Religious discrimination needs to end.

Murray Campbell‘s tweet says: “I’ve never heard of churches wanting blanket exemptions. What I hear churches asking is that they can keep the freedoms they have had, & not have noisy secularists push them around & enforce their ideologies on everyone else.”

His tweet needs a closer examination.  His response follows this twitter conversation with Jane Caro:

In a nutshell – Caro agrees with Marr, a guest on ABC TV’s The Drum that religious people want to restrict other people’s freedom.  You don’t have to go far to know that this is right.  Some religious bodies opposed same-sex marriage, even though they don’t have to marry same-sex couples.  So they attempt to restrict the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.  They also oppose Safe Schools, they want to restrict what children are taught in class, that is to restrict the freedom of the students to understand their sexuality and that of their fellow students, and how best to live with diversity. The churches want to ensure that those that work within their organisations are of the same faith, that is to restrict the freedom of people to work with them when it isn’t a matter of faith.

Campbell is right, it is ok for employers to want like-minded people to work for them.  To subscribe to their values.  What is unsaid, is that this ‘values’ approach is a way they can restrict who gets into their buildings.  So, I’m gay, I’m a manager.  If I want to work for his Baptist church, administering things like bank accounts, minute books and the photocopier I should be able to apply for the job.  I mean, how much Jesus do you need to hit the “COPY” button?  It’s found out afterwards, that I’m married to a man.  That puts me outside the ‘values’ his church holds so dearly and I can be sacked, despite the fact that I have no direct link to teaching his religious values, or interacting with people on a spiritual level.  I can be removed from a job purely on my sexual orientation. That’s what I would call discrimination.  Campbell prefers to think of it as his right to religious freedom as if somehow employing a gay man will bring his world tumbling down and everyone will catch the gayz.  In his church no doubt, there are non-hetero types who believe in his God and are struggling, but tough shit, Campbell’s right to his religious freedom outweighs your right to live free of discrimination.

Campbell also says in the tweet that his church simply wants to have the same freedom everyone else has.  That is, to only employ people who share their values.  So, if you work for say a non-profit counselling agency who is left-leaning and you swan in with your conservative values and your admiration for Tony Abbott, thereby putting your values outside those of the organisation, should you get the sack?   Of course not.  And why not?  Because we all understand and work with people who have different values every single day of the week.  The churches want to be removed from this pluralism in our society with some vague notion that some ‘sinners’ are simply not welcome.

The churches do enjoy blanket exemptions to a variety of discrimination acts across Australia, purely on the bases that they are religions.

In his home state of Victoria for example:

Religious exceptions

Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate against a person on the basis of a personal characteristic in certain circumstances that include:

  • ordinating or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.

Religious bodies and religious schools can discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion or is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of people who follow the religion.

That’s what I call a blanket exemption.

What Campbell is asking for is that the status quo remains.  The ‘noisy secularists’ he says shouldn’t be able to push him around, nor should they be able to enforce their ideologies on everyone else.

I note that this is just what religion has been doing for many many years, being noisy and telling the rest of us how to behave and using the law to enforce their ideologies on everyone else.  Let’s face it, normal Australians have long stopped listening to faith-based groups about sexual matters, whether it’s contraception, sex before marriage or same-sex sex.  We now understand that how and who you have sex with isn’t grounds for discrimination.  Society broadly gets that, some faith-based groups are a little behind.

It’s time for the churches to get with the program.  They can have exemptions, but not blanket.  In Victoria everyone, apart from religious bodies, need to apply to VCAT for an exemption for the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

It really is time to bring the churches in line with the rest of society, and stop pretending that they require special treatment.  The last decade has shown just how much churches abuse their positions, as shown in the Royal Commission against Child Sex Abuse.

Their right to claim a moral authority and special treatment has passed.

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