The protection of freedom of religion and belief is one key feature of a truly tolerant society. As the examples at the end of this article show, in recent times, increased hostility to religion among some cultural elites has led to some key aspects of freedom of religion and belief and related rights being curtailed in Australia and other Western countries. Australian legal protection of these rights is woefully inadequate compared to the protection Australia has committed to in international treaties. Legal protection should be significantly improved and this can be done without damaging the human rights of other minorities.

And this protection needs to be part of a broader cultural commitment to and modelling of true tolerance in our pluralist society. In Australia, we are struggling to learn how to discuss deep differences with one other privately and in the public square, how to negotiate the differences where public decisions may or must involve a choice between those differences, and how to live together before, during and after such decision without hostility. Too often we simply go to war over the issue of the day, each side trying to win the battle outright by demonising opponents and opposing views rather than acknowledging that they may have some valid points to be negotiated and that they have the right to disagree.

Such wars don’t necessarily end with a democratic decision like a legislative outcome. Too often, the war footing carries on and, for some winners, the losing view (and hence the losers) must be excluded forever, at least from the public square (the same sex marriage issue is an example). Some religious people have done this in the past to their opponents (e.g. campaigns against heretics); today, many religious people, in a practical democratic minority on some issues, feel it is being done to them. But regardless of who is the victor on the issue, the consequence of a ‘my way or the highway’ exclusion of the opponent’s views from the public square will be to increase division rather than eliminate it.

Our society must have ways for people to live in peace with one other despite our differences, without establishing an authoritarian State that imposes conformity or that silences selected non-conformist views.

This requires true tolerance, which means that we each have a responsibility to give others the right to be wrong in our eyes (Seamus Hasson, The Right to Be Wrong, 2005). It means we accord to others the right to express worldviews and beliefs we suspect or are convinced are wrong, and the right to act (subject to limits based on core shared commitments such as preventing physical violence) on those beliefs. It is a two-way street – both a right and a responsibility. Those religious persons who believe that homosexual acts are sinful must respect the right of gay and lesbian people to believe and express the opposite view. And the atheist or libertarian activist who believes there is no God and no moral basis for regulating sexual behaviour, and that religious people are nuts, must respect the right of religious people who hold to a traditional definition of marriage to believe and express the opposite view.

True tolerance and faux tolerance

True tolerance is not the faux ‘tolerance’ that favours only certain positions and is intolerant of views that do not adopt or celebrate those positions. Faux tolerance uses a semantic sleight of hand to excuse itself from having to tolerate views and voices that fall into certain forbidden categories (which vary according to the sub-culture) such as ‘intolerant’, ‘hate speech’, ‘heresy’, ‘unacceptable’ or ‘offensive’, and then uses definition inflation to put all the views and voices it wishes to exclude into those forbidden categories. This Orwellian doublespeak will not help us to live together with our differences – it is a dishonest weapon.

True tolerance is not the same as avoiding conflict. It does not require us to agree with or celebrate or be publicly silent about views or ways of life we disagree with. Disagreement should be expressed respectfully (not in ad hominem or prejudiced attacks) but can be plain, robust and public. ‘Do unto others as you have them do unto you’ is a good rule of thumb. Christians should disagree with humility, gentleness and respect.

True tolerance is not the same as never giving offence. Reasoned disagreement with another person about a matter that they believe is core to their identity or worldview (such as the truth of that worldview or the morality of an action or way of life) may lead them to feel offended or insulted. Of course we should be careful to avoid giving offence by the manner in which we express the idea on which we disagree. But if a disagreement does result in offence, this does not necessarily mean anyone was guilty of intolerant speech.

We need better leadership in community, government, media and education to promote and model the responsibility to respect each other’s right to be wrong and to explain that the goal of doing so is a free society and peaceful co-existence instead of a war of all against all.

