Religious discrimination and religious freedom are hot topics in society today. Individuals on both sides argue whether people should be able to freely speak their opinion regarding their religious beliefs or if restraints should be put in place. The recent Israel Folau saga has particularly highlighted the issue, with Folau’s contract terminated due to a breach in his contract outlining his use of social media to express his religious beliefs.

In Australia, the government has proposed a new religious discrimination bill meaning that large businesses would not be able to restrict their employees from expressing their religious beliefs outside of work unless the company can prove this will cause “unjustifiable financial hardship”.

This new law is needed in Australia. Religious individuals need the right and subsequent protection to be able to proclaim their beliefs without the risk of losing their job. For Israel Folau, his punishment has not only ruined his career but has also impacted his reputation to a point where he will never be able to reach the same progression of his career. This will be the same for other individuals if this reform is not passed.

However, this law does not create a broad right to freedom of religion which Australia religious leaders have been pushing for. Although this may not be the degree of reform some may desire, this is positive progress which could end up leading to further law reform in the future. 

Also, under the proposed laws, religious schools would have the discretion to employ staff of a particular faith, and health practitioners would be able to object to specific practices such as abortion based on their religious belief. These are positive protections for people of faith and should be encouraged.

A counter-argument to this proposed bill is that it ‘gives special legal privileges to prejudice’ rather than protecting religious freedom. This is a balance which is hard to determine which way it should turn. People should be able to express their religious beliefs, but people should also be protected from hate and discrimination.

What do I think?

I believe that individuals should be able to express their religious beliefs freely. That should be a protected right. Now we need to determine how to ensure people don’t feel oppressed and discriminated against. This balance will take time to find, and we must be patient.

For now, I look at how we disagree as a society. We must become better at disagreeing, not on emotions but on ideas. This is one practical way that we can ensure that people don’t feel discriminated against.

So, what do you think?

Should people be able to express their religious beliefs freely without any restraint? Or should we be prioritising protecting individuals from hate and discrimination?

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