A coalition of freethought and pro-secular organisations that campaigned against the initial drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill is warning the Morrison government against pursuing a third draft that creates community division based along religious lines. 

The #DontDivideUs campaign said today that any new laws to protect religious belief and non-belief must provide only a shield from discrimination, in line with existing anti-discrimination laws that protect attributes such as age, race and sex.

Any new laws that privilege religion and provide a sword for religious people and religious organisations to further discriminate will only serve to create further division in communities across the country.

Dr Heidi Nicholl, CEO of Humanists Australia and a spokesperson for the coalition, said that, with the country emerging from almost two years of the pandemic, the last thing Australian communities need now is legislation creating division based on religion.

“If the new bill provides positive religious rights at the expense of non-religious people, women, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ people and many others in our community, as had been proposed in the initial drafts, then we would be really concerned about the impact on Australian society. After all we’ve been through, our country needs unity, not division,” she said.

With former High Court justice Michael Kirby as the public face of the campaign, #DontDivideUs launched in late February 2020 to encourage Australians to reject the government’s initial drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill.

The coalition behind the campaign includes the Rationalist Society of Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia, the NSW Rationalist Association, Humanists Victoria, Sydney Atheists, Humanists Australia, the National Secular Lobby, the Australian Skeptics, the Australian Skeptics (Victoria branch), the Queensland Parents for Secular State Schools and Go Gentle Australia.

Almost 2,600 Australians have so far added their individual support to the campaign.

The #DontDivideUs campaign is also pushing for the Morrison government to give non-religious and pro-secular Australians fair and equal treatment under the revised bill. 

Dr Meredith Doig, president of the Rationalist Society of Australia and a spokesperson for the #DontDivideUs campaign, said it was concerning that Attorney-General Michaelia Cash had ignored the voices of non-religious and pro-secular groups during what the Attorney-General claimed were wide-ranging consultations on the bill this year.

“Based on media reports and what religious groups are saying publicly, we know that religious lobbyists and faith leaders have had regular and privileged access to the Attorney-General and Prime Minister,” she said.

“The Attorney-General claimed recently that she has been consulting ‘far and wide’ and negotiating with stakeholders ‘across the board’.

“Although the government previously said the bill would protect religious and non-religious beliefs equally, it’s clear that it has chosen to ignore non-religious and pro-secular groups this year whilst privileging the voices of religious lobbyists.”

The #DontDivideUs campaign said a Senate inquiry should be held to allow for public submissions and full scrutiny of the details of the bill.

ENDS

Available for interview: 

  • Dr Meredith Doig, President, Rationalist Society of Australia: president@rationalist.com.au 
  • Dr Heidi Nicholl, CEO, Humanists Australia: ceo@humanistsaustralia.org