One of history's most prominent speeches was the one delivered by Martin Luther King Jr who said - "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character". King was referring to discrimination on the basis of race but today he would say the same thing about discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality, age, disability, or religion.
In Australia we have national and effective Acts of Parliament covering all of the above except religion. It is a welcome thing that the Parliament is trying to rectify that omission. Sadly though, last week we failed. That's a shame and we must keep trying.
We failed because there was a majority view that it is wrong to put a stop to discrimination against some people by making it easier to discriminate against another group of people. That's what the Bill before the Parliament would have done.
The Prime Minister promised during the last election campaign that he would legislate to protect people of faith from discrimination. Getting it right is complex and challenging but he's had three years. Indeed, the work has been going on since Malcolm Turnbull appointed an Expert Panel on the issue in 2017. He's had enough time.
What is the problem we are trying to fix? They mainly fall into two categories. First, it is a fact that people of religion sometimes find themselves on the wrong end of bullying, harassment or vilification because of their religion. This is particularly common for those who wear clothing which reflects their faith. The second group are religious institutions - schools and aged care facilities for example - who fear they can no longer safely give preference to employees who share the values of their faith. Properly drafted, a new law would allow an institution to give preference to one prospective employee over another on the basis candidate "A" better matches the values of the organisation than candidate "B". To do this, the organisation would need to have publicly published a values statement and be able to show a reasonable person would conclude candidate "B" might not project those values. This applies to students too, with respect to schools.
The Parliament must extend protections to people of faith, but the Bill voted down by the majority last week did not provide sufficient assurance that the right balance was going to be achieved. It's back to the drawing board.
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