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WHERE THE RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION BILL FALLS SHORT

By Australian Newsletter

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash’s decision to bring a religious discrimination Bill to parliament by the end of the year has refocused minds on issues not ventilated since the pandemic outbreak. The approximately 7000 submissions on the two prior versions of the Bill trace deep and emerging divisions within modern Australia. However, as illustrated by the following four examples, there are many areas highlighted by religious leaders where the reform could be improved. In recommending the Bill, the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom emphasised the “unique” considerations that arise in legislating to protect against religious discrimination, factors largely irrelevant to existing Commonwealth discrimination protections. Chief among these are the difficulties associated with courts interpreting religious beliefs.

The current Bill requires judges to determine doctrinal disputes in a way that leading jurists around the world have overwhelmingly cautioned against. In order to gain protection, an applicant or respondent must satisfy a judge that “a person of the same religion could reasonably consider their conduct to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion”. The test runs contrary to the consensus among higher Anglophone courts, including the Australian High Court, which has settled on a “sincerity” test for the evidencing of belief. We do well in recalling that the historical notion of separation of church and state was as much about keeping the state out of the dealings of the church as it was about ensuring the state’s neutrality in matters religious.

As the first clause of the Magna Carta, that pivotal document in the formation of Western freedom, so helpfully witnesses: “The English Church shall be free”. In its context, this meant “free” from the King’s fiats as to acceptable doctrine. The second “unique” consideration is the propensity of religious belief to inspire humanity to congregate. That a large proportion of religious activity occurs in collaboration with fellow believers gives distinct impetus to the need to protect religious associations, as the collective effort of individuals. The most recent draft Bill recognised this, replicating provisions within existing discrimination law to permit protection to a corporate body as an “associate” of a religious believer. Such a proposal is not without substantive merit.

The European Court of Human Rights has recognised that a body denied authorisation by the state to perform Jewish kosher rituals has standing to initiate a discrimination complaint on behalf of its members. In the United States faith-based entities are also protected from religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. There is, however, a deficiency in the drafting deployed in the Bill, which requires a court to treat the corporate associate “in the same way” it would treat the associated believer. The concern is best illustrated by example. Lottery West recently declared it would not offer funding to Margaret Court’s faith-based charity, reportedly expressly clarifying this refusal was on the ground of her religious beliefs.

In this instance, it is the charity, one of the largest privately funded charities in Western Australia, that has suffered differential treatment, not Margaret Court. If the Bill requires that the charity be dealt with “in the same way” as Court, the charity has not experienced discrimination. Interpreting equivalent provisions in 2018, Federal Court judge Mark Moshinsky said they are “not free from doubt” and suggested alternative drafting that would remove this uncertainty. Given the centrality of the associate provision to the protection of religious institutions, and the fact that such provisions are largely untested in anti-discrimination law, Moshinsky’s formulation should be preferred.

The third outstanding issue is the reforms also fail to adequately protect religious bodies that hold a traditional view of marriage from the loss of their charity status. The Expert Panel recommended that the Charities Act be amended to avoid the loss of an entity’s charitable status on the basis that it contravenes the “public policy” requirement. However, charities overseas have lost their status on the basis of the separate requirement in the Act that they exist for the “public benefit”. The prior Acting Charities and Not-for-profits Commissioner had recommended that both conditions should be amended to address these concerns. This has been given added weight after the New Zealand High Court concluded, in a matter now under appeal, that an entity’s “promotion of the traditional family unit” was not for the “public benefit”.

The final area in which further consideration is required is the limitation of the Bill’s protections to only “lawful” acts. There is an important reason why all of the states and territories that have legislated to protect religious activity from discrimination, apart from Victoria and Queensland, have resiled from imposing this limitation: if a religious believer infringes the law, the consequence should not include the licensing of discriminatory acts by private vigilantes. An illustration is found in the recent prohibitions on “conversion therapy”. While religious leaders have called for the Bill to address the Victorian ban, it has scarcely been noted that in Queensland, the directors of a “Christian charity”, which includes a church, or a “pastor or school chaplain” can be imprisoned where they provide “counselling” (including marriage counselling) that encourages a person to follow traditional religious teaching on sexuality or gender.

