Australians reject discrimination based on religious belief: New research

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Since the change of government in the federal election in May, the fate of the controversial religious discrimination legislation remains uncertain.

There are bipartisan consensus that Commonwealth law should protect people of different faiths from discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere.

But Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has not committed to a timetable for enacting . His government also moved away from controversial areas of this policy promoted under the Morrison government which emphasized “religious freedoms”.

The new government could be closer to the public mood.

Results from the 2022 Australian Cooperative Elections Study (ACES) confirm that voters do not see religious discrimination as a significant issue. Only a minority (27%) agree that “Australians who hold face a lot of discrimination. » A majority either disagree (31%) or neutral (42%). Clear majorities oppose religious freedom protections deemed to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ people.

Much of this controversy has centered on schools. Since the advent of anti-discrimination laws in the mid 1970s, benefited from exemptions allowing them to refuse to employ staff or accept students because of their sexuality or – if this is contrary to the ethos of the .

Despite these derogations, campaigns to strengthen “religious freedoms” intensified following marriage equality legislation in 2017. The debate was further inflamed by the dismissal of rugby player Israel Folau for posting comments on social media about gay people and others, in line with his Christian faith, in 2019.

In response, then Scott Morrison, drafted “religious freedoms” bills in 2019 and 2021. The latter was based on a campaign promise to override state and territory laws to protect “statements of belief” made by individuals “in accordance with the doctrines, principles, beliefs or teachings of their religion.”

The bill was dramatically set aside in February 2022. Five moderate Liberal MPs walked across the floor in the House of Representatives. They opposed the bill’s protections for potentially anti-LGBTIQ+ comments without any accompanying commitment to protect transgender children from exclusion from schools. The bill was doomed in the Senate.

The conservative Australian Christian lobby in turn target moderate liberals on the campaign trail, portraying them as opponents of religious protection.

Our new data reinforces the extent of voter resistance to aspects of the “religious freedoms” agenda in the run-up to the election.

ACES asked voters a series of questions about religious schools and the conditions of staff and students. A clear majority (67%) disagreed that ‘religious schools should be able to refuse to employ staff because of their sexual orientation’. Only 15% agreed.

Almost identical results were reported for the statement about refusing to “employ staff because of their transgender identity” (65% disagree and 16% agree). Voters also disagreed by very similar margins that religious schools should be able to “exclude students based on their sexual orientation” or “transgender identity.”

There were predictable demographic differences for all four statements. Women consistently disagreed between 74% and 79%. Men also disagreed, but with smaller majorities (56% to 59% range). Younger voters were the most likely to disagree, while the majority of voters aged 65 and over also disagreed.

These findings suggest that Morrison misjudged the electoral atmosphere. He defended Warringah Liberal candidate Katherine Deves, whose views on sport and transgender identity have sparked backlash against the Coalition.

If the Coalition sought to win over conservatives in the metropolitan periphery electorates, its efforts were unsuccessful on election night.

Indeed, 39% of ACES respondents agreed that “Australian politics is too focused on the rights of religious people”. Only 21% disagreed with the statement and 40% expressed a neutral opinion.

American-style religious politics seems to have limited appeal in a country that is increasingly moving away from organized religion. Last month’s census results show 39% of Australians do not identify as religious.

Responding to a similar question in ACES, 49% identified themselves as non-religious. At the same time, Australians are coming on board with sexual and gender diversity. They reject the protections of religious organizations to exclude people from employment and school on these grounds.

There is no doubt that the Albanian government will assess this reality as it considers its next steps to tackle in law.

‘No religion’ is Australia’s second largest religious group – and it has a profound effect on our laws

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