Father Brian Lucas. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Catholic Church says the draft anti-discrimination laws fail by not recognising religious freedom is a fundamental human right, not a special permission to discriminate granted by government.
The church also maintains it should be allowed to refuse to employ a teacher who argues publicly against church teachings or ''lives in such a way to challenge'' those teachings.
The views will be put to Thursday's hearing of a Senate committee holding its first public session in an inquiry into the government's draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. The draft legislation aims to amalgamate five existing statutes covering age, disability, race, sex and other forms of discrimination into a single statute.
Father Brian Lucas, general secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, will tell the hearing governments are obliged to ensure freedom of religion and the freedom to manifest religious beliefs in public is recognised and protected in law.
Writing in The Canberra Times, he says freedom of religion is acknowledged in the constitution and in international covenants to which Australia is a signatory. ''It is a freedom that cannot be ignored but it is a freedom questioned by many who want churches to abandon their beliefs in the public square,'' he says.
''The draft laws propose religious freedom be exercised as exceptions to the anti-discrimination laws.
''Drafting legislation that way fails to recognise that religious freedom is not a special permission to discriminate granted by government but a fundamental human right that government is obliged to protect. To make this clear and to remove the potential for misunderstanding, the legislation should replace that language with words that recognise religious freedom as one of a number of important competing rights that must be balanced against each other.''
Fr Lucas says parents choose Catholic schools for children because they expect this education will be provided by teachers in a manner consistent with the doctrines, beliefs and practices of the church.
''If a teacher in a church school publicly argues against church teachings or lives in such a way to challenge those teachings, the school should have the freedom to refuse to employ that person.''