By Michael Koziol in the Sydney Morning Herald
A number of powerful interest groups including the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the Association of Independent Schools and Catholic Schools NSW have declared support for One Nation leader Mark Latham’s bill to amend the state’s discrimination laws in favour of religious freedom.
But other church groups, as well as the peak body promoting diversity in Australian workplaces, have condemned the bill, arguing it would permit vilification and harassment in the name of faith and prevent firms from fostering “inclusive cultures”.
The comments are contained in submissions to a state parliamentary inquiry which are yet to be published but have been obtained by The Sun-Herald.
Mr Latham’s bill would explicitly make it unlawful for a person to be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, bringing NSW into line with other states. However, it would also go much further, protecting people such as former rugby union player Israel Folau from adverse action by employers for comments made outside the workplace that are motivated by religious belief.
It would be unlawful to discriminate against any employee for their religious activity, as long as the activity did not contain “direct criticism” of their employer, or cause “direct and material financial detriment” to the employer.
Mr Folau settled an unlawful dismissal case with Rugby Australia last year after his contract was terminated for his repeated comments on social media that homosexuals, adulterers, drunks and liars were sinners and would go to hell.
In a note accompanying his diocese’s submission, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies lamented that in the social media era, “even the private, social and charitable lives of people of faith become subject to workplace scrutiny and assessment”, and required protection.
Dr Davies said there was a growing but “ill-informed” idea in the community that religious people could leave their faith at home, in the private sphere. “A person can no more leave their faith at home as they can temporarily abandon their ethnic identity,” he said.