A Catholic blogger says the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill will make it illegal to promote Christianity.
The claim is false. Experts told AAP FactCheck there was nothing in the bill that would make it unlawful to promote Christianity and the proposed legislation would in fact protect the expression of religious beliefs.
The coalition’s Religious Discrimination Bill made headlines earlier this year when it was debated in a marathon all-night sitting in parliament, with five Liberal MPs crossing the floor in support of a amendment for stronger protections to include transgender students.
An outline of the bill states its goal is to “make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life” (page 8).
After failing to pass through parliament in January, the coalition shelved the bill indefinitely.
In his post, Mr Gaynor told his 19,000 followers he was giving them “something to think about” ahead of the federal election on May 21. Commenting on the bill, he said: “It’s a law that says … it is unlawful to officially promote Christianity in any way.”
He makes other claims in the post about what will happen if the bill is passed, including: “Christmas will be renamed. Easter will too and be given a fixed date.”
When AAP FactCheck asked for the basis of his claim, Mr Gaynor cited section 7 of the bill (p16), which states “Religious bodies may generally act in accordance with their faith”, claiming that sections 7-11 list exceptions to this general principle. He also cited section 32 (p36), claiming it makes it illegal for people acting on behalf of the commonwealth to promote religion.
But experts in constitutional law and theology say Mr Gaynor’s claim is false and the bill’s aims are the opposite of what he is asserting.
“Contrary to making it ‘unlawful to promote Christianity’, the bill sought to privilege the expression of religious beliefs above other rights that protect people from discrimination,” Dr Elenie Poulos, an honorary postdoctoral associate at Macquarie University, told AAP FactCheck in an email.
“The promotion of even contested and controversial Christian beliefs would have been entirely legal under this bill, even if it caused harm to others.”
Dr Alice Taylor, an assistant professor at Bond University’s law faculty, agreed, telling AAP FactCheck in an email: “Neither the text of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 nor the failure to pass the bill have made it unlawful to promote Christianity.”
Luke Beck, associate professor of constitutional law at Monash University, told AAP FactCheck in an email that Australia’s Constitution expressly forbids any federal laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
He said Christianity has a “privileged position” in Australian society, citing the Christian prayers at the start of each sitting day in federal parliament and the fact blasphemy is still technically a crime in some states.
Mr Gaynor unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2016 with the right-wing Australian Liberty Alliance party.
In 2013, he was disendorsed as a Senate nominee in Queensland for Katter’s Australian Party after being suspended for saying he didn’t want his children taught by gay teachers.
The claim that the Religious Discrimination Bill would make the promotion of Christianity unlawful is false. Experts have told AAP FactCheck the bill would actually protect the promotion of religious beliefs even if they are harmful to others. The Australian Constitution also forbids any laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
False – The claim is inaccurate.
Updated Monday, April 25, 2022. Clarifies wording in fourth paragraph.