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Scott Morrison plans to enact religious freedom law

The Opposition opposes a new law on religion as they feel it will introduce religion into Australia’s politics in a more prominent way.

The Federal Government has unveiled plans it says would better protect religious people from discrimination.

The plans have drawn a mixed reaction, ranging from support to arguments they are unnecessary to claims they could actually lead to discrimination, rather than stop it.

After a lengthy review headed by former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, the Federal Government has broken its seven-month-long silence on the issue of religious freedoms.

The Government has unveiled plans it says would better protect religious people from discrimination.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the Government’s proposed legislation would help prevent prejudice against people based on their religious faith much like current laws covering race and sexuality.

Mr Morrison says the legislation would not be about groups but aimed at helping individuals.

“They’re not about protecting any religious institution. They’re not about protecting any individual religion. In fact, they’re not about those religions. It’s about protecting Australians, and Australians’ right to believe in what they want to believe,” said Mr Morrison.

A religious-freedom commissioner would be appointed to handle complaints.

The Catholic Church has welcomed the proposal, while critics claim there are few cases of discrimination involving religion now with such legislation.

Mr Morrison says people making such claims are detached from the public reality.

“To those who think that Australians of religious faith don’t feel that the walls have been closing in on them for a while...they’re clearly not talking to many people in religious communities or in multicultural communities of Australia,” he added.

Indeed, Mr Morrison emphasises he believes the proposed changes would greatly benefit many in Australia’s largest migrant communities.

“Ninety-five per cent of Indian-born Australians...Greek-Australians....Filipino-Australians...over 90 percent of Italian and Lebanese-Australians...identify with having a particular religious faith,” the Prime Minister added.

But Mr Morrison’s enthusiasm is not matched on other parts of the political spectrum.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the Government’s proposal could lead to religion becoming a bigger part of politics in Australia, which he deems undesirable.

“We don’t have religion as a big item of argument in our political system. We look at countries around the world where religion is a big argument within politics...I don’t think that’s the path Australia wants to go down,” Mr Shorten says.

The Opposition is yet to reveal whether it will support the Government’s plan.

The National Secular Lobby’s Peter Monk says any new law concerning religious freedom could actually become a shield for religious communities to discriminate against those who do not share their beliefs.

“We’re worried, most of all, that it’s going to be, essentially, a smokescreen for introducing additional rights for religious groups to legally discriminate,” Mr Monk says.

Equality Australia’s Anna Brown argues now is actually an ideal time to make sure anti-discrimination laws protect a wide range of people, both religious and non-religious.

“What we need to do now is make sure that our law protects everyone from discrimination -- people of faith, gay people, trans people, young children, everyone,” Ms Brown.

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