Religious freedom in Australia

One dimension of Australia’s pluralism is religious belief. A minority of Australians are active adherents of a religion (measured by weekly or monthly attendance at places of worship). But religions have an accepted cultural place in the lives and self-conception of most Australians, although the number is declining. The 2016 census identified that 52.1% of Australians associated themselves with Christianity. Another 8.2% of Australians identify themselves with non-Christian religions, while 30.1% categorised themselves as having ‘No religion’.[1]

These figures from the general population do not reflect the attitudes and increasing suspicion of, or hostility to, religion among many Australian cultural elites. There are many causes for this, including:

  • the outworking of secularist and materialist ideology taught in universities and schools into government, the media and the professions;
  • the outworking of the sexual revolution and conflict between progressive sexual freedom agendas and traditional religious views.
  • the scandal of cover-ups of child abuse in some religious institutions; and
  • concerns about some expressions of Islam, such as the treatment of women in traditional Islam compared with Western social norms, and radical Islamism promoting terrorist acts.

The shift in attitude among cultural elites has provided the context for increasing disdain for and some significant incursions into religious freedom.

Secularism distinguished from secular government

There is a common misunderstanding about the meaning of ‘secular’ in some of these attitudes. ‘Secular’ means ‘concerned with the affairs of this world’, or ‘not connected with religion or spiritual matters’. It does not mean opposed to religion. Australia is not a secular society, because its people and their communities embrace a wide range of religious beliefs. Australia does have a secular system of government in the sense that the institutions of government:

  • are not tied to, controlled by or controlling of any particular religion;
  • are neutral to the truth claims of, but not hostile to, the religious beliefs and non-beliefs of citizens and their associations; and
  • support, accommodate and protect the freedom of its citizens and their communities and associations to hold, express and live by their religious belief or non-belief.

Part of the success of Australia as a multi-cultural and multi-religious country has been its ability to allow the expression of a range of religious beliefs, which are supported on a non-preferential basis by government. For example, government funding supports private schools and tertiary institutions run by religious organisations on an equitable basis with other private non-religious institutions. That is permitted by our Constitution. Secularists, who are opposed to any government support for religion, and in some cases even to the expression of religious views in the public square, fail to recognise the distinction between their version of secularism and Australia’s successful historical and current practice of secular government.

What is the right to freedom of religion, conscience and belief?

Freedom of religion, conscience and belief is, I believe, a foundational human freedom. Os Guinness has written:

Freedom of religion and belief affirms the dignity, worth and agency of every human person by freeing us to align “who we understand ourselves to be” with “what we believe ultimately is”, and then to think live, speak and act in line with those convictions. Nothing comes closer to the heart of our humanity than the self-understanding and the self-constitution made possible through [this freedom]. As a right it is primary, foundational and indispensable. (The Global Public Square, 2013, 49)

To protect this freedom, affected persons have the right (within limits) to prevent or stop other individuals, corporations or governments from limiting or removing the person’s exercise of the freedom of religion and belief. This freedom is not just a right to believe (often seen as solely a freedom between one’s ears) but also a right to live out that belief in all of life, subject to only those limitations that are necessary to protect other rights. The First Amendment of the US Constitution (drafted 1789) expresses this by protecting from legislative incursion not merely freedom of religious belief but also the free exercise of religion.

The right to freedom of religion and belief in international law

The right to freedom of religion and belief is declared in international human rights instruments but it is not created by them. It is not derived from international or domestic law and is not the gift of any society’s political arrangements, although law and political arrangements of a society may facilitate or restrict the exercise of the right.

The UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948) expressed this right in Article 18 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). Article 18 restated and expanded on the right as follows:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

The UN Human Rights Committee, which is the authoritative interpreter of the ICCPR, said of this right in General Comment 22:

Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms ‘belief’ and ‘religion’ are to be broadly construed. …

The Committee also emphasised that the permissible limits on manifestation in 18.3 are strict. Such limitations must be established by law, not discretion. They must be necessary limitations, rather than simply reasonable or convenient ones, for protecting one of the stated goals. The stated goals cannot be added to.

In international law it is clear that the right is much broader than freedom of belief. It includes manifestations and exercise of religion (subject to limits necessary for the stated purposes) and involves an interaction of freedom of expression, freedom of association (since it can be exercised in community with others) and the right to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

In international law, it is also unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religion (just as it is on other attributes like race and gender) – see for example ICCPR Article 26.