By protecting only “lawful” acts the Bill effectively doubles the penalty, enabling discriminatory statements against offenders, or the refusal of goods or services. The Religious Discrimination Act may well prove to be a definitive feature of the contemporary fault-lines of church-state relations within Australia. The Magna Carta is but one among a constellation of illustrations demonstrating that the freedoms won in the development of the West cannot be understood without consideration of the independent religious voice. Against the seeming tide of calls seeking to marginalise or silence religious expression, the government’s proposal for a Religious Discrimination Act is a welcome recognition of the important and ongoing contribution of religion to our national life and debate. Despite the complexity, it’s important that we get it right.

Source:  Article is written by Mark Fowler, Principal of Fowler Charity Law, an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Law School of the University of Notre Dame Australia, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Law at the University of New England.

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MORE WOMEN DRINKING AS PANDEMIC TAKES TOLL

By Australian Newsletter

The number of Victorian women abusing alcohol has skyrocketed over the pandemic as the pressure of rolling lockdowns and social isolation prompts more to reach for the bottle, with services reporting a surge in demand for treatment. About seven out of 10 agencies surveyed by the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association reported increases in the number and severity of presentations for alcohol since March 2020. Community health service Cohealth reported the number of clients seeking help for alcohol jumped by 85 per cent since 2019, with women now making up 36 per cent of its clients, compared with 29 per cent in 2019.

Clinician Jo Pioro said she was treating women from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds, and Covid-19 had created a perfect storm for alcohol abuse. “Women have lost their identity, their daily structure, they no longer need to hide their drinking, nor drive to school or work,” she said. “One client told me ‘Once I’ve got through one bottle, I’ve suddenly drank three and I don’t remember how’.” In addition to the pressures of Covid-19, Ms Pioro said alcohol was an accessible, relatively cheap and socially acceptable coping strategy that delivered instantaneous relief. “Alcohol has been normalised among the mums’ clubs, and talk of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc is everyday language at the school gates, play dates and birthday parties,” she said.

The Alfred’s women’s mental health clinic head Jayashri Kulkarni said the number of women drinking had risen alongside increasing rates of mental health issues including stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders. Professor Kulkarni said women were more likely to have lost work or have had their hours reduced and be burdened by home-schooling, while at the same time be struggling without the support of family and friends in lockdown. “Things that were a bit of a crack beforehand have now become a chasm,” Professor Kulkarni said. “That‘s the same for a lot of situations and systems, but certainly is described by many women that you know they just can’t handle all of it anymore.”

As well, Professor Kulkarni said more women had found themselves shut inside with violent or unsatisfactory partners in lockdown, which was contributing to increasing rates of alcohol abuse. The Covid-19-driven jump in women seeking help for alcohol follows sustained increases over the past decade, with ambulance attendances increasing 73 per cent since 2012-13. From 2010 to 2018, hospitalisations of women for alcohol increased by 14 per cent, rising from 12,217 to 13,970. In the past year, the waiting list for help has blown out by 50 per cent, according to the Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, with 3599 people waiting for treatment in July compared with 2385 in September last year. VAADA chief executive Sam Biondo said Covid had created a “compound effect” for the already stretched treatment system.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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EXTREMISTS FAIL TO CANCEL FORUM ON BIOLOGICAL SEX RIGHTS

By Australian Newsletter

A forum in favour of biological sex rights is to go ahead in Tasmania despite backlash from trans activists. Women Speak Tasmania has invited guests and speakers to the event at the Hobart Town Hall on November 27. Sociologist Geoff Holloway, who describes transgenderism as a social contagion, is one of the speakers. He is openly critical of self-identification laws. “It’s ridiculous. It’s a complete denial of sex as binary. The trans lobby are using this to assert their right for trans men to become recognised as trans women.” Hobart Councillor Jac Fox called for the event to be cancelled and labelled those defending sex-based rights as “TERFS”, which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminists.

Both the former Tasmanian anti-discrimination commissioner Robin Banks and Equality Tasmania spokesman Matty Wright said that while they disagreed with the group, the forum should be allowed to go ahead. The public forum will also host a man who transitioned to female, before returning to living as a male, known as de-transitioning. One of the speakers will be de-transitioned trans woman Pauley Johnson, who has reverted back to male pronouns after coming out as trans. Mr Johnson still presents as female on occasion, but no longer identifies as such. “I have a desire within me to be a woman, but that doesn’t make me a woman,” Mr Johnson said. “At the moment, gender is being pushed as this pseudo-religious inner soul of a person which is unchangeable. I don’t go along with that anymore.”

