Religious freedom review deadline extended

Posted in News

An independent panel began its review of religious freedoms in Australia on 10 January 2018, and are accepting submissions from the public.

Former Liberal immigration minister Philip Ruddock is the chair of the panel, whose direction is to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom. He is joined by Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, who was recently appointed the President of the Human Rights Commission, retired Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett, Constitutional Law Professor Nicholas Aroney, and Father Frank Brennan, a Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the appointment of this panel to review religious freedoms on 22 November 2017, and its terms of reference on 14 December 2017. He instructed the panel to:

  • consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights
  • have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant
  • consult as widely as it considers necessary

The review was announced after the results of the Australian marriage law postal survey had been confirmed and before changes to legislation on marriage were made. While discussions about religious freedoms and marriage were the impetus behind the review, the Prime Minister has asked the panel to conduct a broader review of religious freedoms.

In a media release issued on 22 November 2017, the Prime Minister’s office said the review would be a “timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

Members of the public are welcome to make a submission to the panel, and local Christian leaders recently gathered for a round table discussion about this topic and what submissions might be made.

South Australian Christian leaders from different denominations, including Uniting Church SA Moderator Rev Sue Ellis, gathered on Tuesday 16 January to discuss current protections for religious freedom and the opportunities provided by this review. They were guided in their discussion by Rick Sarre, Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the University of South Australia.

The leaders said that they welcome the review and the opportunity it provides to explore religious freedoms in relation to the Australian Constitution. They emphasised the value of religious diversity, and the importance of protecting religious diversity and freedom. Many of the leaders agreed that there needed to be a longer conversation on the topic of religious freedom, going beyond the current review. They encouraged churches and members to educate themselves on this topic and make submissions to the review panel if they feel called to do so.

While the leaders who met for this discussion will not be issuing a joint statement or submission for the expert panel to consider, a summary of their discussion is expected to be prepared and distributed in the near future.

The deadline for submissions to the review has been extended to Wednesday 14 February. The terms of reference are available online here, and submissions may be made here.

The panel will report its findings to the Prime Minister by 31 March 2018.

 


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