In a step forward for the protection of religious freedom in NSW, Parliament has passed a religious vilification amendment to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act on 3 August making it an offence to “incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule” of a person or group of people on religious grounds.
Under the new law, which passed the NSW Legislative Assembly on 3 August, a punishable public act of vilification includes any form of communication to the public whether verbal or non-verbal.
People who do not have a religious belief or affiliation or do not engage in religious activity are also protected under the new law.
Monica Doumit, the director of public affairs and engagement for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, has welcomed the banning of vilification on religious grounds but said it is only a first step in addressing the disparity between protections given to people of faith in NSW and those given to other groups.
“It was a pre-election promise from the premier and it is good to see that it was actioned so quickly following the election. However, it is only the first step,” Ms Doumit said.
“The substantive issue of religious discrimination remains completely unaddressed, while other forthcoming legislation from the government—such as the overhaul of anti-discrimination laws and the prohibition on so-called conversion practices—has the potential to wind back existing protections for faith communities.
“These future laws are the real litmus test for the government and its relationship with the religious communities.”
Announcing the success of the amendment, NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley said that vilification on the grounds of a person’s religion, or no belief, is completely unacceptable in the community.
“Now we have a clear law to protect people from public actions that incite hatred or serious contempt or severe ridicule of them on the basis of their religious belief or lack of belief,” he said.
NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper that while any expression of vilification based on a person’s beliefs is “regrettable” the new legislation “sends a strong message to those people who seek to stir hatred and division in our community.”
NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights and LGBT groups were among those opposing the legislation.
The government said that a wide range of stakeholders were consulted on the amendment including faith-based organisations, community groups, multicultural associations, legal advocates and NSW Government agencies.