Absence of religious belief within  anti-discrimination protection

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Absence of religious belief within anti-discrimination protection

Not having a religious belief, and being discriminated against because of this, is a circumstance that may contravene Queensland’s anti-discrimination legislation.

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Not having a religious belief, and being discriminated against because of this, is a circumstance that may contravene Queensland’s anti-discrimination legislation.

The Queensland Supreme Court heard a matter brought by a former employee of a Baptist Community Church - a coordinator of the church's family support service.

She complained to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commissioner that the offer of a new employment contract directly discriminated against her.

It prevented her continued employment if she did not attend services at the church or hold Baptist religious beliefs. The Commissioner rejected the complaint on the basis that that the ordinary meaning of ‘religion’ does not include an absence of religion.

The Commissioner said amendments to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act in April 2003 had replaced the attribute of ‘religion’ in s7(1) with ‘religious belief or religious activity’.

The former employee appealed to the Queensland Supreme Court. Justice Douglas of the Supreme Court held that ‘discrimination on the basis of the lack of a particular form of religious belief does amount to discrimination on the basis of religion’.

Further, he said that it was strongly arguable that discrimination on the basis of ‘religion’ in the earlier form of the Act carried with it the likely further meaning of discrimination on the basis of the absence of a particular form of religious belief. His Honour noted:

‘If this approach was not a complete answer to the stance taken by the employer it at least illustrated a potential ambiguity in the Act capable of being clarified by the amending Act … The amending Act may also be taken to be an attempt to clarify the intended meaning by Parliament for the reasons expressed in the Explanatory Notes to the Bill.'

The court set aside the commissioner’s decision -  allowing the matter to proceed.

See: Dixon v Anti-Discrimination Commissioner of Queensland [2004] QSC 58, 18 March 2004.

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