New Report Highlights Need for Religious Freedom Protections

20 July 2021

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) today released a report which provides further evidence of the need for religious freedom protections at the Federal level.

The Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims project sought to learn about Australian Muslims’ concerns, priorities and experiences of hate, violence and negative public commentary in the wake of the tragic Christchurch mosque attack. The project is also intended to give Australian Muslims an opportunity to share their stories of successful community initiatives, and ideas about how they can be supported to fully enjoy their human rights.

The project involved extensive consultations with Muslim communities throughout Australia. It also included an online survey, which was completed by more than 1,000 Australian Muslims in every state and territory.

Findings from the survey show Australia’s Muslim communities make significant economic, community and charitable contributions to Australian society, yet they experience widespread discrimination. One in four (23%) survey respondents said they felt unable to speak up or act when they experienced discrimination.

A key theme identified in the research, and one of the highest priority issues arising from the consultations, is that "Freedom of religion and protection from religious discrimination were consistently raised as priority issues throughout the project. Participants noted current civil and criminal legislative mechanisms were insufficient to protect them from the harassment, discrimination, and vilification they faced due to their religious background".

Project participants identified that they, or their friends and family, continue to experience discrimination and harassment on a personal level across Australia. Stories of incidents that occurred in public spaces like shopping centres, restaurants and cafes, on public transport and in prayer spaces were shared with the Commission. Almost 80% of participants reported experiencing some form of discrimination.

This latest research builds on the results of a joint report by the AHRC and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Freedom of religion in Australia: a focus on serious harms released in July 2020.  This report noted -

" ... some people of faith in Australia experience serious harms on the basis of their religious identity. We use the term ‘serious harms’ to include experiences of violence, abuse, intimidation, severe discrimination and some forms of vilification. Serious harms can occur as a result of activity in the physical world and online. These actions have terrible effects on individuals and communities, and they are a serious violation of the human right to freedom of religion".

Tellingly, the latest Report notes that the Commission "heard from participants about their frustration with the lack of action on already identified reforms and initiatives that they considered practically actionable and capable of addressing community concerns and priorities" which was despite "the large number of previous reports and recommendations that have been fed back to various levels of government".

Clearly the time for research on religiously based discrimination is well and truly over, the need is well established.  This latest research merely reinforces the urgent need for comprehensive protections for religious freedom to be passed by the Federal Parliament.

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