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Go back to basics on proposed religious discrimination law


Firstly, this bill could be construed as protecting conservative elements in religious circles and allowing them to get away with offensive statements on any issue whether it’s about homosexuality or adultery and so forth. As a robust democracy, we do need to protect our right to freedom of speech before anything else. There will always be the odd crazy out there, but in general we have been able to maintain a healthy and harmonious balance between religion and free speech.

Secondly, this bill should not be conflating religious freedom with sexual identity or gender. They are two unrelated matters. One’s sexual identity or gender is not relevant to a church, a synagogue or a mosque congregation, nor is it relevant to a Catholic, Jewish or Islamic school. That is why the amendments must ensure that schools cannot use religious discrimination laws as a pretext to discriminate because of sexuality.

My belief is that there is a way forward, but even after so many years of talking about this we need to re-visit the reasons we wanted such a bill and ask ourselves, what is the essential message that we are espousing? What is the fundamental essence of this bill?

We want a world free of discrimination, correct? Against race, against age, against sex and against disability. The one that seems to be left in the too hard basket is religion. It is and always has been a contentious aspect of society and even today we find more and more Australians are being put off organised religions and what they stand for.

So it’s understandable that this proposed bill is creating a lot of concern in the secular part of the community. Although I would assume many Muslims, too, are concerned about the way the legislation is, I think, as Muslims, we need to take a stronger stand.

What this legislation must say is that we as a nation cannot discriminate against someone based on their religious identity and we need to protect all our citizens. But it should not say that while I am affording you this protection you can then use it as a pretext to display your own biases or prejudices.

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We need to reassess this legislation and make some urgent and necessary amendments. While it’s still up for debate, I would urge our lawmakers to go back to basics, redraft the bill, take the time to analyse the language we use and reassess what this bill is supposed to be about.

Kuranda Seyit is executive director of the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, an Islamic think tank and community development non-government organisation.



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