There are those who thought that Statler and Waldorf were the funniest part of The Muppet Show. Whether a jaundiced bleat from the bleachers always gets it right is another issue, but Christians look like having to live with a federal Religious Discrimination Act. The third exposure of the bill is now available for public debate, and the federal government will be keen to have it all done and dusted before an election, due in the first half of 2022. 

Most religious leaders have welcomed the bill with some good reasons, albeit also with some reservations. Their support was mainly due to the promises that statements of belief would be protected, and religious schools would have the right to hire staff of their own choosing. Yet there remain good reasons to be more reserved than welcoming. 

            One of the more disturbing features of the legislation is that a just approach to religious freedoms – omitting a recognition of Satanism, a rigid caste system, wild versions of jihad or anything similar – is treated as something that is conferred by parliamentary legislation. In Acts 3-5 the apostles claim it as a God-given right.

One of the compromises made in negotiations is that there is no so-called Israel Folau clause, so there is no protection of the thousands of little Folaus who have suffered at the hands of woke corporations and the like. Religious freedoms were supposed to be guaranteed in the wake of legislation in favour of same-sex marriage. Employees are not specifically protected, unless they can try their hand at an expensive legal case. The freedom seems to be limited to what one thinks rather than what one says. 

There are no conscientious objection clauses which might particularly be used by medical personnel on issues like abortion and euthanasia. The much-vaunted protection for schools may well be more illusory than real. Prime Minister Morrison has been at pains to claim that there will be no discrimination against gay students nor even gay teachers who are already employed. This leaves the door open to heterosexual sex education classes being classified as discriminatory. 

One can reasonably raise doubts that there is any will anywhere to override the kind of perverse state legislation that has been passed in Victoria. If a state government has banned prayer for the conversion of homosexuals, is there any federal body that is likely to undo that?

Finally, there is a proposal that a Religious Discrimination Commissioner be set up. Lorraine Finlay, whom I do not know, has been recently appointed as Human Rights Commissioner, despite her reputation for conservative common sense. At first sight, Ms Finlay’s appointment might give some cause for hope, but it was greeted with predictable objections from over eighty human rights experts, all resentful that someone had dared to abandon the woke narrative. The leopard is unlikely to change its spots. In the long term a Religious Discrimination Commissioner will not deliver Israel from the Midianites. 

The problem is the whole confusing network of anti-discrimination legislation. Nothing is meant to be clear, and power will reside not in transparent law but in lengthy and costly judicial processes. Wading through the multitude of possibilities appeals to few people, and could well be a largely meaningless exercise. Ten Commandments will be overrun by thousands of lawyers. Peta Credlin is not alone in warning that ‘Legislating religious freedom may narrow it.’

                                                                                – Peter Barnes