Further, the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief (which is a relevant international instrument under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act):

  • prohibits any act or practice of intolerance or discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief by any person in any capacity;
  • places obligations on States to take positive measures to counter intolerance and discrimination on the ground of religion and belief; and
  • provides a list of minimum freedoms, including freedom to teach religion and belief, to establish and maintain appropriate charitable institutions.

Inadequate protection of religious freedom in Australian law

Contrary to the extensive protections of religious freedom in international law, there are very few effective protections in Australian law.

Currently there are two inquiries into the protection of religious freedom in Australia: the Ruddock Inquiry (report yet to be released); and a Parliamentary Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The Foreword to the Interim Report of Parliamentary Inquiry in November 2017 made two key points.

Firstly, legal protection of religious freedom in Australia is very limited. Most significantly, there is almost no explicit protection for religious freedom at the federal level. The Constitution in section 116 does place ‘fetters’ on the Commonwealth government, preventing it from restricting religious practice to some extent. But this is a fairly narrow protection, and it does not provide a positive protection of the right, nor does it prevent the States and Territories from restricting religion.

Secondly, the threats to religious freedom in the 21st century are more subtle and often arise in the context of protecting other, conflicting rights (e.g. non-discrimination). An imbalance between competing rights and the lack of an appropriate way to resolve the ensuing conflicts is the greatest challenge to the right to freedom of religion.

This is most apparent with the advent of non-discrimination laws that that do not allow for lawful differentiation of treatment by religious individuals and organisations. While religious exemptions within non-discrimination laws provide some protection, these place religious freedom in a vulnerable position, and do not acknowledge the fundamental position that freedom of religion has in international human rights law.

Threats to religious freedom in Australia

In past centuries, most threats to religious freedom were from other religions and from State power being used in aid of one religion against other religions. That is still the case in some countries. In the last 160 years a significant additional threat arose from secular cultural elites opposing all religious belief and from State power being used in aid of secularist ideology against all or most religions. The latter was and remains most obvious under communist and other totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and Europe, China and South-East Asia where religious believers have lost jobs, homes, family and lives.

In modern Australia, religious freedom is not widely threatened by sectarian conflict between religions. But there are some significant examples of social hostility to Islamic people and practices in some places, including opposition to the building of mosques. Religious freedom is also not widely threatened by any blatant restriction on worship, religious teaching or observance in private or in religious communities.

The broadest threat to religious freedom in Australia comes from those hostile to traditional religious views (such as on sexual relations). While those who are hostile are often motivated by a desire to protect and include minority groups such as gay and lesbian Australians, their methods can intimidate and exclude religious people and associations. Specific examples of this from Australia and overseas are cited in the submission of the Institute for Civil Society to the Ruddock Review Panel on Religious Freedom (, 15th February 2018), and some are collected at the end of this article.

The intimidation and exclusion are achieved in several ways:

