Religious leaders are urging Anthony Albanese to reverse his opposition to a “statements of belief” clause in religious discrimination legislation which would offer explicit protection for people of faith from being sacked by their employer over voicing their beliefs. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has begun consultations on religious discrimination legislation, with faith leaders expecting a draft bill to be released in the first half of next year. Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead, Australian National Imams Council spokesman Bilal Rauf and Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Peter Wertheim warned the Andrew Thorburn saga was just one example of a growing intolerance towards people of faith.

While pushing for more legal protection on religious discrimination, Mr Rauf also accused Victorian Premier Dan Andrews of fanning the flames of intolerance towards people of faith over his condemnation of Mr Thorburn’s church.  “As a subscriber to the Islamic faith, in terms of same sex relations, there’s a concern I have at that level as well.  “But that ought not be a factor which then excludes me from engaging in other pursuits or other activities.” Dr Stead said Mr Andrews’ language during the controversy “justified those who continued to hound Thorburn until the point it was untenable for him to remain”. The faith leaders are urging Labor to revive the statements of belief clause in the Morrison government’s religious discrimination bill, which failed to pass the parliament.

The clause protected religious people who expressed their beliefs from being sanctioned by state-based anti-discrimination law “so long as such statements do not harass, threaten, intimidate or vilify a person or group”. 2CC Breakfast host Stephen Cenatiempo says Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is the “greatest hypocrite in the country”. “He claims to be a Catholic, but apparently he doesn’t have to resign because his association with the Catholic church, well, that’s different somehow,” he told Sky News host Gary Hardgrave. More Labor attempted to water down this part of the legislation through proposing an amendment, with Mr Dreyfus arguing it would “override every state anti-discrimination law”. Archbishop Comensoli linked the need for a statements of belief provision with the fate of Mr Thorburn, who was forced to resign as Essendon chief executive for not leaving his position of chairman at the City on a Hill church.

When asked why a statements of belief provision was needed, Archbishop Comensoli said “There is an obvious example we have just had down here in Victoria”. “There is a reason why he is no longer in the job,” Archbishop Comensoli said of Mr Thorburn. “It was in the old bill and that part we think was reasonable. It was not an untoward expression of that. “It was reasonably and moderately expressed. We would be keen to see that existing in the legislation.” The faith leaders are also pushing for federal anti-discrimination legislation to effectively override state laws, including Victoria’s directive that religious schools can only consider the faith of an applicant if it is directly relevant for the role. Dr Stead said it would be “very disappointing” if Labor’s bill did not override state-based anti-discrimination laws.

“The principal area of concern would be for faith institutions in Victoria,” Dr Stead said. “The Morrison government’s bill had effectively an override provision that would allow faith institutions in Victoria to continue to preference the employment of teachers who share the faith of the organisation. “The loss of that would be very disappointing for faith institutions in Victoria.” Dr Stead said he would prefer to see the Albanese government to be more supportive of the statements of belief provision than it was in opposition. Mr Rauf said the most important element for Muslims would be a provision which prevents vilification.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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