For most people outside of Australia, you would not have heard of a sports person called Israel Folau. As a younger man, he played Rugby League very successfully. He then moved to play Australian Rules Football (Australia’s unique code of football) and then following the money, he had a very successful career playing Rugby Union in both a Super Rugby franchise team and for the Australian national team.
He also changed faith from being a Mormon to a Christian, and people are free to change their faith over their lives. As a Christian myself, I am always pleased when I hear people following Christ.
Needless to say, the story when downhill over a year ago.
With his newfound faith, he started to make public comments about homosexuals. There was a significant outcry, particularly as Rugby Australia has an inclusion policy, and his profile in Australia was a direct result of his employment with the sporting code.
He agreed not to make such comments again, signed a new contract knowing that his employer had an inclusion policy. This policy is designed to make their sporting code inclusive all the way down to the grassroots level.
To not many people’s surprise, he issued another public post about homosexuals, was suspended and ultimately dismissed. He then decided to sue his employer for wrongful dismissal, with significant funding raised by a Christian anti-LGBTIQ group. The case finally settled through mediation, with both parties apologising to each other. Still, unfortunately, Folau has not apologised to the LGBTIQ community for the harm he has caused them.
This settlement was also amongst a backdrop of the Australian Government led by Prime Minister Morrison trying to introduce “religious discrimination” laws, which are far more than ensuring people of religion are not discriminated against. They will allow religious people and organisations to discriminate against others, even if funded by the tax payer. People who are likely to be discriminated against are women, the disabled, people of different ethnicity and faiths and the LGBTIQ community.
Many of the hard-line Australian religious commentators, such as Bill Muehlenberg write incessantly about the dangers of the LGBTIQ community and in a recent post the discrimination that people of faith in Australia suffer. The poorly framed Ruddock Inquiry into religious freedom in Australia identified that religious freedom in Australia was not at risk.
What does all this mean? Where we are we? Where we are heading, as a society, communities, our ethics, how businesses work and the interconnection with Government.
I must clearly state that people should not be discriminated because of their faith.
I must also clearly state my view that Australia is in desperate need of a Charter of Human Rights.
I also am of the view that there is a hierarchy of rights. People’s inherent existence is of a higher order right than someone choice about their faith. Therefore it is my contention that a persons sexuality, race, sexual orientation/gender, disability is more important than faith when there is a conflict of human rights.
This, to my mind, is a question of ethics.
So where does business fit into this?
The religious elite would say that a business owner has a right to serve who they like, and that can be based on their religious values. Should this go into operation, a business could decide that it can not provide goods or services to a woman, a person of colour, a person of different ethnicity, and LGBTIQ people.
From a human rights perspective, and from the framework of ethics I am moving within, if you are operating in the public domain, you don’t have the right to discriminate.
As mentioned, in Australia, the Morrison Government is proposing to allow religious organisations, that provide social services often significantly funded by the taxpayer, such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, foster and adoption care agencies etc., to have the right to discriminate.
This is stating that religious people’s human rights are of a higher order than a person’s innate nature. This to me is not ethical and does not follow what I see as the core principles of human rights.
Where does the rest of business fit in?
Many business around the globe have discovered that treating all employees fairly and equitably, being inclusive had a direct benefit. They can obtain better employees, their employees are more engaged and productive, which then flows through to the bottom line.
The emerging conflict between religion, Government and business need to be considered through a lens of human rights and the hierarchy of human rights.