HSV Submissions – March 2009

Anti-discrimination Exemptions

State Attorney General, Rob Hulls, has announced religious bodies will be able to continue to discriminate against people whose marital status, life beliefs or sexual inclination they disapprove of.

The following letter was sent to him on behalf of the Humanist Society of Victoria (HSV). Members are urged to make similar protests to their local members of parliament.

The Humanist Society of Victoria enthusiastically supported the enactment of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. We are also on record, repeatedly, in support of racial and religious tolerance, of educational campaigns to foster respect for different lifestyles and to reject bigotry.

We regard the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a key document of international, civilized standards.

We therefore write to express our dismay at the permission to discriminate against some groups and individuals granted by this State to conservative and fundamentalist religious groups. We fail to see the rationale of this decision; it pre-empts and ignores a Parliamentary committee report on this subject, which is due to be presented shortly.

Progressive religious groups are gradually eliminating their gross discriminations. Indeed, some of their leaders, such as Dr Muriel Porter (The Age, 30 September 2009) and Bishop John McIntyre (The Age, 29 September 2009), have written strong criticism of these violations of the equal rights and opportunities ideal.

As it is, the conservative churches practise open defiance of gender equity laws — the Equal Opportunity Act and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Pru Goward, the former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, called these churches “a huge, law-free zone” in spite of being recipients of generous subsidies from the public purse. This permission to discriminate is wrong for the following reasons.

  1. It violates our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights covenants to which our nation is a signatory.
  2. It condones abuses of human rights practiced in the name of religion.
  3. It creates different classes of human rights for different people within the Australian community.
  4. It is a retrograde step in efforts to foster a cohesive society with equal opportunities for all.

We strongly urge the government to rescind this decision.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Stuart (president)

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