Scott Morrison quoted the Bible as he personally introduced new religious discrimination laws that enshrine the right of faith schools to only hire teachers of the same religion.
The Prime Minister said Aussies are worried about ‘cancel culture in Australian life’ and said the new laws would protect religious people from being ‘fearful about what they believe’.
Speaking in Parliament on Thursday morning, he quoted Ephesians Four from the New Testament, saying: ‘Religion and faith is also about humility and vulnerability. It is about love. It is about compassion. It is about speaking the truth in love, as the scriptures say.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and wife Jenny sing during an Easter Sunday service at his Horizon Church at Sutherland in Sydney in 2019
Mr Morrison, an Evangelical Christian, rarely displays his faith publicly but has previously been seen singing at his Horizon Church in Sutherland, Sydney.
Mr Morrison said the bill ‘seeks to protect people of faith from discrimination on the basis of their religion in daily life, including work, education, buying goods and services, and accessing accommodation.’
Supported by dozens of Coalition MPs sitting behind him, he told Parliament: ‘A Sikh should not be discriminated against because of the turban they wear. Nor a Maronite because of cross around their neck. Nor a Muslim employee who keeps that prayer mat in the bottom drawer at their desk at work.
‘Nor a Hindu couple who are seeking to rent a property. Nor a Jewish school, seeking to employ someone of their faith, if that faith is their preference and the publicly stated policy of their school.
‘This bill ensures people can’t be persecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable belief. What could be fairer than that?’
The law protects the existing right of religious schools to hire staff based on their faith as long as they publicly say they only want teachers of that religion.
It comes after Victoria proposed new laws that would take that right away except for hiring priests or other ministers of religion.
Mr Morrison’s proposed law does not allow discrimination against students and explicitly says a student cannot be expelled because of their religious belief or activity.
The law would also allow places of worship to refuse to marry a same-sex couple.
Scott Morrison is pictured in Parliament
The bill also says religious Australians cannot be discriminated against for making a ‘statement of belief’ as long as it does not vilify or harass others.
‘The bill ensures that people can’t be persecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable opinion,’ attorney-general Michaelia Cash told Vision Christian Radio’s 20Twenty program.
‘Now, that opinion, you and I may not agree with.
‘As long as it is a statement of belief made in good faith, that is not discrimination under any Australian anti-discrimination law. That is very, very important.’
Interviewer and minister Neil Johnson put to the attorney-general comments about Jesus referring to marriage as between a man and woman would be protected.
‘But if you do that with some level of malicious intent, you may overstep the mark,’ he said.
Senator Cash replied: ‘That’s a beautiful way of explaining it, that’s exactly right.’
Equality Australia was concerned the bill would take away existing anti-discrimination protections including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
For example, the organisation feared a boss, colleague, teacher or service provider could be protected for saying things including that it’s a sin to be gay.
It said the purpose of the controversial clause protecting statements of beliefs would ‘allow people to say, write and communicate things that could be discrimination today’.
However, a clause which would have stopped employers sacking workers who make statements of faith that offend others has been removed.
The clause was known as the ‘Folau clause’ after Rugby Australia sacked Israel Folau for saying gay people will go to hell on his Instagram.
Mr Morrison has described the proposed law as a ‘shield not a sword’ to protect religious freedoms.
The bill has it roots in conservative disquiet about same-sex marriage and the prime minister wanted to personally introduce it in the House of Representatives.
If it passes the lower house, the bill will be referred to a senate inquiry.
Labor will seek to refer the bill to a joint select committee, which would enable senators and MPs to examine it, rather than a Senate legislation committee.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduces the Religious Discrimination Bill in the House of Representatives on Thursday