17 February 2020

Commonwealth's religious freedom laws are 'morally repugnant', says Barr

| Dominic Giannini
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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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“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.

rationalobserver10:02 pm 18 Feb 20

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

HiddenDragon8:09 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).

Andrew Barr and his government, however, treated this programme with the contempt (ie. implementing inclusive rational and considered public policy) it deserved. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-23/religious-chaplains-banned-in-act-government-schools/10842950

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. https://www.smh.com.au/national/contentious-school-chaplain-program-is-on-shaky-legal-ground-20180309-p4z3nl.html

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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

I agree. I wouldn’t like to see any legislation which allows religious zealots to intrude on my freedoms and discriminate against any members of the community “anywhere” because of their sexual orientation or religious views, particularly young people. And the creation of a Freedom of Religion Commissioner! What will the Commissioner’s role be?
We have heard Labor’s views on this new legislation, can we hear what the Canberra Liberals, who are deeply conservative, position is on these new religious freedom laws should they win government in October?

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