Factsheet: Religious exception reforms – Equal Opportunity Act 2010
On 14 June and 14 December 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.
Updated December 2022
You can download a PDF of our resources – see links at the bottom of this page.
Discrimination and the balancing of rights
The Equal 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:
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 came into effect. From this date, when providing goods or services funded by the Victorian Government religious bodies can only discriminate based on a person’s religious belief. They cannot 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:
- providers of accommodation, education, goods and services
- clubs and sporting organisations.
About these factsheets
These factsheets provide 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 factsheets for more information
Information in other languages
Please note that the following fact sheets were prepared before the changes to the Equal Opportunity Act took effect. As such, they refer to the changes as ‘proposed changes’. The substantive content of the fact sheets remains accurate.
- Arabic (العربية) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 205kB)
- Dinka (Thuɔŋjäŋ) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 252kB)
- Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesian) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 168kB)
- Juba Arabic – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 209kB)
- Nuer (Thok Nath) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 243kB)
- Punjabi (ਪੰਜਾਬੀ) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 175kB)
- Simplified Chinese (简体中文) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 228kB)
- Traditional Chinese (繁體中文) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 261kB)
- Vietnamese (tiếng Việt) – Equal Opportunity Act 2010 religious exceptions reforms(PDF 245kB)