Religious belief or activity

Discrimination is treating, or proposing to treat, someone unfavourably because of a personal characteristic protected by the law. This includes bullying someone because of a protected characteristic.

In Victoria it is against the law to discriminate against you because of your religious beliefs or activities, or what people think these might be.

Religious belief is about having, or not having, a religious belief or view that is not against the law. Religious activity is where you take part, choose not to take part or refuse to take part in a religious activity that is not against the law.

Examples of religious belief or activity discrimination

Mariam is a Muslim. At a job interview with an insurance company she is asked about her religious background. Even though Mariam is the best candidate, the HR manager tells her he cannot offer her the job because he thinks she will have to leave her workstation for prayer several times a day.

Gerry and Ian are best friends and golfing partners who both apply for membership at a prestigious golf club. During the selection interview one of the panellists asks Gerry if he always wears a yarmulke, a traditional Jewish head covering. Gerry says that he does and explains that the yarmulke is securely fastened and never comes free during play. Ian is accepted to the club but Gerry’s application is refused.

Where can discrimination occur?

Discrimination is against the law when it occurs in an area of public life such as clubs, schools and shops, or in the workplace.

Find out more about general places of discrimination or learn more specifically about religious belief or activity discrimination in employment

Racial and religious vilification

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people because of their race or religion. 

Vilification is behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion.

Find out more about racial and religious vilification.

Are there any exceptions?

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 includes some exceptions, which mean that discrimination will not be against the law in particular circumstances.

Positive steps can also be taken to help disadvantaged groups using special measures, which is not discrimination under the law.

If an exception or special measure does not apply, in some circumstances an exemption from the Act may be sought from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Religious bodies and schools can discriminate on the basis of several personal characteristics, including religious belief or activity, in circumstances where such discrimination is required to conform with religious belief or principles of the religion, or is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of followers of the religion.

Discrimination may also be permitted in circumstances that involve:

  • ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people who wish to be ordained as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform or participate in a religious activity, observance or practice.

Examples of exceptions

A religious school advertises a position for a pastoral care coordinator, and specifies that the successful applicant must be of the same faith as that held and taught by the school.

A religious school prohibits same-sex couples attending school forums because it believes homosexuality is incompatible with the faith held and taught by the school.

Make a complaint to the Commission

If you think you have been discriminated againstsexually harassedvictimised or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.

To make a complaint:

Find out more about making a complaint.