  1. The use of education policies, workplace policies, contracts or commercial or social pressure, or the use of legal processes to silence or stop the expression of, and acting on, religious views by individuals and organisations outside the purely private sphere, in spaces where those views conflict with secularist agendas. See the examples of university students being suspended or expelled, employees being demoted or sacked for respectfully expressing their religious views on homosexuality and commercial boycotts against organisations perceived to support traditional marriage. Workplace diversity policies often stress (and rightly) the need to accommodate same-sex attracted people but rarely include or even contemplate the need to accommodate people with religious views.
  2. The exercise of discretion by governments and public authorities (including public education authorities) to exclude religious voices and practices from their domains, or to discriminate against them in funding and in the provision of economic and other benefits. This can be seen in State Education Department bureaucrats seeking to exclude Christian or all religious views and activities of students from state schools, and the rejection of Christian couples for fostering or adoption purely because of their views on the morality of homosexuality.
  3. The use of low-bar vilification laws that make conduct unlawful if it is reasonably likely to “insult or offend” a person on the basis of an attribute like sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity or religion, in order to stifle the expression of religious views about that attribute, even if the view is expressed in a reasonable and moderate manner. Examples include three separate complaints in Tasmania against Catholic Archbishop Porteous and two other Christian ministers for reasonable and moderate statements of traditional Christian teaching on sexual relations, which gay or transgender people said were offensive. These complaints tie up the Christian speakers for many months in a secret conciliation process, with the threat of a later tribunal hearing and an award of compensation if they don’t reach a concilated outcome. Effectively, this use of anti-vilification laws enables people on one side of a disagreement to intimidate reasonable speakers on the other side by subjecting them to the time and legal costs of defending their viewpoint in a government commission.
  4. The use of anti-discrimination law complaints to force organisations operating on a religious belief to disregard whether a person’s belief and behaviour conformed to religious precepts when making employment decisions about officers, staff or volunteers. This is a particular issue for religious schools and ministry and welfare organisations that do not meet the test of a body established for religious purposes in anti-discrimination law exemptions. There is an ongoing campaign to wind back or remove these ‘exemptions’ (which are in truth balancing provisions to protect freedom of association and religion) – see more on this below.
  5. The use of anti-discrimination law complaints to force religiously-motivated organisations and individuals either to act contrary to their religious convictions or be made liable for discrimination against others (e.g. Christian bakery Ashers Bakery in Northern Ireland was held liable for discrimination for refusing to supply a cake for a political meeting with the iced message ‘Support Gay Marriage’). These cases require a careful balancing of rights of the person alleging discrimination and the religious person or organisation. But too rarely in such complaints is there any acknowledgement that the religious person or organisations would: (a) also be discriminated against if forced to act contrary to their religious convictions; and (b) would have their freedom of religion impaired.
  6. The failure in Australian law to guarantee parental rights to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in accordance with their religious convictions, which is an international human right. For example, parents concerned about the content of the Safe Schools program in Victoria have no ability to enforce this right, other than removing their child from government education and paying for private education.

Section 25A of the Education Act 1989 (New Zealand) gives parents a right to have their child excused from attending that part of classes where material is to be taught which is antithetical to the religious and moral convictions of the home. A federal law providing this right would be a reasonable and useful implementation of ICCPR Article 18(4). In practice, it would parallel the right given to parents to have their child excused from attending religious instruction classes in government schools.

  1. The threat to religious charities’ charitable status and hence tax exemptions if they pursue policies or advocate for positions which are contrary to new progressive social norms (such as same-sex adoption or marriage), as shown by cases in England and the USA which closed down Catholic adoption charities that would not to adopt or foster to same sex-couples.

Campaign against anti-discrimination law ‘exemptions’ for religious organisations

One particular threat to religious freedom calls for special mention. There is an ongoing campaign (backed by the Greens, some in the ALP, many LGBTI rights lobby groups and some human rights lobby groups) to remove or wind back religious ‘exemptions’ from anti-discrimination legislation that provide balancing protections for religious freedom. It narrowly failed in NSW and Victoria and is now being run in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

In its narrowest form, this campaign would make it unlawful for religious bodies (schools in particular) to refuse to employ people who are in sexual relationships outside of marriage (whether gay or straight) because such relationships are contrary to the teaching and practice of the religion. In its wider form (for example, proposals in the Northern Territory and Victoria), the campaign would make it unlawful for religious bodies to use their religious belief or practice as the basis for any decisions about employment, student admission or services. For example, a Catholic church could not refuse to hire a person as a youth worker/minister because he or she was a practising Buddhist or had no religious belief or ran a brothel.

Supporters of the campaign say that exemptions keep us from the Nirvana of pure equal treatment or non-discrimination. But there is no such Nirvana because discrimination simply means to treat people differently and discrimination is not automatically bad. The world is full of reasonable discrimination (people with better vision are selected as pilots over vision-impaired people, the more attractive person gets the modelling role, the top athlete makes the elite team instead of the lesser athlete). There is also some unreasonable discrimination (a woman is excluded from applying for a job (eg as a pilot) because of her gender).

