17 September 2008

Like oil and water? - Religion and human rights in Australia

The Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, called for as many Australians as possible to become involved in a discussion about the current state of freedom of religion and belief in Australia when he launched the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century Discussion Paper in Canberra today.

“The fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief is protected by a number of international treaties and declarations,” said Commissioner Calma. “It encompasses freedom of thought on all matters and the freedom to demonstrate and express our religion and belief individually, with others, in private or in public.”

“The intent of this discussion paper is to examine and report upon the extent to which this right can be enjoyed in Australia today by drawing from practical everyday experiences and observations,” said Mr Calma. “This is easy for some, while others feel religion and human rights don’t mix, like oil and water.”

In calling for submissions from the public, the Commissioner pointed out that the intersection of religion and belief with human rights is illustrated daily in our news headlines.

“The involvement of religious institutions in school curriculums and practices, religious and ethical concerns about scientific research, the status of Muslim communities in society since the events of September 11 2001, the involvement of religion in debates about homosexuality or abortion, and our politicians declaring their faith on the campaign trail – these are just some of the stories that involve us every day at the intersection of religion and belief with human rights,” said Commissioner Calma.

“Given that these issues are continually in the headlines, it is timely that they be comprehensively evaluated in terms of their impacts on the practice, expression and perception of religion and spirituality in Australia,” said Mr Calma. “A better understanding of these issues and the way they influence, and are influenced by, our attitudes and laws will assist us as to advance our nation’s social and cultural prosperity.”

Commissioner Calma emphasised that gaining a comprehensive understanding of these issues could not be achieved merely by consultation with academics, religious institutions and government.

“To achieve the intention of our discussion paper, we need to hear from as many people as possible, from as many walks of life, with as many different experiences to share as we can.”

To read the discussion paper and make submissions

Submissions open today and close on 31 January 2009.

Electronic submissions are encouraged by visiting www.humanrights.gov.au/frb or emailing frb@humanrights.gov.au
Submissions can also be made by post to Race Discrimination Unit:

Education and Partnerships Section,
Australian Human Rights Commission,
GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 2001.

For enquiries, call (02) 9284 9600 or 1800 620 241.

The Freedom of religion and belief in the 21st century project is being run in partnership with the Australian Multicultural Foundation, RMIT University and Monash University.

Media contact: Brinsley Marlay 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529