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Mixed response to Australia's draft religious discrimination bill

Father Rod Bower (centre) is worried proposed religious discrimination legislation will provide cover to break the law in the name of religion.

The federal government has unveiled its draft religious discrimination bill, aimed at protecting Australians' rights to express their religious beliefs. Advocacy groups and opposing parties are criticising the legislation, some warning it may actually enshrine discrimination.

While the draft bill allows for people to express a religious view, businesses would be able to object to that view if they can prove it damages their commercial value. It is a clause aimed at addressing circumstances like rugby player Israel Folau's contract being terminated by Rugby Australia this year after repeatedly posting controversial comments on social media.

Christian Porter says large businesses will be able to take action in such circumstances.

According to the federal government, the draft bill is aimed at ensuring Australians are able to express their religious beliefs and will be similar to other existing anti-discrimination legislation. 

It will enable people to make complaints if they experience religious discrimination in areas like employment and education. 

Mr Porter says the government took what he calls a "shield approach", rather than a "sword approach" to writing the bill.

However religious groups are concerned the bill doesn't go far enough to protect adherents. South Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead says the clause will leave many people unable to express their beliefs.

"The fact that this issue is trying to be resolved independently of the other question, which is about the removal of religious exemptions, I think is a very significant oversight."

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