Can Australian Law Better Protect Freedom of Religion?

Australian Law Journal, Vol. 19 (2019)

17 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2019

See all articles by Nicholas Aroney

Nicholas Aroney

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law; Emory University - Center for the Study of Law and Religion

Date Written: May 23, 2019


The Religious Freedom Review Expert Panel was appointed by the Australian Government to examine whether the internationally recognised human right to freedom of religion is adequately protected in Australian law. This article expounds the relevant principles of international human rights law and identifies several ways in which Australian law is in risk of failing to give religious freedom adequate protection. The article shows how divergent approaches to the enactment and interpretation of religious freedom exemption clauses in antidiscrimination statutes have arisen in different jurisdictions and explains why this places the protection of religious freedom into doubt. The Expert Panel made two important recommendations to address this problem. The first is that Australian governments should have regard to the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights when drafting laws that would limit the right to freedom of religion. The second is that they should consider the use of objects, purposes or other interpretive clauses in anti-discrimination legislation to reflect the equal status in international law of all human rights, including freedom of religion. The article concludes by pointing out that while the re-drafting of objects clauses in antidiscrimination laws will provide important guidance to the courts in their interpretation of religious freedom clauses, narrow interpretations of such clauses have been a consequence of protecting religious freedom merely by way of exemption or exception. It is argued that in order for Australian law to implement the Siracusa Principles adequately, antidiscrimination laws should be amended to positively enshrine the right of religious bodies to select staff who share their religious convictions so as to maintain their religious ethos.

Keywords: freedom of religion, discrimination

Suggested Citation

Aroney, Nicholas, Can Australian Law Better Protect Freedom of Religion? (May 23, 2019). Australian Law Journal, Vol. 19 (2019), Available at SSRN: or

Nicholas Aroney (Contact Author)

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law ( email )

Brisbane 4072, Queensland
+61-(0)7-3365 3053 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

Emory University - Center for the Study of Law and Religion ( email )

Atlanta, GA 30322
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics