If you are interested in writing to your local State MP to express concerns about the amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, here are some salient points that you might include when drafting a letter of your own
I am writing to express concerns over the proposed ‘inherent requirement’ test, that is being re-introduced by the Andrews Government.
Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy that are esteemed by Australians. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions.
The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 will cross that line, with the Victorian Government taking a role in supervising whom religious organisations may employ.
First of all, why is this legislation targeting religious groups?
The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act will not impact any social or political groups, only religious ones.
As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. For example, it would be unfair to force the Greens to employ a climate-change skeptic, or to expect the local Football Club to appoint a groundsman who was intent on converting the oval into a swimming pool.
It is therefore reasonable to ask, what is the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?
Indeed, this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is but the latest of a growing list of anti-religious measures that have been introduced by the Government over the last 2 years. I appreciate that some policy changes are being presented as fighting equality for LBGTI people, and some of this is laudable. However other policies are completely unrelated to sexuality issues, and are simply attacks on religious freedoms: removing SRI lessons from schools is one such example. And the legislation itself says its scope is not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extends to ‘differing religious beliefs’. In other words, it is no longer permissible for a church or school to reject an applicant on the basis of them adhering to a different religion. Such an idea would be laughable, except it may soon become law.
Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumes that the Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ.
This test is a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.
Mr Andrews has stated, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”
This move counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and is setting up the situation whereby a Government impose impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who do not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.
Thirdly, the test assumes that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, has the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.
Again, Mr Andrews has said,
“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”
But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?
The legislation assumes that some jobs in a church, or mosque, or religious school can be considered ‘religious’ and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?
It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God.
As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?
In the end, it comes down to these questions:
Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?
Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?
I believe this legislation is unnecessary, and will set a dangerous precedent for our future as Victorians.
I am asking that you consider voting against this legislation. I am very happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns