Considerations for Religious Liberty in the Workplace



In this part we look at issues of religious liberty in the workplace.

In Australia there are protections for employees at both Federal and State levels in the form of human rights acts and anti-discrimination legislation, though these are fragmented and viewed by many as insufficient. This has been highly visible where religious actions of an individual are deemed as a form of discrimination. There have been many visible cases such as the baker declining to make a cake for a gay wedding, or religious schools being able to include adherence to key doctrinal themes as a basis for employment. There remains more debate to be had on these topics, but the upcoming legislation around religious freedom will hopefully address many of these.

There are instances where religious activities can be deemed as a breach of legislated workplace rules and where discretion needs to be carefully exercised (for example continued proselytising in the workplace can be viewed as a form of workplace bullying if it is not welcome).

Religious liberty in the workplace can also become an issue where the ‘practice’ of an individual’s religion comes into conflict with job performance or organisational policies. For example:

  • Observance of religious convictions that are inconsistent with the products and services provided by the employer (e.g. doctors being required to perform abortions or euthanasia);

  • Observance of religious obligations that interfere with discharging an individual’s duties on the job (e.g. being unable to work on certain days, service of alcohol in the hospitality industry, etc.);

  • Observance of religious traditions that conflict with an employer’s explicitly stated requirements (e.g. wearing headdress in a fashion retail outlet that has a specific dress uniform).

One of the most challenging impacts is the emergence of employers having ‘codes of conduct’ that seek to regulate what employees may and may not do in a private capacity if it is deemed to be at odds with the employer’s self-determined best interest. This has been most visible in the situation faced by Israel Folau. However the potential for corporate overreach based on these codes of conduct is concerning (e.g. being affiliated with a Christian entity if that suggests a conflict of interest with the stated objectives of the employer, regardless of whether the individual has made any public statements or not).

It is important that as Christians we are able to discern these different circumstances and speak with humility and wisdom into the issues whilst also understanding our rights as individuals. Yet our strongest witness in the workplace can be how we conduct ourselves as ones made alive in Christ (Colossians 3).

The Case of Israel Folau

In the podcast we are listening to two resources from the Australian Christian Lobby:

  • An interview between Martyn Iles and John Steenhof (Director of the Human Rights Law Alliance)

  • A section of Martyn Iles’ podcast The Truth of It.

Folau’s case is demonstrative of what can happen to other people of faith in Australia who fall foul of codes of conduct that exist in many professional contracts. They show why Folau’s is an important test case and provide an argument for why Folau (and other Australian workers) should be free to share their faith without fear of recrimination from their employers.

You can subscribe to the Christians Engaging Culture podcast here.

Podcast duration: 41:28Speakers: Martyn Iles and John SteenhofPublisher: Australian Christian Lobby (used with permission)Originally published: here and here.Date accessed: 7/10/19


Australia is a modern, multicultural society and our workplace reflects that diversity. Our workplace needs to be respectful and welcoming of all religions, including my Christian faith. Most employers would say that they value and respect diversity. Please respect my diversity.

While I represent X [my employer], I stand for its values and have its best interests at heart or I wouldn’t work here. However my personal values may differ in some areas and what I do as a private citizen outside my professional activities is not my employer’s business.

I’m curious why you might feel that my Christian faith could impact others at work or our ability to perform our duties. Could you help me understand?


There are people with many different beliefs in the workplace. It’s understandable that there will be disagreement between these people about matters of faith, but we still want to get along. One helpful way to get along is by understanding where the other person is coming from (even if you don’t ultimately agree). Perhaps we could catch up for a coffee and you could help me understand your belief system and I could share with you the big picture of mine (Christianity)?

One important attribute of leadership is helping everyone to be and do their best – to me that is part of servant leadership. Did you know that Christ is a role model in this?


What happens to Israel Folau will affect you, us and all Christians | John Steenhof - HRLA

Martyn Iles interviews John Steehhof CEO, Human Rights Law Alliance, regarding the implications of the Israel Folau case for Christian employees in Australia. He explains that this case has implications for employees in any walk of life. Indeed the Human Rights Law Alliance has had similar cases on which is has been giving advice.

Duration: 13:08mSpeaker: John SteenhofPublisher: Australian Christian LobbyDate accessed: 3/10/2019

We Must Stand With Israel Folau - The Truth of It - Season 2 Episode 5

Martyn Iles gives a broad ranging view of the Israel Folau case and its implications.. He explains that Folau was convicted of a high-level breach of the Rugby Australia (RA) code of conduct, principally because he was unwilling to deny his Christian beliefs. Iles then explains that many of us are subject to similar codes of conduct, accreditation with professional bodies and conditions of enrollment at university and are vulnerable in a similar way. These codes contain “flabby” clauses which can be interpreted and implied in different ways.

He explains that the RA’s interpretation of the code of conduct is incompatible with key aspects of Christian truth. The Human Rights Law Alliance has fought many similar cases in the past, which have not been as high profile. There are also broad implications for Christians living in Australia today where morality is being reinterpreted.

