Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (Second Exposure Draft)

Submission on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (Second Exposure Draft)

31 January 2020

Summary

Equality for Celebrants Inc supports people having the right to hold their personal religious beliefs and practice those, provided their words and actions do not break civil law. 

Equality for Celebrants Inc does not support having a separate Religious Freedoms Bill.

This legislation is:

  1. discriminatory, not anti-discriminatory, in effect
  2. unnecessary in Australia
  3. will increase family/ social conflict and community disharmony
  4. will impact negatively on couples and their children married in civil ceremonies and children born “out of wedlock”
  5. undermine the marrying public’s ability to be able to clearly choose between civil and religious celebrants
  6. restrict access to a wide range of taxpayer funded programs and services 

Equality for Celebrants Inc supports 

  • the rationale and position of these two submissions:
    1. The Yvonne Patterson M Psych (Clinical), MBA, Perth, Western Australia and Paula Nathan M Psych (Clinical), AO, Perth, Western Australia1 and
    2.
     The National Secular Lobby2

  • Bill of Rights for All Australians - for those Australians with religious beliefs and those Australians with non-religious beliefs.

A. Discriminatory, not anti-discriminatory, in effect

This bill will grant certain groups of people opportunities to speak and behave in ways that will be harmful to others and restrict the Australian public’s access to goods and services that are tax-payer funded or indirectly supported through tax-exemptions.

Anti-discrimination legislation is based on the principle that people should not be treated differently for characteristics over which they have little or no control. For example, people are born with their race, skin colour and sexuality and have to live with it. People become old or disabled – or are born disabled – and they have to live with it. 

Religious beliefs should not have higher status to enable its followers to harm others in words or deeds because religious beliefs are man-made thought-based constructions that can be acquired or dropped by an act of free will.

In a civil society, everyone whether they have hold religious or non-religious beliefs, must observe civil law. Civil societies judge people by their actions or behaviour, not by thoughts alone.
For example, one can think about murdering another person, provided one does not threaten that person with murder, attempt or actually kill that other person.

B. Unnecessary in Australia

In our multicultural society, a broad range of people with religious views and religious organisations are able to operate without persecution from our government.

In fact, the reverse is true. Unlike France where the only legally recognised marriages are conducted by the state, our federal government grants approximately 23,500 ministers3 and religious marriage celebrants4  from approximately 500 different religions5 and religious bodies6  the right to conduct legally valid marriages on behalf of government.

Our governments also grant tax exemptions and tax benefits that allow religious bodies to own property and be funded with government subsidies and grants.

C. Will increase family / social conflict and community disharmony

This bill allows segments of religious texts to be used in public environments to justify negative expressions about other people and to deny them access to or restrict employment and other goods and services to them.

The Commonwealth of Australia currently lists 148 different religions, whose ministers can deliver legal marriage services under Marriage Act 1961 Subdivision A 7. There are a further 347-372 religious organisations, whose ministers can deliver legal marriage services under Marriage Act 1961 Subdivision D 8 .

Some examples: Ananda Marga, Baha’i Faith,  Brethren, Church of Scientology Inc.,  Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils Inc., The Hindu Council of Australia, Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewry, One Light Federation, The Religious Society of Friends,  Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, The Salvation Army, Seventh‑day Adventist Church, Shia Islamic Assembly, Spirit of the Earth Medicine Society, Unitarians, United Aborigines Mission, United Spiritualism of Australia.

It is obvious that these different religious belief systems are likely to disagree with each other, and also disagree with the ethical beliefs systems of non-religious people.

Currently these different viewpoints are able to co-exist without the general public being impacted in any major way.

D. Will impact negatively on couples and their children married in civil ceremonies and children born “out of wedlock”

It is important that Australia not return to the past:

  • where couples in mixed marriages, between major religions and even between Christian denominations, were bullied and alienated from their families and communities,
  • where couples married in civil ceremonies were viewed as “second class”, “inferior”, or “not properly married”, and
  • where children born “out of web-lock” were considered “illegitimate” (Definition - not sanctioned by law ILLEGAL9 ), commonly called “Bastards” and suffered greatly through no fault of their own.

    Such suffering included verbal, emotional and physical abuse and various forms of educational, social, financial and other disadvantage.

This legislation, if passed, opens the door to

  • a return to verbal abuse and social alienation of marrying couples and their children
  • partners being refused access to medical treatment or other services, if in a relationship not approved of by practitioner.
E. Undermine the marrying public’s ability to be able to clearly choose between civil and religious celebrants

Contrary to many peoples understanding, marriage in the western tradition started as a secular (non-religious) function, with witnesses and priests not required until the 1500s10 and continues to be so under Australia’s Marriage Act 1961. 

