Muslims want protection for freedom of religion in Australia.

Since 1998, well before the Twin Towers assault in 2001 led to the “War on Terror,” the lack of protection of the rights of the Muslim community has been an ongoing issue in Australia.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in its report to Parliament in 1998 recognised that “Discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion and belief discourages participation in the community and may infringe then right to freedom of religion and belief.”

Bigotry which “discourages participation in the community” accounts for the declining respect towards voices of authority in our nation from those who feel sidelined, ignored or vilified.

The Commission recommended: “ The implementation of similar federal legislation [to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975] on the basis of religion would ensure that the same standard of protection is offered to all Australians on the basis of religion.”

Then 9/11 events in the USA and the invasion of Afghanistan, soon followed by the invasion of Iraq, changed the world.

“Australia enacted 82 anti-terror laws —more than any other Western country.
The proliferation of anti-terror legislation led to the “over-surveillance of Muslims”, making them “feel untrusted and viewed as potential terror suspects”, or criticised for “not doing enough” to condemn acts of terror.” [12 Sep 2021 ABC News]

Then came the religious vilification case with Catch the Fire.

“The case was sparked in 2002 by ministries comments that Muslims were demons training to make Australia an Islamic state, that the Koran promoted violence and killing and that Muslims derived money from drugs.

Judge Michael Higgins ruled the church had breached the Act.” [18 December 2004 Age]

The Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal soon overturned the decision. [29 May 2018 AMUST]

The weakness of the Victorian legislation was eventually addressed by the Submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

“More broadly, we repeatedly heard how Muslim Victorians feel disconnected from, and isolated within, Australia.” [3.4.2 January 2020 VEOHRC]

This pattern of vilification was behind the willingness of many Muslim organisations to support the Religious Discrimination Bill.

This was despite the history of conservatives supporting the weakening of the Racial Discrimination Act by taking our section 18C, opening the way to racial vilification, led by Senator James Paterson. [1 Sept 2017 Guardian]

Although he denied that he had tried to use anti-Muslim feeling for political purposes, the Prime Minister acknowledged in an interview that Islamophobia was a problem in Australia and implied the problem could extend to some individuals in the Liberal Party.”  [21 March 2019 SMH]

That is why the Religious Discrimination Bill was often regarded with suspicion.

The Uniting Church’s national council urged the government to delete a section that says a “statement of belief does not constitute discrimination for the purposes of any anti-discrimination law”. [4 October 2019 SMH]

Most attention was focused on the LGBTIQ community but those of us with memories of the VCAT case were wary.

“However, we maintain any permission given to individuals or religious organisations that allows them to discriminate on the basis of religious belief must be carefully balanced against the rights of people to be free from discrimination and live with dignity.” [Media Statement on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 Uniting Church]

Religious bigotry directed at the Muslim community leads to the alienation which rejects all statements from authorities as reflecting bigoted agendas.

Such alienation may be one of the factors behind the death rates so recently revealed,

“..those who were born in North Africa and the Middle East were about 10 times more likely to die from the virus than those born in Australia — after age was accounted for.”[17 Feb 2022 ABC News ]