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Australia considers legislation to protect religious speech

Australia, one of the more secular countries in the Western world, is considering legislation designed to protect people who express their faith outside of the workplace. Including the religious speech of famous rugby players.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the proposal would allow Australians to express their religious beliefs away from the workplace as long as it did not cause financial damage to their employer, according to Reuters.

Porter said the legislation was needed as the country’s anti-discrimination laws do not go far enough.

“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race, and disability,” Porter said in a speech in Sydney. “This draft bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief or lack thereof.”

The proposed legislation comes after former Australian rugby star Israel Folau, a devout Christian, lost his contract with Rugby Australia in May after Folau refused to take down a social media post which called on sinners to repent.

Folau’s post and his subsequent termination triggered a nationwide debate about the freedom of religious speech and religion in the island nation.

As Metro Voice reported Folau and his former employer tried to reach a settlement last month but couldn’t come to an agreement.

“Rugby Australia tore up my employment contract and ended my playing career for sharing a message from the Bible,” Folau said at the time. “I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or exclusion. Australia is such an amazing multi-cultural country. I know we are strong enough to tolerate different views without firing people from their jobs for expressing religious beliefs that not everybody agrees with.”

Under the proposed law, many in the government believe Folau would have a case since his employer would have to show they have suffered undue financial hardship due to Folau’s social media post. His case is expected to be heard in court early next year.

The religious freedom legislation is expected to be introduced into Parliament in October.

Conservatives within the Australian government and faith groups want the bill to go even further. The proposed measure does not make it clear whether religious institutions would have the freedom to hire and fire their staffs based on beliefs, sexual orientation, and other areas.

Many lawmakers are looking to Prime Minister Scott Morrison for leadership on the issue.  Morrison is a Christian but does not want to choose sides, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company, (ABC).

“I do not want religion to be an issue that divides Australians, it is deeply personal for people. I want to work through it in a way that enhances unity, not for political purposes,” Morrison told his party earlier this year, and he has argued equally that he wants to develop a bipartisan position on the issue.

–Metro Voice and wires