Australian senators debate in Parliament House in Canberra Dec. 4, 2019. The Australian government has released its second "exposure draft" of its controversial religious discrimination legislation, winning praise from faith groups, including the Catholic bishops. CNS photo/Lukas Coch, AAP Image via Reuters

Faith groups praise Australia's religious discrimination legislation

  • December 13, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia -- The Australian government has released its second "exposure draft" of its religious discrimination legislation, winning widespread praise from faith groups, including the Catholic bishops, following changes to the original legislation released in October.

The bishops' main criticism was the proposed laws did not extend to cover health and eldercare workers; the Catholic Church runs about 10 percent of Australia's hospitals and eldercare institutions.

Their concerns were addressed in the new draft, which includes provisions to cover workers in those sectors and extends those institutions rights to discriminate against staff on the basis of religion to preserve the "religious ethos" of that institution. The same extensions cover religious camps and conference centers as long as they publish their policies.

Medical practitioners cannot discriminate against individuals but can refuse to perform procedures such as abortion if their faith dictates against it. As well, pharmacists can refuse to dispense prescriptions such contraception and the morning-after pill if they disagree with their use.

Human rights, LGBT groups and some legal experts continued to criticize the proposed laws.

"Surely we have learned from the recent royal commissions that giving religious organizations special treatment and allowing them to make up their own rules can have an intensely harmful impact on the most vulnerable," said Alex Greenwich, a member of Parliament from New South Wales.

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