But antidiscrimination law is drafted as a blunt instrument – it prohibits all unfavourable differential treatment on the basis of specified attributes (eg disability, sexual orientation, physical appearance) unless there is an exemption. So the exemptions are vital to make the law work in the real world. The exemptions recognise that there are many other human rights and social goals which may involve discrimination and which limit and balance the right to not be discriminated against. Anti-discrimination laws need to contain a multitude of exemptions (or balancing provisions) to try to ensure all the fair and reasonable discriminations are not prohibited.

For example, thanks to exemptions, sporting competitions like the NRL, AFL and WAFL can select competitors for age, strength, ability and stamina where that is relevant to the competition – otherwise they would commit unlawful discrimination. Political parties and groups can choose to employ only people whose political beliefs and activities align with those of the employer. Religious bodies can choose to employ only people whose religious beliefs and way of life align with the religion of the employer. Clubs for preserving a minority culture can limit membership to the minority culture. In South Australia there is an exemption for associations that are open only to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation (other than heterosexuality).

The current religion exemptions protect a religious body or school from being forced to accept the promotion of views and examples of conduct by employees or members who are opposed to its religious values and ethos. If successful, the campaign to abolish these exemptions would limit the ability of those bodies and schools to ensure that staff are ambassadors for the cause and models of the values of the religion.

As Joel Harrison and Patrick Parkinson have pointed out, religious associations (and schools) call on all their members (and students) to, for example, ‘be a Catholic’ or ‘be a Muslim’. This goes beyond doctrinal propositions to include a holistic set of behaviours and attitudes for virtuous living, including sexual behaviours and attitudes.[2] In similar vein, Patrick Lenta has written:

moral virtue is not simply taught, but is acquired by pupils through their association with teachers who are themselves virtuous, with the corollary that it is wrong to place pupils with teachers who are not virtuous… teachers teach moral values not didactically, as in the case of arithmetic, but through example.[3]

In the USA, the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly (association) include a constitutional freedom of people to gather in voluntary associations to express ideas – a right of expressive association. This is not based on the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment but applies to all expressive associations whether or not religious.  The Supreme Court has held that the right of expressive association can override non-discrimination laws and government policies if the effect of non-discrimination laws or policies would be to force associations to include persons (as employees or members) and that would interfere with the ability of the association to consistently express its values.

It is also worth noting the comments of the English Court of Appeal’s judgment on Canon Geoffrey Pemberton’s employment dispute with the Church of England. Canon Pemberton had chosen to enter into a lawful same sex marriage even though the Church had explicitly stated that this was not an acceptable course of action for ordained persons. As a result he was refused a licence by the Bishop which he needed to be a hospital chaplain. He sued the Church for discrimination and harassment. He lost at all levels.

In dismissing his appeal, one of the Justices on the English Court of Appeal said:

“I have no difficulty understanding how profoundly upsetting Canon Pemberton must find the Church of England’s official stance on same-sex marriage and its impact on him. But it does not follow that it was reasonable for him to regard his dignity as violated, or an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive” environment as having been created for him, by the Church applying its own sincerely-held beliefs in his case…. If you belong to an institution with known, and lawful, rules, it implies no violation of dignity, and is not cause for reasonable offence, that those rules should be applied to you, however wrong you may believe them to be. Not all opposition of interests is hostile or offensive.”

Finally, the campaign to remove religious exemptions is selective and itself discriminatory. The values behind these exemptions are not peculiar to religious bodies. They provide a freedom to maintain fidelity to the expressed values and mission of an association, which our society would value for any voluntary association formed to express and model a set of values whether cultural, ethnic, political or religious. Our society would not expect the ALP or the Liberal Party or the Greens (also voluntary associations) to have to employ and retain persons who consistently spoke or acted against core party policy. But those political employers have the same sort of exemptions in antidiscrimination law as religious bodies. So why does the campaign single out only religious bodies and schools?

What legal protections are needed?

