Catholic organisations, including our schools, have traditionally been able to freely employ those who share our religious beliefs, values and ethos. However, this has now changed due to the passing of the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill in the Victorian Parliament.

The new legislation places an unnecessary administrative burden on religious bodies and educational institutes who will no longer be able to employ staff who hold the same religious beliefs and values unless they can prove that it is an ‘inherent requirement’ of the job.

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has said that the Government's imposition of ‘an unbalanced law on people of faith’ will add to ‘a steady decline of religious freedom in Victoria.’

In our pluralist society, diversity of belief has long been celebrated and protected. Regrettably, this pluralism has been diminished with the passing of the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill. Despite the Attorney General confirming that not a single problem of discrimination could be identified in Catholic schools, the Catholic education sector will bear the brunt of new administration burdens and be subject to an “inherent religious requirement” test.

The legislation is a serious overreach by the Victorian Government into the rightful freedoms of faith-based organisations. It unfairly targets and undermines the ability of faith organisations to confidently manage employment matters according to their mission.

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How to stand up for religious freedom

On a national level, a Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 has been introduced in our federal Parliament. While not perfect, the bill has been welcomed by the Australian Bishops because it will provide basic human rights protections for Australians of all faiths to express their beliefs.

As Archbishop Comensoli has said, all Australians, regardless of their religious belief or activity, should be able to participate fully in our society. They must be entitled to the equal and effective protection of the law and should not be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief or activities in public life.

Significantly, given our situation in Victoria, the federal bill includes provisions to protect the ability of religious organisations to hire people who share their faith and values.

The bill has been referred to two federal Parliamentary committees, who will be consulting with organisations and individuals over the coming weeks. Archbishop Comensoli has encourage us to do whatever we can to express our support of the federal Religious Discrimination Bill and also our concerns about the diminishment of religious freedom more locally in the State of Victoria – with our federal representatives in Parliament. Now, more than ever, there is a need to provide people of faith with protection under the law.

Information about how to take action is listed below or read more in this letter from Archbishop Comensoli.

1. Contact your federal Members of Parliament

Writing to federal Members of Parliament (MPs) is vitally important, because religious freedom legislation is being considered on a federal level. You can write to them over the coming weeks to share your concerns about the restrictions on religious freedom in Victoria and ask them to act to protect the religious freedom of all Australians by supporting the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021. If you are unable to write, you may like to call to express your views.

Each Victorian has one local MP representing their geographic area and twelve Senators who represent their state.

Details of your local federal Member of Parliament can be found here. Simply scroll down to ‘Search Members’ and type in your postcode to find your MP.

Details of Victorian Senators can be found here.

2. Fill out this survey

One of the committees looking at the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 is seeking responses from members of the public in the form of a short online survey. Responses can be made up until Friday 21 December, 5pm. The survey can be found here.

3. Share your concerns with others

You are also encouraged to tell your family, friends and those in your local community about your concerns and ask them to become active too.

4. Be active on Social Media

You may also like to share your concerns with federal Members of Parliament via their Social Media pages.

5. Find out more

Keep up to date about this issue by bookmarking this page and keeping an eye on the Melbourne Catholic news section. You can also find out more about the broader context for people of faith in this article.

6. Pray

As people of faith, we know that we can entrust all things to the Lord and trust in his mercy. You can pray for the passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and for religious freedom to be respected and upheld here in Australia and all across the world.