From the Commissioner - The right to believe in harmony
The first week of February was International Interfaith Harmony Week and March 21 is Harmony Day in Australia. It is an important to recognise at a time when public discussion about religious freedoms and religious conviction discrimination are topical.
Direct religious conviction discrimination under our Equal Opportunity Act 1984 occurs when someone with (or without) a religious conviction, is treated less favourably than someone without (or with) that religious conviction in similar or the same circumstances.
Indirect religious conviction discrimination occurs when a requirement, condition or practice is the same for everyone, but a higher proportion of people of a particular religious conviction are unable to comply with the requirement, compared to the proportion of people without that religious conviction.
For indirect discrimination to be proven the requirement, condition or practice, must be shown to be unreasonable in the circumstances.
Under the Act, religious conviction discrimination can occur at work, in education, goods, services and facilities, accommodation, clubs and on application forms.
Exceptions to religious conviction discrimination can occur when a religious requirement imposes an unreasonable hardship on the employer, when employers or partnerships have less than six employees or partners, if the employer is a religious educational institution discriminating in good faith in order to adhere to its religious teachings, if the employer is a medical or health service run by a religious body where the duties involve a religious observance or practice, or domestic workers in private households (applicants and employees).
Exceptions also occur in the provision of accommodation in a private household of less than four people, or accommodation provided by a religious body; however, the exceptions to religious conviction discrimination at work occupy
most of the public discussion around this topic and the public debate can be less than harmonious.
Conviction is the quality of showing that one is firmly convinced of what one believes or says, which can indeed be a quality but there should also be caution in conviction.
Despite what the law says I always caution if an action or statement is likely to offend people should think twice about it. During Interfaith Harmony Week I hope everyone kept that in mind.