Sydney, Australia

Almost two thirds of Australians support people’s legal right to choose and express their religious faith, a new poll shows.

The survey also found a majority say health professionals and organisations of faith should not be forced to perform services which contravene their religious beliefs, while 60 per cent say religious schools should not be forced to employ staff who are in conflict with their statement of faith.

Sydney Bankstown people queuing at a vaccination clinic 

People wait in line outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination clinic in the Bankstown suburb during a lockdown to curb an outbreak of cases in Sydney, Australia, on 25th August. PICTURE: Reuters/Loren Elliott/File photo.

The National Poll on Religious Freedom in Australia, commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby and released on Wednesday, canvassed 1003 people earlier this month on four key questions relating to ethical issues and faith.

They sought views on whether they thought people of faith should be legally protected from being discriminated against because of their faith and beliefs, whether faith-based hospitals and religious health practitioners should be forced to provide services, such as abortion and euthanasia, that conflict with their faith, whether religious schools be forced to employ staff that are in conflict with the school’s statement of faith, and whether employers be able to restrict employees’ statements of religious belief, made on the employees own time.

ACL Martyn Iles

Martyn Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby which commissioned the poll. PICTURE: Supplied.

The poll found 64 per cent of Australians agreed that people’s right to express their faith should be legally protected, while 55 per cent of respondents said faith-based hospitals and religious health practitioners should not be forced to undertake such services.

ACL Managing Director, Martyn Iles, says the poll results showed Australians supported the protection of “people of faith, as well as faith- based institutions and their values”.

“Further, there is strong majority support for protections for Australians from the creeping overreach of their employers into their private lives,” Iles said.

“Polling reveals that 71 per cent of Australians believe that employers should not be able to restrict employees’ statements of religious belief, made on the employees own time.”

Iles says the ACL was bringing truth to the debate as the Australian Government continued discussing its Religious Discrimination Bill, and in light of a forthcoming federal election.

The poll results also come as Victoria proposes legislation to protect LGBTIQ+ people from discrimination in employment.

In a statement last week, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said people should not have to hide who they are to keep their job.

“We’re closing this unfair, hurtful gap in our laws so that Victoria’s LGBTIQ+ community won’t have to pretend to be someone they’re not, just to do the job they love,” Symes said.

“These laws strike the right balance between protecting the LGBTIQ+ community from discrimination and supporting the fundamental rights of religious bodies and schools to practice their faith.”

The state’s move has already caused concern within the Christian schools community, with Christian Schools Australia and the Australian Association of Christian Schools to meet with Victorian Government representatives in two weeks to state their case.

The poll results also shine some light on the sacking of Australian rugby player and lay preacher Israel Folau in 2019, following his statements about what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Iles said that with a federal election due in coming months, the poll results would provide some context to how the Religious Discrimination Bill would be applied.'

“We know for sure that we are within 12 months of an election. We also know that the Morrison Government has promised to protect Australians of faith with its new Religious Discrimination Bill,” he said in a statement.

“The research clearly shows that the Australian public are supportive and committed to the continued protection of not only people of faith, but faith-based institutions and their values.”

He said both the Coalition and the Labor Party had committed to providing protections for Australians of faith and the poll results showed “the Australian public are on side”.

“They share the aspirations of faith-based Australians to express their faith, on their own time, without fear of discipline at work. They support the need for churches, schools, and hospitals to have employees that share their values.

“For many this is an issue that will inform their vote at the next election.”