Last updated 1 December 2020
Section 20 of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) (Human Rights Act) protects freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, and the freedom to demonstrate that belief. The focus of this right is on personal autonomy, not only in terms of possessing thoughts and beliefs, but how people manifest them through religious observances, worship, teaching and other practices.
The right in subs 20(1) specifically includes the freedom to:
- have or adopt a religion or belief of the person’s choice
- demonstrate religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching, individually or in community, in private or in public.
Subsection 20(2) prohibits coercion or restraint that limits a person’s freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief.
The right is expressed in broad terms, and is likely to cover a range of beliefs, including personal, academic, social, atheist and agnostic beliefs, as well as providing protection for both traditional and alternative religious beliefs.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief will be subject to the general limitation provision in s 13 of the Human Rights Act. This provides human rights may be subject under law to reasonable limits, which are justified in a free and democratic society. See ‘Human Rights may be Limited’ for further explanation.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief may be engaged:
- in exemption applications under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) (e.g. an exemption by the Queensland Electoral Commission to consider the political activities of applicants during recruitment)
- during discrimination proceedings (e.g. proceedings brought in relation to the treatment of children opting out of religious education in state schools or when considering whether religious groups have the right to exclude certain participants)
- possibly, in a complaint against a university (provided it can be shown to be a public entity) on the basis that the right extends to academic views as a right to freedom of thought and belief
- in the course of an applications to access documents and other materials held by a public entity for use in an artwork.
The right has also been raised in planning cases in Victoria where it has been confirmed that planning decision makers must consider human rights when making planning decisions and understanding the social effects of these decisions (e.g. decisions about the location of a place of worship such as a mosque or church).
These examples have been adapted from Australian cases. They are provided by way of example only, and are not a substitute for legal advice.