Binary spokeswoman, Kirralie Smith, said the forum should go ahead. “Sex-based rights and realities must be championed in the public sphere,” she said. “Extremists, disguised as activists, have successfully cancelled or silenced too many conversations that need to be had. The number of children presenting as gender confused is increasing. “The best way forward is to engage in education, rigorous debate and thorough academic study. “Our kids deserve the best care available, which cannot happen if extremists continually silence any opposition.”

Source: Binary

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MAJORITY SUPPORT RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS

By Australian Newsletter

Nearly two-thirds of Australians support legal protections for religious institutions and protections for workers making statements of faith outside office hours, as Scott Morrison faces pressure to deliver a promised religious discrimination act before the next election. A poll of 1003 people commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) also showed majority support for religious hospitals having the right to refuse to perform abortions and euthanasia, and backing for religious schools to hire only staff who adhere to their beliefs. The ACL is pushing the polling to federal MPs in the lead-up to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash’s planned final draft of a religious discrimination act at the end of the year, as she signals a narrow final bill acceptable to the majority of parliament.

Polling by consumer research firm PureProfile in August and early September found 65 per cent of respondents wanted legal protections for people of faith, with ACL managing director Martyn Iles saying religious freedoms would be an election issue unless the major parties made significant changes. “For all the noise, for the genuine and contrived complexity, there are some fundamental truths. First, a promise was made. Both the Coalition and the Labor Party are committed to providing protections for Australians of faith,” he said. “Second, the Australian public are onside. “They share the aspirations of faith-based Australians to express their faith, on their own time, without fear of discipline at work. For many, this is an issue that will inform their vote at the next election.”

The PureProfile poll found 71 per cent of respondents supported curtailing the power of employers to discipline workers who made statements of faith outside work hours.The ACL will use this result to push Senator Cash to keep the so-called “Folau clause” in the final religious discrimination bill, despite strong opposition from both moderate Liberal MPs and LGBTI rights groups. Under the clause, named after rugby player Israel Folau, who was dismissed by Rugby Australia in 2019 for saying gay people go to hell in an Instagram post, businesses making more than $50m have to prove a person’s religious statement would cause financial harm to the company before taking action against the individual.

The ACL poll found 60 per cent of respondents supported schools’ rights to not employ staff “in conflict” with their religious beliefs. Recently the Andrews Labor government in Victoria unveiled new laws to stop religious schools from firing teachers for being gay. The poll also reported 55 per cent of respondents supported religious hospitals refusing to carry out operations that went against their faith, in the wake of the passage of assisted dying laws through Queensland’s parliament.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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IS THIS CHILD ABUSE?

By Australian Newsletter

Referrals to Victorian gender clinics jumped from 300 in 2019 to 450 in 2020. Children as young as three are being referred for treatment at the Royal Children’s Hospital. A study of 359 patients from the hospital’s gender service from 2007 to 2016 show just over half were females who presented at an average age of 14. The others were males who came in at an average age of 12. One Australian study found 2.3 per cent of Australian students in years 10 to 12 identified as transgender or gender diverse. The current study, led by Dr Michelle Tollit, found 29 per cent of patients over 10 years old received puberty blockers and 38 per cent of teens were given gender-affirming hormones. More than 90 per cent were transgender or non-binary.

Alarmingly, these medical professionals are including very young children in their experimental treatments. Co-author Associate Professor Ken Pang from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute said some concerned parents brought children in from the age of three. “Children this young might be saying things like, ‘I’m not a boy, I’m a girl,’” he said. “Their parents seek assistance in how to navigate this. The earlier we can help people, the more improved their later lives are likely to be.” There is no long-term data from studies to support this, as most academics and researchers have been cancelled or cannot receive funding. At this stage, all evidence points to the fact that children who are left to go through puberty without puberty blockers or hormones will accept their biological sex as adults.

Binary spokeswoman, Kirralie Smith, said it is unacceptable to experiment on these children. “Three-year-old children have a hard time distinguishing between reality and fantasy,” she said. “They play and make-believe, it is a normal stage of development. How on earth did we reach a stage in society where we are even considering drastic intervention in a child’s natural development?” “This is tantamount to child abuse.”

Source: Binary

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