Duration: 16:05mSpeaker: Martyn IlesPublisher: Australian Christian LobbyDate accessed: 3/10/2019

A Ruling in Canada that Means Christians May Not Be Able to Stay in the Medical Field

Albert Mohler expresses concern for those in the professions where ‘new morality’ is dictating the professional standards historically set by the professions themselves. He highlights a court ruling in Canada against doctors, challenging a legal obligation to refer patients for euthanasia to a doctor who would kill them. The Court found the doctors’ Constitutional right to religious liberty was offended, but that the legal (not Constitutional) right to equitable access to medical treatment trumps the doctors’ Constitutional right.

Duration: 19:48Speaker: Albert MohlerPublisher: albertmohler.comDate accessed: 20/8/19

Beware the choke tackle of Diversity Inc

‘The last thing we need is for Rugby Australia, not to mention Qantas, to encourage more corporate boards and chief executives to impose speech penalties on thousands of employees who, ironically, appear far more diverse than the gaggle of boards and chief executives schooling them in diversity and inclusion.

Having said that, it is not necessarily desirable that corporations have no right to sack employees whose private conduct brings a brand into contempt, or which costs a corporation in terms of sponsorship or customer base. This would also be an intrusion of the state into a corporation’s right to associate freely and to protect its own image. Must Rugby Australia keep Folau even if it means losing sponsor after sponsor? There is no simple solution.’

Estimated read time: 4:10Author: Stephen ChavuraPublisher: Campion College Australia (first appeared in The Australian newspaper)Date accessed: 27/9/19

Freedom lost as magazine shuts

‘In a sign Australia faces a “crisis of freedom”, The Weekend Australian can ­reveal a successful international wedding magazine that chose not to feature gay couples will today announce its decision to shut down after becoming the target of an intimidation campaign.

The founders of White magazine, Christians Luke and Carla Burrell, said they were the targets of an activist campaign that deterred their advertisers, frightened their staff and included threats of physical harm because of their stand on same-sex weddings …

In another case, Christian wedding photographer Jason Tey was taken to the West Australian Equal Opportunity Commission after he agreed to photograph the children of a same-sex couple but disclosed a conflict of belief, in case they felt more comfortable hiring someone else.’

Estimated read time: 4:50Author: Joe KellyPublisher: The AustralianDate accessed: 27/9/19

Dina Gerdeman reports on an article written by Derek van Bever, Senior Lecturer from Harvard Business School, and graduate of Harvard Divinity School.

Given the marked increase in religious discrimination complaints, van Bever urges business owners and managers to have policies in place that clearly articulate how to handle ‘religion in the workplace’. He cites two cases where ‘religious beliefs clashed with business principles.’ In both cases, people felt offended. The ‘subtler lesson’ for employers is to make sure that ‘people feel respected.’

Estimated read time: 8:05Author: Dina GerdemanPublisher: Harvard Business SchoolDate accessed: 20/8/19

This article clearly articulates the issues relating to the Israel Folau case from an HR management perspective. This article concludes that the question is whether Folau exercised his lawful right to freedom of speech? Or has he incited or encouraged hatred, serious contempt, or severe ridicule against the groups that he named, particularly the LGBTQI+ community? The CEO of QANTAS, Alan Joyce, stated that the meme had serious negative implications for LBGTI+ people, especially youth. This video by Martyn Iles provides an alternative perspective as to whether the mental health outcomes from LGBTI+ people is due to their societal acceptance. Make sure you read the links to related articles to get a comprehensive view of the facts relating to this issue.

Estimated read time: 6:55Author: Samantha SmithPublisher: accessed: 20/8/19

This is a very helpful overview of the Folau case. Wilkinson details Folau’s credentials as a rugby player, the offending Instagram post, ARU’s contract terms, the involvement of QANTAS and Folau’s legal recourse. For an even more in-depth analysis from a legal perspective, see this article.

Estimated read time: 8:55Author: Laurence WilkinsonPublisher: The SpectatorDate accessed: 25/9/19

Politically Correct Discrimination

A quick but helpful video showing how people inconsistently discriminate against Christians in the workplace.

Duration: 4:50Publisher: Family Policy Institute of WashingtonDate accessed: 27/9/19

Martyn Iles - Religious Liberty

Martyn Iles quickly goes through many of the recent Australian cases of people of faith getting into trouble with their employers because of their beliefs.

Duration: 9:30 (between 27:32-37:02)Speaker: Martyn IlesPublisher: St Thomas’ Anglican Church, North SydneyDate accessed: 20/8/19


2 Peter 1:5–8 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 4:4–7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2: 1–5 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 3: 8–17 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you so much for the blessing it is to work. Thank you for giving me the ability to work. Thank you for a job to provide for me, my loved ones and the mission of your church. Thank you for my colleagues and bosses and the blessing of relationship with them. Thank you that I get paid to love my fellow-man. Father, please help me to work today for your glory. Please help me to be godly in all my conversation and dealings with others. Help me to stand as a witness for your Son, Jesus Christ in all I do and say. Father, please open doors of opportunity to share the good news with those I work with. And please give me the courage to walk through them. Thank you Father that I have liberty to work as a Christian in this country and I pray this freedom would be maintained.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

This page was posted on: 14/10/2019