The Institute for Civil Society made seven recommendations to the Ruddock Panel[4] for greater legal protection for religious freedom in Australia, while being careful to protect the human rights of other Australians, including LGBTI Australians:

  1. Establish a general statutory limitation on government (Federal, State, Territory and local) interference with religious freedom (like Article 18(3) of the ICCPR) which allows government interference only when it is necessary to achieve a specified public interest goal and is no more restrictive of religious freedom than is necessary. This would not stop government restriction of violent religious practices nor would it enable the imposition of systems of religious law like Sharia law.
  2. Make religious belief and conduct a protected attribute under federal anti-discrimination law, so that others cannot discriminate against people on the grounds of their religion.
  3. Lift the bar on vilification laws for reasonable expression of genuine religious beliefs regarding morality or propriety of conduct. The federal Parliament should provide that such expression, in a manner which does not intimidate, incite violence or hatred against, or threaten the physical safety of, a person or group of persons, is not unlawful under a federal, State or Territory law prohibiting the vilification of persons.
  4. Give religious associations a positive right to consider a person’s adherence to the beliefs and way of life of the religion when making an employment decision in relation to the person, despite any contrary anti-discrimination laws and, if feasible, extend this right to non-religious associations whose mission is to represent a worldview and way of life of a non-religious community to the public.
  5. Give parents the right to have their child excused from that part of school classes which is antithetical to the religious and moral convictions of the child’s parents (as does the NZ Education Act).
  6. Enact specific protections for persons and organisations and charities from detriment imposed because they hold, express or act on specified beliefs in favour of man-woman marriage, but not so as to protect:

– any conduct by those persons or groups against others (e.g. gay and lesbian Australian) which is prohibited discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act; or

– any conduct which threatens or harasses persons because of sexual orientation etc.

  1. Create an office of a federal Religious Freedom Commissioner to bring religious freedom perspectives in the making of policy.


Freedom of religion and belief are much better protected in international law than in Australian law. Improved legal protections, like those recommended above, are urgently needed in Australia. But legal protections are only part of the answer. The promotion of true tolerance – the acceptance that we all have a responsibility to give each other the right to be wrong in our eyes while holding to our own truths without trying to drive others out of the public square – is a cultural commitment. It needs to be taught and modelled by all of us in family, community and public life, not just in the law. If we can do that we may escape polarisation and tribal warfare and find ways to live together with our differences in pluralist Australia.


Mark Sneddon is the Executive Director of the Institute for Civil Society

This article is based on the submission by the Institute for Civil Society to the Ruddock Review Panel on Religious Freedom, 15th February 2018.

This article was first published in the Religious Liberty issue of Zadok Perspectives, No. 139, Winter 2018, pp.18-23. Reproduced with permission.


[1] The Australian Bureau of Statistics defined ‘No religion’ as equivalent to ‘Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation’, so it is not clear how this group divides among atheists, agnostics and those with spiritual beliefs who do not affiliate with a named organised religion. See

[2] See J. Harrison and P. Parkinson, ‘Freedom beyond the Commons: Managing the Tension Between Faith and Equality in A Multicultural Society’, Monash University Law Review 40, No. 2 (2014), 413, 444.

[3] P. Lenta, ‘Taking Diversity Seriously: Religious Associations and the Work-Related Discrimination’, South African Law Journal 126, No. 4 (2009) 827, 853.

[4] Institute for Civil Society, Submission to the Review Panel on Religious Freedom, 14th February 2018.


Appendix: Recent and current examples of threats to religious freedom

The following are some examples of recent and current threats to religious freedom in Australia:

1. A children’s party worker was sacked for writing on her personal Facebook page during the same-sex marriage postal survey that it was ‘OK to vote no’.

2. An IT manager was sacked for respectfully expressing his disagreement with aspects of the Safe Schools program.

3. An Australian university student was suspended for making a classmate feel ‘unsafe’ simply because he said he would show love to a gay friend but not agree with their ‘lifestyle’.

In the UK, Felix Ngole was expelled from his social work course by Sheffield University for expressing a belief that homosexuality is a sin. He appealed and lost.

4. A federal public servant was disciplined for expressing concern about pressure to march in a gay pride parade.

In the UK, Adrian Smith stated on his Facebook page that churches should not be compelled to marry same-sex couples, although he did not object to same-sex marriage. He was accused by his employer, a housing association, of ‘gross misconduct’ and demoted, losing 40% of his salary.

