The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) has set out to clarify the legal protections for people when it comes to religious discrimination in the workplace.
The Commission is responding to recent discussions in the media about religious discrimination and the protection of individual rights following the resignation of Andrew Thorburn from Essendon Football Club.
“Religion can play an important role in the lives of individuals and this freedom is a key feature of contemporary society and human rights law,” VEOHRC said.
“Victorian law protects an individual’s right to hold a religious belief and to practice that belief free from discrimination and vilification,” it said.
“The Commission is also on record as advocating for the strengthening of vilification provisions as well as supporting the introduction of protection against religious discrimination at a federal level.”
VEOHRC said it had called for legislation to be developed to provide religious discrimination protections in a similar way that existing State and Territory anti-discrimination laws do.
“At the same time, it holds true that no rights are absolute,” the Commission said.
“They may be limited in some circumstances, including when they need to be balanced to protect and promote other rights, or protect other groups from discrimination,” it said.
“In the workplace, the law recognises that employers need to be able to set codes of conduct in order to foster inclusive and safe work cultures and services.”
To this end, the VEOHRC said the Equal Opportunity Act contained a number of exceptions that meant discrimination may not be against the law in particular circumstances, such as when it was necessary in order to meet other legislative obligations; or to protect the health and safety of a person.
“No matter who we are, we all share a common desire to be safe, to be treated with respect and dignity, and to retain our personal freedom and autonomy,” it said.
“Human rights exist to give effect to these essential and universal human needs and to provide a framework to help guide good decision making, particularly in the face of complicated circumstances.”