Amnesty International welcomes the opportunity to provide this submission to the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom in order to assist it to examine and report on whether Australian law (Commonwealth, State and Territory) adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion. This submission will draw on Amnesty International’s work globally and in Australia.
Amnesty International campaigns against direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, religion or belief, and we advocate for states to fulfil their obligations to prohibit racial and religious vilification. Amnesty International is concerned about the growth of divisive political discourse in Australia and around the world that dehumanises and scapegoats religious and other minority groups for social, economic and security concerns they have no control over.
Australia has an international legal obligation to protect the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, protect against all forms of discrimination and prohibit racial and religious vilification.
Amnesty International notes that under international law, it is clear that freedom of religion may be subject to limitations where they are “prescribed by law”, and necessary to protect “the fundamental rights and freedoms of others”. The right to freedom of religion is therefore not absolute, and may be mediated in order to uphold other fundamental rights.
There is a clear distinction between the absolute right to hold a religion or belief (including a non-religious belief or a rejection of religious belief) and the right to manifest such belief. While the right to freedom of thought and belief is absolute, in international law the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject to legitimate limitations.
In this submission, Amnesty International makes thirteen recommendations to adequately protect all human rights in Australia.