Editorial: Freedom is not free if it costs equality

Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia states:

'The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.'

Pretty clear, isn't it? Our right to practice whatever religion we choose in this secular country is the only right that is guaranteed under the Constitution. Unlike most other countries, Australia has no Bill of Rights providing for constitutional protection of individual rights, but we do have a protected right to practice religion. Yet the government is proposing an Act of parliament for Religious Freedom. Why do this when religious freedom is already guaranteed?

The proposed Religious Freedom Act will essentially give employers the right to sack - or not to hire - a person whose values may not accord with those of the employer's religion. Let's call it what it is: the "Folau Law". The right for an employer to discriminate against a person on the basis of sexuality.

This is not about religious freedom. This is about discrimination. This is about winding the clock back to the early 1970s before the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975), Sex Discrimination Act (1984), Disability Discrimination Act (1992), Age Discrimination Act (2004) and Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 made it illegal for a person to be denied full rights of employment or any other service based on their race, gender, age, sexuality or whether or not they have a disability. These federal acts, and others made at state levels, ensure that every Australian is afforded equal rights.

This act will open a Pandora's box of problems that the government will never close. Not only will Christian employers be able to discriminate against homosexuals, but Muslim employers could claim religious values when they sack male employees who shave their beards or women who don't cover their heads; pagan employers could claim 'religious values' when they sack employees who want a day off for Christmas; and Hindu employers could sack workers who eat beef.

In this multi-cultural country, under our Constitution everyone has the right to practice their own religion without government interference. Freedom comes at a cost. The cost of religious freedom as proposed by this act is equal rights.