Australia is experiencing a religious leap. The government is considering a law that would protect individuals if their religious beliefs violate anti-discrimination laws. The land of kangaroos also allowed an indigenous group to restrict public access to a sacred mountain popular with hikers.

Religious discrimination

Last spring, Australian rugby star Israel Folau wrote on Instagram that gays are going to hell. Rugby Australia fired him. A new law aims to protect such opinions if they are based on religion. The “Freedom of Religion Law” will notably prohibit disciplinary sanctions against employees for behavior inspired by their religious convictions. Merchants and professionals could also use it to avoid taking certain customers. “This is a very important change,” said Marion Maddox, a political scientist specializing in religion at Macquarie University in Sydney. “The government wants to seduce white Christian conservatives, its electoral base. Some jurists believe that the law could be unconstitutional. That said, it only extends to individuals the protections against religious discrimination which already cover institutions. Private religious schools, for example, may exclude certain pupils and teachers, even if they receive public funds.”

Uluru or Ayer’s Cliff

Uluru, until recently called Ayer’s Cliff, is a small red mountain in the middle of Australia, in a national park. From the 1960s, climbing the mountain became an increasingly popular tourist activity. Since the mid-1980s, Uluru has been part of a territory administered by the Pitjantjatjara Anangu natives. Last October, the natives decided to ban the ascent of Uluru, alleging that it was a sacred mountain. “It is part of a growing acceptance in Australian society that Aboriginal culture is in fact often based on religious beliefs just as valid as Christianity,” explains Marion Maddox. Some protested, but I believe that for the majority of the Australian population, indigenous people have the right to protect their sacred places.”

Possible in Canada?

“I’m flabbergasted, I only have one word in English to describe my opinion of this bill,” said Louis-Philippe Lampron, specialist in religious issues at the law faculty of Laval University. “It reminds me of this pastry chef in the United States who did not want to bake a cake for a gay marriage. Would it be possible in Canada? Everything will depend on the final decision regarding the use of the notwithstanding clause for the Secularism Act. “M e Lampron, like his colleagues Michel Morin and Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens of the Universite de Montréal, pointed out that Australia, like Canada, does not have a bill of rights with constitutional value. “The protection envisaged in these bills would embrace very wide, probably too from a Canadian perspective,” said M  Gaudreault-Desbiens.

Medicine and religion

e Lampron however, that Australian law introduces protection that exists in Canada, for health professionals. “For abortion or medical assistance in dying, for example, a doctor can invoke his personal convictions so as not to provide treatment. »Does this extend to contraception? “We should see,” said M e Lampron. M e Morin stressed that protection of freedom of conscience can be a problem in an area where there are few doctors. M e Gaudreault-Desbiens added that in this case the doctors have an obligation to refer to another colleague, an obligation confirmed by the courts in a case where a doctor alleged that this reference was also an attack on his religious convictions.

In numbers

• 52% of the Australian population says they are Christian
• 30% of the Australian population says they have no religion
• 3% of the Australian population calls themselves Muslim
• 2% of the Australian population calls themselves Hindu
• 2% of the Australian population calls themselves Buddhist
• 0.4% of the Australian population claims to be Jewish