialism/communism to flourish it first needs to destroy the judeo/christian values and christianity itself. Why on earth does anyone want to celebrate a system that was responsible for 100+ million deaths in the 20th century ??....

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 8:14 pm 17 Feb 20

    Luke Bennett Just to be clear, you are not a theologian and have no knowledge on the celestial,terestial and spiritual matters. And also to be clear, you cannot deny the 100s of millions of testimonies of people that have had their lives transformed by the very one you naturally deny and hate.

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 8:15 pm 17 Feb 20

    Narelle Ford not....yet.

    Kalli Peters Kalli Peters 8:21 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki I can get millions of people to say Lord of the rings changed their lives.. does that mean it's true..why is it your views and beliefs are more important or truer than others?? I can't argue that a good story can and does change lives ;)

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 8:26 pm 17 Feb 20

    Tim Hollo Well, describe persecution ?? Some theology that we are naturally offended by?

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 8:34 pm 17 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki seems like you’re speaking very freely. I couldn’t imagine what further space you need to express your views.

    Henry Kivimaki Henry Kivimaki 8:39 pm 17 Feb 20

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith Well, I'm not sure where youve been for the last decade? As if we havent seen a crusade to censure speech. Well, Did you read about the new Swiss law that was passed that has criminalised anyone that objects or speaks against the alphabet mafia. ?? Well?? ...

    John Barnes John Barnes 11:12 pm 17 Feb 20

    Luke Bennett Close but no cigar. It is not superstition, followers are trained (indoctinated) in how to act and react in certain situations. So I may use the wrong word here, but because of the indoctrination it is a psychosis. Unfortunately, society will not admit to this grey elephant in the room, sufferers are not treated and children continue to suffer the abuse of indoctrination in to the various cults.

    Chandler Delveen Chandler Delveen 12:05 am 18 Feb 20

    Wasn't this post about legislation ..... typical

    Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 5:35 am 18 Feb 20

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith I ask this question and never get an answer back, so my belief is that they want to be able to vilify with no consequencez

    Megan Baker-Goldsmith Megan Baker-Goldsmith 7:18 am 18 Feb 20

    Henry Kivimaki you’re expressing yourself pretty freely right now, so you’ve confirmed my view that extra religious “freedom” laws are not needed.

    Here’s the thing you’ll need to learn to accept, you’ve got the freedom to say whatever you want, and so does everyone else; so if you say something stupid or offensive you’re going to have to cop the flack that comes with it.

    April Waldron April Waldron 3:28 pm 18 Feb 20

    Stephen Matthews that seems to be the aim of the bigot bill.

xareon xareon 6:51 pm 17 Feb 20

The ‘Exceptions’ allow religions to discriminate against non-adherents. It is a Discrimination Bill not an Anti-Discrimination Bill

Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 6:37 pm 17 Feb 20

Such an antiquated bill from an antiquated federal government. It doesn’t belong in the real world.

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