5. Social media campaigns were waged to have employers who had signed up to diversity programs sack targeted employees if those employees did not resign from private directorships in a Christian training institute. As a result, a senior IBM employee resigned the directorship while a Macquarie University academic did not.

6. Anti-vilification laws have been used to silence traditional religious teaching. In Tasmania, a booklet outlining the Catholic position on marriage distributed by a Catholic Archbishop to parents of Catholic school students was held by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to be a possible violation of anti-vilification legislation. The matter proceeded to a conciliation session but was eventually abandoned many months later by the complainant. Similar complaints are current underway under the same law against Presbyterian Minister Campbell Markham and street preacher David Gee.

7. Hotels threatened commercial boycotts against Coopers Brewing for sponsoring a Bible Society video of a respectful debate on same-sex marriage, leading Coopers to back down and pull the sponsorship. Advertising and media professionals signed up to an organised collective boycott of businesses that expressed or supported the expression of a belief in traditional marriage (see

In the USA, Chick-fil-A was subject to commercial boycotting because of management’s views and donations supporting traditional marriage. As part of this boycott, local governments and universities refused to allow new Chick-Fil-A franchise licences.

8. Education Department policies restricted students’ religious freedom in Victorian and Queensland state schools.

In 2017, the Queensland Education Department directed schools to take appropriate action if they became aware that students participating in religious instruction (RI) classes are ‘evangelising’ other students, on the grounds that this could adversely affect the school’s ability to provide a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all students. Examples of ‘evangelising’ cited include giving Christianity-themed Christmas cards and Christmas tree decorations, and making beaded bracelets to give to friends ‘as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus’ (R. Urban, ‘Don’t leave Jesus at school gate’, The Australian, 28th July 2017).

In 2014, the Victorian Education Department issued a Policy that prevented any person in a state school (including students) from distributing or displaying any material that had the effect of promoting any particular religious practice or denomination. This would prevent one student from showing or handing out to another student a Bible, Koran, Torah or religious books, poetry, videos etc., or having on their desk or locker a verse, religious image or advertising for a student religious group meetings. The Policy restricted the permitted activities of student-initiated religious groups in schools to personal prayer and excluded study or teaching based on the Bible or Koran or other specific religious text. The Policy was ultimately withdrawn after protests and interventions by the Minister.

9. Loss of charitable status by charities implementing religiously-based policies regarding same-sex couples in the UK and NZ.

In the UK, the Charities Commission for England and Wales removed the charitable status of 19 Catholic adoption and foster agencies because they preferred not to adopt or foster to same-sex couples. This caused many of these agencies to close down or transfer their operations as they were no longer exempt for the purposes of tax.

In NZ a Christian lobby group, Family First, was deregistered by the Charities Board because of its commitment to traditional marriage, which no longer could be regarded as a public benefit.

10. Refusal to allow successful Christian foster parents to foster or adopt new children.

In Johns v Derby County Council 2011, the English High Court supported a local council decision that a Christian couple with traditional views on sexual ethics, who had successfully fostered many children, would not make suitable foster carers because they would not be open to the children entering into same-sex sexual relationships. In some US States and Canadian Provinces, Christian couples were refused adoption because their views on sexual ethics meant that they did not offer an ‘inclusive’ enough home.

11. In Canada, graduates from a Christian University were blocked from practising their profession because they signed a commitment to traditional Christian morality.

Trinity Western University in British Columbia required their students and staff to sign a community covenant which included a promise to abstain from sexual activity, unless it was between a husband and wife. The British Columbia College of Teachers voted to refuse accreditation to all Trinity teaching graduates because they might discriminate against LGBTI students in class. After many years of litigation, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the right of Trinity graduates to be accredited in 2000.

Subsequently, Trinity Western sought to open a law school. Four Provincial (State) Law Societies refused accreditation to the planned law school because the community covenant of the university was discriminatory, not because of the quality of the curriculum or faculty of the law school. The effect of the decision would be to deny graduates of the law school the right to practise law in those Provinces. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Law Societies’ right to refuse accreditation, preferring non-discrimination on the grounds of sexuality over religious freedom.