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Australian Human Rights Commission to review religious freedom
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has announced a national review of what Australians think about freedom of religion and belief.
ABC News quotes the Commission's race discrimination commissioner Tom Calma as saying that Australia needs to understand what religious freedom means in the 21st century.

He says in a secular, multifaith society, people sometimes have different expectations about the way laws reflect those beliefs.

Mr Calma says there is evidence of a growing fundamentalist religious lobby, in areas such as same-sex relationships, stem cell research and abortion.

"Does religious belief influence policies being determined in any country, particularly in our country?" he said.

In a HREOC media statement, Mr Calma says there is a balance to be struck between the freedom to practice a religion and not pushing those beliefs on the rest of society.

"The fundamental human right of freedom of religion and belief is protected by a number of international treaties and declarations," Mr Calma said.

"It encompasses freedom of thought on all matters and the freedom to demonstrate and express our religion and belief individually, with others, in private or in public."

"The intent of this discussion paper is to examine and report upon the extent to which this right can be enjoyed in Australia today by drawing from practical everyday experiences and observations," said Mr Calma. "This is easy for some, while others feel religion and human rights don't mix, like oil and water."

In calling for submissions from the public, the commissioner pointed out that the intersection of religion and belief with human rights is illustrated daily in our news headlines.

"The involvement of religious institutions in school curriculums and practices, religious and ethical concerns about scientific research, the status of Muslim communities in society since the events of September 11 2001, the involvement of religion in debates about homosexuality or abortion, and our politicians declaring their faith on the campaign trail - these are just some of the stories that involve us every day at the intersection of religion and belief with human rights," said Commissioner Calma.

Commissioner Calma emphasised that gaining a comprehensive understanding of these issues could not be achieved merely by consultation with academics, religious institutions and government.

"To achieve the intention of our discussion paper, we need to hear from as many people as possible, from as many walks of life, with as many different experiences to share as we can."

SOURCE : National religious freedom review to be launched (ABC News, 17/9/08)
Like oil and water? - Religion and human rights in Australia (HREOC, Media Release, 17/9/08)