Fighting for the right to discriminate

As the law currently stands in Victoria, there is an exemption in the equal opportunity act to allow faith-based institutions to discriminate on who they employ based on religious values. At the moment there’s a bill in motion in the Victorian Parliament to remove that exemption for faith based charities, schools, etc. As far as I’m aware this change won’t apply to churches, mosques etc themselves.

The current review by the Victorian Parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts & Regulations Committee (SARC) into the Exceptions in the Equal opportunity Act 1995 has the potential to be even more of a threat to religious freedom than the infamous Racial & Religious Tolerance Act (RRTA). Faith-based charities, schools and organisations could have their activities severely constrained by the inquiry’s suggestions that religious bodies lose the right to employ staff who share their values.


So here’s the thing. I’m very interested in a discussion about the Church being considerably outraged at this proposed amendment. I’ve heard a number of the arguments as to why this is a terrible thing: my mother and my father-in-law both work for a Christian school who has come out strongly against the proposal. So I want to frame the discussion in a different way.

As a society we’ve decided that discriminating between people on the basis of their gender, race, age, height, sexuality or religious affiliation is unacceptable for any employers, or indeed for any interaction between members of society. So what I would love for you to do is to imagine that you have no affiliation with the church, that you are not a Christian, and give me a good reason why, for someone like that, they should support the church’s push to be allowed an exemption for organisations like faith-based charities or church schools. Your impassioned pleas are hereby sought.

7 Replies to “Fighting for the right to discriminate”

    1. The customers of the Melbourne Club (prestigious, high society club who will also be affected if these laws pass) want to have a male members only club, but few feel that they should be allowed. If me and a bunch of racist friends want to start a bar, where the customers can expect to only be served by white barpeople, and there is a market for that kind of bar – am I allowed to discriminate between employees to keep my staff all white? Of course not. Nor can I discriminate based on a person’s religious affiliation. Why should it be different for faith-based organisations like schools and welfare agencies?

  1. I wouldn’t expect a good reason from an unredeemed perspective … only from God’s … and since I consider society unredeemed I expect just as you say, “discriminating between people on the basis of their gender, race, age, height, sexuality or religious affiliation is unacceptable for any employers, or indeed for any interaction between members of society.”

    1. My issue here is that we have this impression that the “unredeemed” government ought to treat Christians outside of the law. There are very good reasons for anti-discrimination legislation and to suggest that the law should be applied to everyone except christian organizations smacks of arrogance to say the least.

      1. Ah … ok, I understand. I guess I didn’t have that expectation of government in terms of delivering … but I still to affect that and I hadn’t thought of that as arrogance. But I get your point, those that expect the government to act Christian can be that way as they routinely get disappointed.

  2. It’s really simple – we actually ‘discriminate’ all the time. We discriminate about who we select in football clubs, what ingredients we put into cakes, and what words to write into a post about discrimination. Yes the last two aren’t about people – that is deliberate to take some emotion out of this subject.

    The error is actually in the defining of the issue – it’s not really discrimination that is wrong, it’s simply about fairness. Would it be unfair to kick a hack football player off an elite team? No. But it would be unfair to deprive that same person employment on the same basis when football ability is irrelevant? Of course. And possibly the more immutable the characteristic, the less we should probably consider it when selecting for positions. But even immutable characteristics can sometimes be relevant. For example, most men are stronger physically than women and this can be relevant to certain kinds of work. But to suggest that a Christian school should be forced to employ a Muslim is clearly ridiculous. A business should have the freedom to conduct itself in that way, because there are plenty of more suitable alternatives for people looking for employment or looking for products and/or services. A club for men? Big deal. Isn’t there a gym franchise for women or something, and nobody has a problem with that. There are literally thousands of other places to go and people want to complain?!?

    The truth is this isn’t about fairness. The insidious aspect of this sort of proposal is that it purports to be neutral or ‘righting a wrong’, when it is actually a heavy-handed and extreme way of forcing a narrow view of what society should look like onto everybody. Why do they get to decide the rules? This is bordering on totalitarianism.

    The irony is, they sell it as encouraging ‘diversity’. It actually does the opposite, because if you deviate from their script, expect a big stick. It’s already happened in some places overseas.

    I say, let the market decide. That would be real diversity, but unfortunately it doesn’t bring much power to those who make these kind of decisions. That’s why they don’t like it – they don’t get to tell (and force) others how to live. They just live.

    Yes, this is a threat to freedom. And not just to churches.

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