Below is an open letter I have sent to Robert Clark, my local member of parliament, about the Baillieu governments alarming intention to provide permanent exemptions that will allow some religious organisations to discriminate against Victorians.
You can sign and online petition about this, and send an email to your local MP from the Equal Rights Victoria website.
I am contacting you to express my strong objection to the Liberal government’s intention to strengthen the rights of religious organisations and individuals to discriminate against and abuse others who don’t agree with them.
I fully endorse people’s right to freedom of religious thought, worship and practice. However this does not mean that religious individuals and organisations should therefore have the right to impose their beliefs on others who don’t agree with them - particularly when this occurs in non-religious/mainstream or secular settings.
It is appropriate that people with religious beliefs be able to say who can or cannot join their congregation or attend one of their religious ceremonies or be appointed as a priest/ pastor etc. However when a religious organisation or individual is engaged in the provision of things such as education, health, welfare or commercial/retail services, they should have to comply with the anti-discrimination laws in the same way that everyone does.
To give religious people and organisations additional legal privileges and protections over other groups in society is totally against notions of fairness and social justice. It also goes against all efforts to create and maintain a society in which citizens welcome diversity and understand that although we all have human rights, we also have responsibilities to respect the equal rights of others. It is absurd that a government would excuse or pardon one groups’ discrimination against others just because it was done of the basis of their particular spiritual beliefs.
By strengthening the exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act, major harm will continue to be inflicted on the health and wellbeing of significant numbers of the population. For example, there would be some 500,000 individuals in Victoria that identify as same sex attracted and research clearly shows higher rates of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide attempts amongst these citizens (especially young people). This is not the result of anything arising from their sexual orientation but the direct impact of isolation, discrimination and abuse they experience in the community. Religious belief is often used as the justification/explanation for such discrimination.
As my local member of parliament I urge you to take steps to stop the unequal and unfair endorsement of additional privileges and rights for religious individuals/organisations in this state’s human rights law.
Robert, I believe it is very important that all Victorians be treated equally and protected against discrimination.