Welcome
Neil Foster

Neil Foster

Law Professor

Neil is an evangelical Christian, an Associate Professor in law, a father and a grandfather. He has qualifications in both law and theology and teaches “Law and Religion” as an elective to later year law students.

He blogs at Law and Religion Australia

For those following the debates about proposed amendments to discrimination laws removing religious freedom from faith-based schools, the LNP Government has now tabled a number of amendments to the ALP Bill released earlier this week. While these amendments are a move in the right direction, there are still some serious concerns about their effect on religious schools and their ability to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. The Government amendments can be seen on this page as separate documents. I will aim to briefly outline the effect of the amendments. I will assume readers are familiar with the ALP Bill discussed in my previous blog.

Friday, 30 November 2018 06:56

ALP Bill on religious schools and students

[Senator Wong, leader of the Opposition in the Senate, has introduced a Private Senator’s Bill aimed at removing the power of religious schools to discriminate against same sex attracted students. Unfortunately, the amendments do much more than stop schools expelling students on the basis of their internal sexual orientation (a goal all sides of politics agree on.) They will have a serious impact on the ability of such schools, and other religious bodies, to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. A more nuanced approach is needed.  

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee (“LCAR Committee”) has now handed down its report into Legislative exemptions that allow faith-based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff . The inquiry has been incredibly short- the motion referring the topic was only passed on 13 November. As expected (due to the preponderance of ALP and Greens committee members) the report recommends complete removal of religious freedom protections for faith-based schools relating to how those schools deal with same-sex attracted students. There is a strong dissenting report from Coalition Senators.

Monday, 19 November 2018 11:33

"White" on the new blacklist

A popular wedding magazine called “White” has announced today that it is closing down. The reason? The Christian publishers had been asked to carry articles featuring same sex weddings, and had politely declined to do so. The backlash on social media led to a number of advertisers withdrawing their custom, and some customers refusing to buy the magazine any more. In this post I want to comment on the legal issues around this incident, and another episode highlighted in the press today. A report in The Australian today notes the close of White magazine, and also the other episode involving someone in the “wedding industry”:

As foreshadowed in the press reports noted in my previous post, the ACT Government has now introduced a Bill designed to curtail the current religious freedom enjoyed by religious schools in the Territory to operate in accordance with their beliefs. The  Discrimination Amendment Bill 2018 (ACT) is an unwise proposal and it is likely that it would be invalid as contrary to Commonwealth law. I will assume the reader is familiar with the background to the Bill as noted in my previous post. Here I will just briefly indicate how it achieves its goals. The central provision is cl 6, which simply repeals s 33 of the Discrimination Act 1991.

Reports in the press note that that the ACT Government has announced its intention to “close a loophole” in discrimination laws by removing the capacity of religious schools to apply their religious beliefs in staffing decisions. The law being referred to is not a “loophole”, it is part of the fundamental architecture of discrimination law around Australia, with rare exceptions, and removing these provisions would not be a good idea.

This is the first part of a series of articles written by Neil Foster about the Ruddock Review's leaked contents. The subsequent articles can be accessed at Neil website, here.  

A media outlet here in Australia has released what it says are the 20 recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock. The Report itself was delivered to the Government in May 2018, but has not officially been released. Apparently the Government is planning to release the Report at the same time as announcing its official response. The main issue which has generated controversy during the last week, in which there was a selective leaking of some of the recommendations, were proposals dealing with the rights of religious schools to take into account the sexual orientation of students in certain areas. The changes proposed were not radical changes to the existing law, but were presented as such when first publicised. In this post I want to briefly set these recommendations in context and offer my preliminary response.

[An extraordinary claim before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal recently, Secular Party of Australia Inc. v the Department of Education and Training (Human Rights) [2018] VCAT 1321 (27 August 2018), alleged that a child at a public school should be prevented from wearing Islamic religious garb in the child’s own interests! Thankfully the claim failed, but the fact that the case could even be argued illustrates the pressure that some groups in society are placing on parents and children of faith.

Trinity Western University, an evangelical tertiary institution in British Columbia, has lost two cases it had brought protesting the decision of two Canadian Provincial Law Societies to not authorise graduates of their proposed Law School as able to practice in the Provinces. The reason for the denial of accreditation was that TWU requires students and staff to agree to a Community Covenant Agreement, which undertakes (among other things) that they will not engage while studying or working at TWU in “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”.

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd v Colorado Civil Rights Commission, 584 U. S. ____ (2018) (June 4, 2018), the US Supreme Court by 7-2 overturned previous decisions against a Christian cake maker, Jack Phillips, who had declined to make a wedding cake for a same sex wedding. While the basis of the decision of the majority is fairly narrow, the outcome is clearly correct, and even in the narrow reasons offered by Justice Kennedy, there are a number of important affirmations which support religious freedom.

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