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Factsheet: Religious exceptions reform – Equal Opportunity Act 2010

On 14 June 2022, changes to the Equal Opportunity Act (2010) came  into effect.  The changes ensure a fairer balance between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.

 

This fact sheet provides information about the changes to anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations and schools, and the Victorian community.

Read our factsheet

Updated September 2022

You can download a PDF of this resource – see link at the bottom of this page. 

Discrimination and the balancing of rights

TheEqual Opportunity Act 2010 makes discrimination and sexual harassment against the law when it happens in certain areas of public life. This includes at work, school or in shops. However, the Act recognises the need to balance everyone’s rights. This includes the rights of those with religious beliefs. This is why there are exceptions that mean discrimination is not against the law in certain circumstances

Religious exceptions prior to 14 June 2022

Before 14 June 2022, the Equal Opportunity Act allowed religious bodies and schools to discriminate against a person because of one of the following personal characteristics:

  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • lawful sexual activity
  • marital status
  • parental status
  • gender identity.

This meant that on the basis of one of these personal characteristics religious bodies and schools could lawfully:

  • refuse entry to a prospective student
  • expel a student
  • refuse to employ someone
  • fire someone, or
  • otherwise treat someone differently.

Religious exceptions after 14 June 2022

From 14 June 2022, religious bodies and schools are not allowed to discriminate against people based on the personal characteristics of sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity in:

  • employment decisions
  • decisions about school students

However, they can discriminate based on religious beliefs, in limited circumstances, if the discrimination is reasonable and proportionate.

Religious exceptions after 14 December 2022

On 14 December 2022, further changes to religious exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act will come into effect. From this date, when providing goods or services funded by the Victorian Government religious bodies will only be able to discriminate based on a person’s religious belief. They will not be able to discriminate based on other personal characteristics.

What will not change

After 14 June and 14 December 2022, religious bodies and schools will still be able to discriminate in relation to:

  • ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people seeking to be ordained or appointed as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.

The positive duty

Religious bodies and schools risk a complaint being made to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission if they do not comply with the Equal Opportunity Act.

Religious organisations and bodies who are also duty holders under the Equal Opportunity Act also have a legal obligation to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination as far as possible. This is known as the ‘positive duty’. Simply responding to complaints that arise is not enough to comply with the law. Duty holders can include:

  • employers
  • providers of accommodation, education, goods and services
  • clubs and sporting organisations.

Click here for more information on how to embed the positive duty in practices and procedures.

About this factsheet

This factsheet provides information about the changes to anti-discrimination laws including discrimination relating to employment, students and religious bodies. It also contains frequently asked questions.

Read our factsheet for more information

Updated September 2022

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission stands on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Peoples of the Kulin Nation. We recognise their cultures, histories, diversity and deep connection to this land and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

Sovereignty has never been ceded – this land always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.