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Commission makes recommendations on freedom of religion

Graphic: Statues in a cathedral, Australia

The Commission has called for community input into new legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has made six recommendations to the Religious Freedom Review, which was established last year to assess the strength of existing religious protections in Australia.

The Commission recommends in its written submission that the Government undertake research and community consultation, with a view to developing new legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

It also recommends the Government examine alternatives to the current system of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to ensure that the rights of all Australians can be realised.

Any proposed changes should comply with Australia's obligations under international law.

"The Government must ensure any future legislation does not detract from existing human rights protections, particularly in the case of LGBTI Australians," said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow, who led the submission.

"Freedom of thought, conscience and religion occupies a special place in our democracy not just because international human rights law demands it but also because this freedom is vital to the healthy functioning of our nation," he said.

"The challenge is to protect this right simultaneously with other rights."

In November 2017, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Australia to "adopt comprehensive federal legislation giving full effect" to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Any reform in respect of religious freedom presents an opportunity to consider such broader human rights reform.

Other recommendations in the Commission's submission include tasking an independent body to collect and analyse quantitative information on the nature and prevalence of harm experienced by people in Australia because of their religion, especially physical and verbal attacks, abuse and intimidation, and discrimination.

The Commission also recommends that the Australian Government enable a multi-faith advisory group, consisting of leaders and representatives of Australia's diverse religious communities, to advise Government.

The Religious Freedom Review panel is expected to report its findings by 31 March 2018.

Date: 14 February 2018

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission

Image credits

  1. Statues in a cathedral, Australia - lioil, Flixkr; http://bit.ly/2BS8Drb