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Tuesday, 05 March 2013 12:40

Cobaw Community Health Services v Christian Youth Camps (VCAT) - Submission - Jul 2010

Cobaw Community Health Services lodged a representative complaint of discrimination against Christian Youth Camps (CYC) on the basis that CYC had refused to allow Cobaw's suicide prevention support group for same-sex attracted young people to run a two-day program at its Phillip Island youth camp. CYC acknowledged that the reason access was denied was that the gathering was intended to explore homosexuality in a positive light, which would be contrary to their religious beliefs and principles.

The Commission made submissions that the religious exceptions in sections 75(2) and 77 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 should be interpreted in a manner which required CYC to establish their relevant religious doctrine of belief, and to demonstrate the nexus between adherences to those beliefs and why it is necessary in the circumstances of this case to discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation. The Commission submitted that the religious exceptions can be interpreted in a manner which is compatible with the Charter and strikes a fair balance between the competing rights to equality and freedom of religion.

VCAT held that when interpreting the religious exemptions under the Act, it was necessary to consider their purpose of protecting religious freedoms in a manner consistent with the Charter. The religious exception provision of the Equal Opportunity Act was not found to apply based on the evidence in this case. The right to freedom of religious belief does not confer the right on members of a religion to impose their beliefs on a secular society. Further, this right must be interpreted in a way that recognises its co-existence with the rights to equality and freedom from discrimination in section 8 of the Charter.

VCAT found that CYC had discriminated against Cobaw Community Health Services by denying access to its facilities on the basis of sexual orientation which contravened the EOA and ordered CYC to pay compensation of $5000.

CYC appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal. See Christian Youth Camps v Cobaw Community Health Services (Court of Appeal) – Charter Intervention – June 2012.

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