NSW committee recommends tightening-up laws against religious discrimination

March 31, 2021 by J-Wire
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The NSW Joint Select Committee has today released its report examining the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 (the Bill).

Gabrielle Upton addressing the COA

The Bill aimed to provide new protections from religious discrimination. The inquiry into the Bill sparked strong community engagement, receiving 192 submissions and over 19,000 online survey submissions. These submissions represented a wide range of views from religious leaders and community groups, legal experts, academic, health professionals and advocates for women and the LGBTIQ community.

Gabrielle Upton MP, Chair of the Committee, stated, “This inquiry raised complex issues about religious beliefs and activities which go to the core of who we are as individuals and indeed what we do as community members.”

The Committee made a number of findings and recommendations – primarily that there was a strong need to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs and activities.

The Chair stated: “A majority of the Committee found that there was also a need to protect not-for-profit religious organisations from discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs or activities when they engage in certain conduct because of their religious doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.”

A majority of the Committee also recommended that the NSW Government introduce its own bill providing such protections by the end of 2021.

In making these recommendations, the Chair said “It is my strong expectation that the important issue of protection from religious discrimination can finally be addressed through a Government Bill, thereby improving the lives of people in NSW.”

The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies handed the NSW Government its submission in August 2020.

In its submission JBOD wrote “Although Jews face no official discrimination, and are free to observe their faith and traditions, unofficial antisemitism is becoming more serious, and there have been worrying signs that it is creeping into mainstream institutions.”

The Board pointed out to the committee: “Behind the statistics are the lived experiences of individual people, as recorded in the ECAJ reports, which involve:

• Refusal to supply a good or service to a person who is, or is believed to be, Jewish;
• antisemitic verbal abuse and bullying of Jewish students as young as five years old at public and private schools, resulting in their departure from those schools;
• Victimisation of employees in the workplace because they are, or are believed to be, Jewish, with employers unwilling to intervene, and resulting in the employees being forced or pressured out of their employment; and
• Jewish university students being confronted in class with anti-Jewish statements, including statements which deny, relativise or trivialise the Holocaust, by lecturers and tutors.

Whether or not these cases involved discrimination on the ground of race or on the ground of religion, or some combination, would almost certainly have been irrelevant in the minds of both the perpetrators and those who were targeted. It is therefore anomalous in our view that the law in NSW (and Federally) prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, but not on the ground of religion.”

Peter Wertheim, an Honorary Life Deputy of the Board, told J-Wire: “On a first reading, the NSW Joint Select Committee on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 has produced some welcome findings and recommendations. It is gratifying that many of these are a reflection of the recommendations made in the written submission of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. The Board’s submission is extensively referenced throughout the report.

The Committee’s recommendation in paragraph (c) and (d) of section 2.126 (pp 40-41) is of particular importance to the Jewish community. It would extend the Act’s protection to not-for-profit bodies which are not religious institutions but which provide persons of a particular religious association, affiliation or belief with goods or services for the purpose of promoting their welfare in order to meet the special needs of such persons, or to overcome prejudice and disadvantage arising from such religious association, affiliation or belief. This closely reflects Recommendation 3 in the Board’s submission.

Another important recommendation appears in paragraph (d) of section 2.37 of the Report (p 23). It would remove any doubt that the new provisions would not impact to the detriment of the existing anti-vilification provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act. This closely reflects Recommendation 8 in the Board’s submission.

We commend the Joint Committee members and the chair Gabrielle Upton MP for their work.”

 

 

 

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