Scott Morrison tables religious bill – but what does it mean?

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·News Reporter
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has personally introduced the contentious and long-promised religious discrimination bill to parliament.

Mr Morrison introduced the bill into the House of Representatives on Thursday.

"This bill is a protection from the few who seek to marginalise and coerce and silence people of faith because they do not share the same view of the world as them," Mr Morrison said.

"Australians shouldn't have to worry about looking over their shoulder, fearful of offending an anonymous person on Twitter ... or transgressing against political or social zeitgeists.

"We have to veer away from the artificial phoney conflicts, boycotts, controversies and cancelling created by anonymous and cowardly bots, bigots and bullies."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduces the Religious Discrimination Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduces the Religious Discrimination Bill on Thursday. Source: AAP

What does the religious discrimination bill mean?

The bill recognises “the freedom of all people to have or adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and freedom to manifest this religion or belief either individually or in community with others”.

For anyone sending their child to a religious school, it means it is not discriminatory for a religious school to require all of its staff and students to practice that religion.

Mr Morrison provided an example in saying it should not be considered discriminatory for a Jewish school to specifically hire a Jewish person “if that faith is their preference”. It also means a school could turn away someone who doesn’t practise its religion on these grounds.

Worshippers during a Good Friday service at Greek Orthodox Church of St. Athanasios at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney.
People at a Good Friday service earlier this year at Greek Orthodox Church of St Athanasios at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. Source: AAP

Religious education providers will need to have a publicly available policy.

Under the bill people can make statements of belief so long as they do not discriminate against others or are otherwise “engaging, in good faith”. It means derogatory comments about gay people will not be alllowed under the defence of religious belief unless they can be proven to have been in good faith.

Criticisms aplenty as bill divides Australians

The bill has largely divided Australians – especially after news of it being tabled to parliament was mentioned on Thursday morning.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, understandably, welcomed news of the bill’s introduction.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli, chair of the Bishops Commission for Life, Family and Public Engagement, said it offered “a positive expression of religious freedom” that will be “an important progression towards parity with other anti-discrimination laws in Australia”.

LGBTQI advocacy group Equality Australia was concerned the bill would take away existing anti-discrimination protections including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The organisation feared a boss, colleague, teacher or service provider could be protected for saying things including that it's a sin to be gay.

Equality Australia’s Anna Brown told the ABC she is concerned nurses could have the right to tell patients their HIV “is a punishment by God” in citing an example of what may no longer be considered discriminatory.

Melbourne-based LGBTIQ activist Sally Rugg tweeted she was concerned the bill could see religious charities turn away LGBT couples.

Writer Benjamin Law accused the government of “inventing brand new ways to discriminate against queers”.

Amanda Stoker, who is assistant minister to the attorney-general, was circumspect when asked if a Christian school could refuse to hire a gay teacher under the bill.

"That is something that would depend a great deal upon what that school is prepared to be up front with the community about it," Senator Stoker told ABC radio.

The coalition remains under pressure to change the Sex Discrimination Act to better protect gay teachers and students.

Senator Stoker said these changes remained on the table, but stressed it was a separate issue to the religious discrimination bill.

Scott Morrison defends bill saying 'we are soul and spirit'

In introducing the bill, Mr Morrison said “it is about love and compassion”.

“As human beings, we are also soul and spirit. We are also, importantly, what we believe,” he said.

Mr Morrison himself is a practising Pentecostal Christian. In April he told a Christian conference he was called on to do God’s work as the PM.

He told the convention he asked for a sign before visiting an art gallery on the NSW Central Coast before the most recent Federal Election.

“I must admit I was saying to myself, ‘You know, Lord, where are you, where are you? I’d like a reminder if that’s OK,’” he said.

“And there right in front of me was the biggest picture of a soaring eagle that I could imagine and of course the verse hit me.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny sing during an Easter Sunday service at his Horizon Church at Sutherland in Sydney.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during an Easter Sunday service. Source: AAP

He told the conference the message he received from the scene was “‘Scott, you’ve got to run to not grow weary, you’ve got to walk to not grow faint, you’ve got to spread your wings like an eagle to soar like an eagle’.”

Mr Morrison later told 2GB he was rejecting suggestions God chose him to be PM and that he was merely referencing how his Christian beliefs affect him everyday.

He also took offence to 2GB host Ray Hadley asking him to swear on a bible in 2015 as the LNP looked to oust then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Hadley accused Mr Morrison back then of misleading people after he said he had “no idea” whether the party was looking to axe Mr Abbott.

"You get to judge my policies but you don't get to judge my faith,” he said.

“I haven't misled you in any of our discussions over the years."

Mr Morrison also told The Guardian last year speaking about his religion makes him “uneasy” as however he explains it it will be “misinterpreted”.

with AAP

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