More freedom protection needed: Bernardi

December 21, 2018

The federal government’s long-awaited response to the religious freedom review is right to recognise that freedom of religion needs better protection in Australia. ­

Unfortunately, the government has missed the mark with its solution. It has failed to champion the strong protection required and ­instead favours a new religious discrimination act. The Conservative Party has proposed a better solution, a Protected Freedoms Act.

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An opinion piece in The Australian, says the Morrison government's proposed legislation will provide limited scope for religious freedom while throwing up an extra set of problems, especially for rights such as freedom of speech.

Australian law provides incomplete and ineffective protection for freedom of religion. The best that we have is section 116 of the Constitution.

It states: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for ­imposing any religious ­observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no ­religious test shall be ­required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

The section has proved to be a frail shield. Despite several ­attempts, the High Court has never been convinced to use this section to strike down a law. The section also is very limited in its scope. Section 116 applies only to federal laws, leaving the states free to restrict religious freedom. They can favour one religion over ­another, ban religious clothing and prohibit worshippers from following their faith.

The gaping holes in protection for freedom of religion in Australia reflect the deliberate choices of the founders of our nation. Their aim in the 1890s was not to protect ­religious freedom but to prevent the passing of federal laws on the topic and to ensure that the states remained free to restrict religious liberty.

In particular, the framers of our Constitution believed that the states should be free to limit the ­activities of smaller religions, such as the Seventh-day Adventists.

This approach is no longer ­acceptable.

People of all faiths are entitled to exercise their religion and to profess their beliefs. This is recognised in every other democracy and by international law. Australia is alone among comparable nations in not doing more to ensure positive and strong protection for freedom of religion.

Senator Bernardi has told Leon Byner on Adelaide radio station FIVEaa the government must justify any erosion of our rights if we are to maintain our national sovereignty.

To read Greg Williams' full column, click here.

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