SA drops planned ban on religious discrimination law

The South Australian government has dropped a planned ban on religious discrimination following opposition to the proposed law from the main Christian denominations over fears that they would be prevented from converting non-Christians.

However, Muslim leaders and legal experts have condemned the decision to drop the ban, arguing that laws were needed to protect Muslims from increasing incidents of prejudice prompted by Islamic terrorist attacks, the Australian reports.

Attorney-General Michael Atkinson defended the decision to drop the ban from the Equal Opportunity Bill, which is before parliament, saying the state's majority Christian population did not want it.

"The main Western Christian denominations, the Greek Orthodox archdiocese and the Greek Evangelical Church, opposed it, as did many Christian schools," he told The Australian.

"They feared the new laws would prevent them from freely preaching and practising their religion and from seeking to convert others."

Mr Atkinson admitted that Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Scientology and Seventh Day Adventist leaders all wanted the ban.

"I encouraged an open dialogue between the faiths, but in the end it became clear most of the people who would benefit from a new law not only did not want it but were ardently opposed to it," Mr Atkinson said.

"That is why it was not included in the new bill."

By dropping the ban, South Australian law will remain out of step with laws banning religion-based discrimination in all states and territories except NSW.

As drafted, the bill contains a section banning "discrimination on the ground of religious appearance or dress".

Islamic Council of Victoria member and lawyer Waleed Aly called the bill meaningless.

"If you are allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion, then the section on religious dress is a void category of protection - it doesn't mean anything," Mr Aly said.

"As written, it provides a veneer of protection that in truth is not there.

"The Government should decide whether it wants to protect people from religious discrimination, and legislate accordingly."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide declined to comment, The Australian says.

Christian pressure kills off bias ban (The Australian, 20/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
News: New anti discrimination laws (Premier and Ministers of South Australia, 13/10/06)
Adelaide Archdiocese

Anti-bias law 'threat to religious freedom' (CathNews, 6/8/02)

20 Nov 2006