This legislation should not reverse the principles upon which 2017 changes to the Marriage Act were based, which clearly defined

  • those marriage celebrants (Subdivision B and C) who were required to uphold the Marriage Act definition of marriage, and
  • those whose religious beliefs (Subdivision D11) or whose Recognised Religion (Subdivision A) would not allow them to conduct same-sex marriages

The effect of clearly designating civil celebrants and religious celebrants/ ministers of religions was to ensure that

  • the general public would be able to choose from these groups of marriage celebrants without being subjected to the marriage celebrant's personal religious or conscientious beliefs.
  • approximately 30% of all authorised marriage celebrants would uphold the civil law definition of marriage for the 80% of couples choosing civil marriages in Australia12 ,
F. Restrict access to a wide range of taxpayer funded programs and services.

This legislation, if passed, will

  • allow a variety of religious beliefs to take precedence over primary employment qualifications for a whole range of services - health, medical and pharmaceutical, contraception and other women's services, addiction and disability services, education, homelessness, accommodation, aged care, youth work, etc.
  • will also limit or deny the general public access to services that are partly or fully government funded.
  • give freedom to practitioners to override any state anti-discrimination legislation.

Details of these effects are documented in more detail in these two submissions:

  1. Submission by Yvonne Patterson M Psych (Clinical), MBA, Perth, Western Australia and Paula Nathan M Psych (Clinical), AO, Perth, Western Australia
  2. Submission by The National Secular Lobby

Closing Remarks

Equality for Celebrants Inc gives permission for its submission to be published.

Equality for Celebrants Inc

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website:  www.equalityforcelebrants.org

References

  1. Submission by Yvonne Patterson M Psych (Clinical), MBA, Perth, Western Australia and Paula Nathan M Psych (Clinical), AO, Perth, Western Australia
    Reference:
    https://thestirrer.com.au/submission-to-religious-freedom-bills-second-exposure-drafts/?fbclid=IwAR1-8SjxbO3pdhE5kFbSG73yW1OoIgCLqDRgoTqsAkzzj9Js7gEanjdensM
  2. Submission by The National Secular Lobby
    https://www.nationalsecularlobby.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/NSL-Submission_2019_Religious-Discrimination-Bill_Second-Exposure-Draft.pdf
  3. Ministers of religion
    https://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Marriage/Pages/find-a-marriage-celebrant.aspx#ministers
  4. Religious Marriage Celebrants
    https://www.ag.gov.au/FamiliesAndMarriage/Marriage/Pages/find-a-marriage-celebrant.aspx#religious
  5. Marriage (Recognised Denominations) Proclamation 2018
    https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2018L01607
  6. Religious groups are represented by independent Commonwealth authorised religious celebrants
    https://www.coalitionofcelebrantassociations.org.au/for-celebrants/84-the-marriage-act-and-celebrants/556-what-religious-groups-are-represented-by-independent-religious-celebrants-commonwealth-appointed
  7. Marriage Act 1961 Subdivision A - see Reference 5 above

  8. Marriage Act 1961 Subdivision D - see Reference 6 above

  9. Definition of Illegitimate
    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illegitimate
  10. Marriage was and is a civil, not religious, relationship
    https://www.celebrants.org.au/home/celebrants/more-about-ccn-celebrant-association/reforming-the-marriage-act/reforming/2085-marriage-was-is-a-civil-relationship
  11. Recommendation 4 CoCA (Coalition of Celebrant Associations) recommend that Subdivision C marriage celebrants be separated into two separate subdivisions https://www.coalitionofcelebrantassociations.org.au/issues/125-marriage-equality-issues/531-recommendation-4-coca-recommends-that-subdivision-c-marriage-celebrants-be-separated-into-two-separate-subdivisions

    NB The 2017 changes to the Marriage Act established the new subdivision of marriage celebrants (Subdivision D) to separate Commonwealth Marriage Celebrants into separate two groups - civil and religious marriage celebrants:

    Subdivision C (Civil) Marriage Marriages
    2. Subdivision D Religious Marriage Celebrants

    which complemented the two State/ Territory regulated marriage celebrants, namely:

    3. Subdivision A Ministers of Recognised Religions
    4. Subdivision B (State Officers/ BDM marriage officers)

    Commonwealth marriage celebrants with religious objections to same-sex marriage were given the opportunity to transfer to Subdivision D when the Marriage Act was changed in 2017, so their religious objections have already been catered for.

  12. Number of Marriages in Australia conducted by civil celebrants
    https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0


    Subdivision C Marriage Celebrants
    https://marriage.ag.gov.au/commonwealthcelebrants/other

    NB Less than 1% of all authorised marriage celebrants (Subdivision B State Officers only) would be required to uphold the civil definition of marriage in the Marriage Act, if Subdivision C Marriage Celebrants (29% of all authorised marriage celebrants) were able to refuse to marriage couples based upon any religious belief.

Note: 

There were many useful articles to consider - but not possible to include all the differnet points of those arguments in the Equality for Celebrants Inc. Some are included here.