Womens rights organisation Fair Agenda and Equality Australia have joined forces to warn that a proposed Religious Discrimination Act must not give religious people a free licence to discriminate against others.

They made the warning after comments by Liberal President of the Senate Scott Ryan on ABC TV’s Q&A program last night where he said held a “radical” and “American” view when it came to freedom of speech.

“I think this debate follows a longer debate we’ve had about the laws around speech, that have been going on for several years,” Ryan said.

“I think this has got two issues. There’s firstly the issue of what are you allowed to contract for, and is the state allowed to interfere in the rights of contract. Then there is secondly laws around the limiting of speech.”

“I’m particularly radical and liberal on this, I’m much more down the American school of free speech, and that applies to defamation law, laws we have around vilification, as well as laws we have around publication and freedom of the media.”

“I don’t think we need more laws limiting speech, but at the same time I think this is a complex balancing of competing interests that we’ve got to be careful that we don’t draft a broad law that just kicks that ball into the judiciary or tribunals and we don’t know where the answer is going to land.”

Diana Sayed, Campaign Manager for Fair Agenda called on the Morrison Government to ensure that any religious discrimination or freedom act the government drafts doesn’t give people a free licence to discriminate.

“It’s important that any reforms in this area don’t create a licence to discriminate, and allow someone to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate against others,” she said.

“It’s vital that the Government ensure through this process that people of faith, women and LGBTIQ+ people are protected equally.”

“In most states there are safe zones in place at abortion care clinics to protect patients and doctors from the harassment and intimidation they were previously subjected to by picketers – many of whom would consider their actions to be religiously motivated. The High Court has held that these safe access zones should stay, but conservative religious lobby groups are still calling on the Government to remove these essential protections.”

LGBTQI advocacy group Equality Australia shared her concerns.

“The Government has said they want to find balance and will consult – yet the people who will be most negatively impacted by the Bill have not been invited to meet with them,” said Lee Carnie, Director of Legal Advocacy at Equality Australia.

“We want to see anti-discrimination protections that ensure affirming churches can continue their practice and that LGBTIQ+ people, single mums and divorcees can access services run by religious organisations without fear of being turned away or condemned for who they are.”

“The Morrison Government needs to be transparent about the draft Bill and undertake a full consultation with those who are most impacted by these debates.”

The Government is currently consulting with its lawmakers as to what form the bill should take and then plan to consult with community groups.

However it has also indicated that it intends to introduce legislation in the Parliament before the end of the month.

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