The Victorian Court of Appeal recently upheld a finding of
discrimination against "a Christian youth camp" that
refused to provide accommodation for a "rural Victorian youth
and sexual diversity project".
Cobaw Community Health Services ran the WayOut Project, a youth
suicide prevention initiative that aimed "to raise awareness
about their needs and the effects of homophobia and discrimination
on young people and rural communities generally"'. In 2007
the Project's co ordinator approached the site-manager at the
Phillip Island Adventure Resort, conducted by Christian Youth
Camps, seeking to secure accommodation for the group at the Resort
for a weekend camp "for 60 rural same-sex-attracted youth and
12 support workers".
Christian Youth Camps was established by "The trustees of
the Christian Brethren Trust", which was "itself
established by the Christian Brethren Church".
After enquiring about the "nature of the group and its
activities" the Camp's site-manager informed the Project
Manager that considering that Christian Youth Camps 'was
"a Christian organisation that supports young
people"', the WayOut Project "would be better off
investigating the availability of other camps in the
In 2010 the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled
that Christian Youth Camps' "refusal amounted to unlawful
discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation of those who
would be attending the camp".
Christian Youth Camps appealed the decision to the Supreme Court
of Victoria, which delivered its judgment on 16 April 2014. One of
the issues before the court was whether Christian Youth Camp's
refusal to provide the WayOut Project with accommodation amounted
to unlawful discrimination, in contravention of the Equal
Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic).
Christian Youth Camps argued that "an objection to the
views and opinions which would be conveyed to those attending the
camp was quite different from an objection to the sexual
orientation of those who would be attending".
The Court did not accept this distinction and found that the
Tribunal had not been in error in finding "there was
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation", in
contravention of the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic).
In his commentary on the decision
Neil Foster from the University of Newcastle states:
'all members of the Court of Appeal in Cobaw
seem to take the view that a refusal to support an activity
providing support for homosexual activity, is the same as
discrimination against homosexual persons. The view that sexual
"orientation" is a fundamental part of human
"identity", and the view that this must then be allowed
expression in sexual activity, seems to be
Exemption available under Victorian Equal Opportunity
The Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic) contains
"religious freedom exemptions", permitting "a body
established for religious purposes" to engage in prohibited
conduct, where the conduct:
conforms with the doctrines of the religion; or
is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of
people of the religion.
The Court found this exemption did not apply in this case as
Christian Youth Camps was not considered to be "a body
established for religious purposes."
On this point
Neil Foster has commented that 'The result of this
unanimity on this point, if followed elsewhere, seems to be that
even a body with explicitly faith-driven objects may be found to
not be a body "established for religious purposes" if it
engages in a wide range of community services which do not
explicitly require a faith commitment from the
The Court then considered whether the site-manager (an
individual, not a religious body as defined under the Act) was able
to rely on the "defence" of "the necessity to comply
with his genuine religious beliefs or principles".
While Redlich JA found that the site-manager's conduct fell
within this defence, which should also be available to Christian
Youth Camps, Maxwell P and Neave JA did not consider the defence
"applicable" as "the refusal of accommodation was
not necessary for him [the site-manager] to comply with his
The CEO of Cobaw Community Health Services has
commented that '"We're very excited for Cobaw and
for the young people that were the people that put in the original
complaint...We feel [the decision] supported them and their sense
of being discriminated against..."' However,
Neil Foster has noted that "The fact that the Court was
split in different ways on different issues makes the precedential
value of some of its comments problematic".
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