Recent proposals to add exemption clauses to anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations have aroused the ire of the media and of many Australians. Interestingly, these proposed exemption clauses were vaguely promised to religious organisations during the same-sex marriage debate last year, as a means of ensuring that churches and religious organisations would still have the right to uphold and preserve their own beliefs and moral values without fear of litigation. To date, no such protection has been legislated, with the result that an Anglican arch-bishop and two Baptist ministers in Tasmania have been hauled before the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for preaching in their own churches that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Let us be clear about what these current proposed exemptions aim to provide. They would allow a religious organisation to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring and firing. For example, a Christian school could reject a teaching applicant if it was known that the applicant was a homosexual. This would allow the Christian school to ensure that the staff they employed shared the same fundamental beliefs and values as the school and would uphold the ethos of the school. Surely this is just common sense, and aligns with common practice elsewhere. Businesses and institutions discriminate all the time in choosing whom they will employ. Employers reject applicants whom they perceive do not share the same ethos and values of the company.
Discrimination is not always a bad thing; in fact, at times, it is entirely appropriate. For example, an organisation that provides support for homosexuals and lesbians should be allowed to reject an employment application from someone who is openly opposed to homosexuality. If I, as a Christian with conservative moral values, applied for a position in such an organisation, I should not be surprised that my application would be rejected, and I certainly should not have the right to pursue legal action on the grounds that I have been unfairly discriminated against! In a similar way, Green Peace is allowed to reject employment applications from people who are opposed to the green movement. And the liberal party can unilaterally reject employment applications from people who are signed up members of the Labor Party. This kind of discrimination is appropriate and reasonable; it is a matter of simple common sense.
The current call to legislate an exemption clause in the anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations is simply seeking to clarify and protect this common-sense right of appropriate discrimination; a right which is taken for granted elsewhere in the business world. To the LGBTQI community I would say, “We have allowed you the legal right to practice your morality, please allow us the same right to practice and preserve our own.”