Australian Muslims call for more protection in religious discrimination bill

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils is warning of 'increased intolerance towards Muslims', urging stronger protections should be established in the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

Muslims gather outside the Lakemba Mosque to mark the end of Ramadan in Sydney.

Muslims gather outside the Lakemba Mosque to mark the end of Ramadan in Sydney. Source: AAP

Australia’s peak Islamic body has warned of increased discrimination towards Muslims in a submission urging stronger protections be cast in the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, representing Muslim communities across the nation, said it was sounding the alarm over a rising tide of Islamophobia. 

In its submission lodged by President Dr Rateb Jneid, it declares draft laws prescribed in the Religious Discrimination Bill do not go far enough within an increasingly intolerant society.

The submission states safeguarding the rights of people to practice their religion is paramount to protecting against this discrimination.

“There is now a growing body of evidence to support this increased intolerance towards Muslims and their beliefs and practices,” the submission reads.

“Australian society has become more intolerance of minorities, and religious minorities specifically … that intolerance we submit has led to an increased level of discrimination.”

Lakemba Mosque in Sydney.
Source: AAP

The danger posed by Islamophobic attitudes was again put into the spotlight following the Christchurch mosque attacks in March this year.

There was an increased security presence established at mosques in Australia, following the NZ attacks.

While, just last month the Muslim community condemned a 'vile' graffiti attack on the Holland Park Mosque in Brisbane, where several Nazi swastika symbols and a reference to the Christchurch shooter was sprayed. 

“The importance of safeguarding the rights of people to practice their religion becomes paramount in such an environment,” the submission reads. 

A month-long window for religious and community groups to make submissions over a draft version of the religious discrimination legislation ended on Wednesday.

Attorney-General Christian Porter has previously described the measures as a “shield” to protect against discrimination rather than a “sword” to allow others to discriminate.   

But the peak Islamic body is calling on the Morrison government to go further and enshrine a positive right to “Religious Freedom” rather than just guarding against discrimination.

“We respectfully submit this falls short of what is needed in this area,” the submission reads.

The muslim community celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan.
Source: AAP

“People of faith will always have their rights at risk of being considered subservient to other rights.

“In the balancing of such competing rights, the absence of positive right to religious freedom is problematic.”

The draft laws include a so-called ‘Israel Folau’ clause that would mean companies with revenue of at least $50 million a year would be required to prove financial cause for sacking workers for expressing religious views.

These companies would have to establish taking this action caused "unjustifiable financial hardship to the business”.

But the Islamic body questions why such provisions would be enforced on larger companies and not smaller ones.

‘We are not convinced that the distinction between large and small employers, in the area of discrimination, is either a valid or appropriate one,” its submission reads.

“The threshold test should be the ability of an employer to link the statements of religious belief to the employment relationship.”

It also expresses concern over the design of provisions preventing individuals outside of a workplace expressing religious views that may be considered “malicious” saying they are not clearly explained.

“The stated objective to ensure that spite and ill-will are removed from public debate is admirable,” the submission reads.

 “[But] what the term ‘malicious’ means or how it is determined if such statements of belief are made with this intent is unclear."

However, the Islamic body stresses any steps towards strong religious protections should not come at an expense to others.

“This issue of vilification of people of faith generally, and the protections afforded against it is of vital importance to our social fabric.”

“We urge the government in the strongest terms to find a workable solution … that balances the competing rights of people of faith and others.”

Published 3 October 2019 at 7:52am, updated 3 October 2019 at 9:52am
By Tom Stayner