A Victorian tribunal decision upholding a discrimination complaint against a Christian Brethren-run camp site could have implications across Australia.
Last week WayOut — a rural youth group for same-sex attracted young people — won a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) discrimination case against Christian Youth Camps (CYC) after they were refused accommodation in 2007 on the basis of their sexuality.
Judge Felicity Hampel said the conduct of CYC in refusing the young people accommodation was “clearly based on their objection to homosexuality”.
“They are entitled to their personal and religious beliefs. They are not entitled to impose their beliefs on others in a manner that denies them the enjoyment of their right to equality and freedom from discrimination in respect of a fundamental aspect of their being,” Hampel said.
Federation of Community Legal Centres executive officer Hugh de Kretser said the decision could have national ramifications.
“Here we had a body that was engaging in what looked like secular activities, that was actually claiming the ability to discriminate by saying it was a body set up for religious purposes,” de Kretser told Southern Star Observer.
“This decision suggests the ability of those organisations to discriminate will be narrowed. It’s certainly not binding on other jurisdictions, but clearly … it would be influential, so we think it’s got nation-wide importance because there’s similar legislation in other states and territories.”
WayOut project coordinator Sue Hackney told SSO the group was “thrilled” by the win.
“We’re shocked and overwhelmed,” she said. “I do believe in people’s right to freedom of religious belief and thought, however that right is not absolute and limitless.
“There needs to be some recognition of the need to balance people’s rights.”
Hackney said the young people involved in the case had shown “great tenacity”.
“One of the most important outcomes of this is that it can show our community — and young people particularly — that by standing up for your rights you can make a difference,” she said.
Hackney wants the Brumby Government to review all religious exemptions that exist in state laws.
“I don’t believe there is equal protection and it’s still very concerning to me … that the Attorney-General earlier this year capitulated to the very powerful and well-resourced lobby groups of some extreme religious groups … to still allow religious bodies to discriminate,” she said.
“So now it’s not okay for a religious body to discriminate [against people on the basis] of their age or their race or any disability they may have, but our community is still out there left hanging and is vulnerable to what inevitably will be more persecution.”
WayOut was awarded $5000 compensation. CYC has 28 days to appeal the decision.