Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Australian Court Says Sex-Segregated Seating At Muslim Lecture Violates Anti-Discrimination Law

In Bevege v Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia, (NSW Civ & Adm Trib, March 4, 2016), the Civil and Administrative Tribunal of the Australian state of New South Wales held that sex-segregated seating at a lecture sponsored by a Muslim group violates the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act of 1977. The sponsor of the lecture, Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia, identifies itself as an 'international political party with a franchise in Australia."  When Alison Bevege attended the group's lecture on American intervention in Iraq and Syria, she was directed to a section of the auditorium reserved for women and children.  Hizb ut-Tahrir argued to the court that separate seating of men and women "is a part of Islam, and Muslims globally are adhering to this practice through choice as part of their belief and culture."

While the Anti-Discrimination Act has an exemption for acts or practices "of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrine of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion," (Sec. 56(d)), the court concluded that this exemption does not apply.  It was not shown that Hizb ut-Tahrir was established to propagate religion.  Also because Hizb ut-Tahrir argued that Bevege would have been allowed to choose her own seat if she had requested to do so, this shows that separate seating was not necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of Muslims attending the lecture.

To avoid similar discrimination in the future, the court ordered that at events sponsored by the organization there must be notices that gender segregated seating is not compulsory, and ushers must be made aware of this.  Law and Religion Australia has more on the decision.