Faith leaders have welcomed proposed changes to New South Wales’ anti-discrimination laws to outlaw vilification on religious grounds, as part of the work to be done to address religious freedom in the state.
The state government will introduce new legislation to parliament that prohibits vilification on the grounds of religious belief, affiliation or activity.
Making the announcement on 28 June, NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley said that no one should have to encounter public hate due to their religious beliefs.
“It is high time the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 was changed to reflect this,” he said.
“For the most part, we are a tolerant society, and we welcome people to NSW from all over the world.
“However, we need to have laws that protect people of faith from public actions that incite hatred, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule for religious beliefs.
“We committed, as an election promise, to introduce legislation making religious vilification unlawful within our first 100 days in office.
“We are here to make good on our promises and get things done by making this change to the Anti-Discrimination Act.”
NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper said it was “unacceptable” that some forms of vilification are on the rise.
“Members of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths have all raised concerns about the growing levels of intolerance towards members of their communities,” he said.
“This much needed legislation will provide our faith communities with similar protections provided to members of diverse and multicultural communities.”
Monica Doumit, the Director of Public Affairs and Engagement for the Archdiocese of Sydney said the religious vilification bill is a “small step” in recognising the unaddressed discrimination faced by people of faith in NSW.
“For that reason, the government’s move is welcome news,” she said.
“However, it should not be used as a distraction or a replacement for the much larger issue, which is that it is still legal in NSW to discriminate against a person based on their religious belief or activity, including by refusing them goods, services or accommodation.
“About half a dozen inquiries have recommended NSW remedy this, and there is a bill that has gone through a parliamentary inquiry and is ready to go.
“Once the vilification laws are passed, the government should act quickly to fix the much more pressing issues of discrimination.”
Imam Shadi Alsuleiman, President of the Australian National Imams Council, said the council has advocated for protections against vilification and hate speech amid a rise in incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
“Currently, there are no legislative protections at the federal or NSW level for people of faith, highlighting the need for ongoing discussions and the passing of religious vilification and discrimination laws to ensure that individuals are protected against any form of vilification or discrimination based on their faith or religious beliefs,” he said.
“This is particularly important in light of the prevailing climate of religious intolerance and the absence of legal safeguards at the state and national levels.”
The Minns Government also made a pre-election commitment of $10 million to help faith organisations improve safety and security at places of worship, schools and community centres.
Premier Chris Minns told a town hall forum in February that the government has a role in supporting and defending faith traditions, “against those who advocate hatred and even violence against other citizens”.
Critics of the bill include the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, NSW Council for Civil Liberties and LGBT groups.
“While it is appropriate to include religious vilification as an offence under the Anti-Discrimination Act, this bill does not sufficiently distinguish between freedom of expression directed against the ideas and tenets of a religion, and vilification against persons or groups because they hold or express religious beliefs,” said ALHR president Kerry Weste.