Basic freedoms within Australia are provided for by a somewhat eclectic mix of common law rights and statutory laws.
While Australia does not have a single document that lists these freedoms, much less guarantees them absolutely, there are numerous instruments and case studies that point to them or provide a partial protection.
Aside from moral or theoretical questions of basic human rights, Australia is a signatory to numerous international instruments designed to protect such rights. An extremely relevant document in this instance is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Among its other articles, Article 18 of the ICCPR upholds freedom of thought, conscience and religion:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
Further, Article 19 covers freedom of opinion and expression:
Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of Australia’s international obligations, but it provides an example of the some of the rights Australia should uphold, rather than diminish.
In Australia currently, various encroachments on religious freedom and freedom of conscience exist – and this is at risk of increasing over time.
To counter these problems, we must put an end to viewing rights as mere “exemptions”. Rather, a positive, legislative affirmation of the ICCPR rights listed above is urgently needed.
Please help us make a positive statement by clicking here to sign the “Declaration of Religious Freedom”.
We will present the statement, along with the names of signatories, to the Attorney-General, Hon Christian Porter MP, on 16 May.