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Attorney-General says religious discrimination laws not intended to block out blasphemy

Attorney-General Christian Porter released a draft religious discrimination bill in Sydney in August.

Attorney-General Christian Porter released a draft religious discrimination bill in Sydney in August.Credit:Ben Rushton

Mr Porter told The Sun-Herald the laws – which are still at draft stage – were not intended to protect people from hearing speech which might offend or insult their religious sensibilities.

“The religious discrimination bill is designed to protect people from discrimination in a variety of circumstances, like in getting a job and entering public premises or being served at a counter,” he said.

“It is not designed to protect people from hearing inflammatory things from FM shock jocks – that type of protection would start to look like a law against blasphemy, which would be a big step backwards for free speech.”

The draft Religious Discrimination Act is also intended to capture activity outside of work, such as the comments sacked rugby player Israel Folau made on his Instagram account.

Sandilands’ remarks about the Virgin Mary were made while on the air, in the course of his job, and therefore any action against him by the network would fall under employment law.

The laws would also protect a person’s “statements of belief” from being subject to anti-discrimination laws unless they harass, vilify or incite hatred against another group.

Critics of the proposed laws argue they give too much licence to religious people to say whatever they want about anything, whereas non-religious people’s “statements of belief” must be about matters of religion in order to receive legal protection.

Luke Beck, associate professor of law at Monash University, said that section of the law “establishes George Brandis’ right to be a bigot”, referring to a famous speech by the former attorney-general during debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

“It gives religious people a bigger right to be a bigot than non-religious people,” Associate Professor Beck said. “They get a bigger sword than non-religious people.

“Religious people are entitled to make statements of belief on any topic whatsoever. But non-religious people are only entitled to make statements of belief on the topic of religion.”

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The Kyle and Jackie O Show was off-air last week during the radio non-ratings period. Sandilands was photographed in Los Angeles where he keeps a second home, and said he regretted making the remarks.

“When you’re a comedian you say funny things, or you think you’re funny, but then you don’t realise you’ve pissed some people off,” he said in footage from LA published by New Idea.

“I never meant to hurt anyone. I’m here to make people laugh, not to make them angry.”

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