St Vincent de Paul Society ordered to pay $27,500 to president sacked for not being Catholic. If religious people cannot choose to associate with people of the same religion, what other associations might be forced upon us?
The St Vincent de Paul Society of Queensland has been ordered to pay $27,500 to a voluntary president it sacked because she was not Catholic. The landmark decision in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal has massive implications for the welfare organisation. State president John Campbell said the organisation was disappointed at the decision and had sought legal advice over whether it should appeal or try to have legislation amended, The Courier-Mail reports.
The $27,500 has been awarded to Kingston woman Linda Walsh for "offence, hurt, embarrassment and intimidation" following the society's decision to stand her down as president of the Migrant and Refugees Logan Centre. According to documents tendered to the tribunal, Ms Walsh's work for the centre was her reason "to get up in the morning". After volunteering for the society in 1997, she first became a president of a St Vincent "conference" - or group of people who respond to calls for assistance in the community, according to the charity's website - in March 2003. By the end of the year, she was working unpaid seven days a week.
But trouble started in January 2004 when objections to her not being Catholic were raised. Ms Walsh said she was asked when she first joined the society whether she was Catholic and there were no objections to her being Christian only. She also was accepted as a conference president in 2003 despite not being Catholic. But, in 2004, the society gave Ms Walsh three options - become a Catholic, resign her position and stay only as a member, or leave the society.
Eventually, Ms Walsh took her case to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. Ms Walsh told The Courier-Mail she felt betrayed by the society to which she had devoted her life. "They put me through the wringer and back," she said. "It hurt, it really hurt." [Does it hurt to take $27,500 out of the mouths of the needy too?]
In its tribunal documents, the society argued its primary function was to "inculcate the Catholic faith in its members" and the charity aspect was secondary for presidents, which meant they needed to be Catholic.
The tribunal found the society did not prove its case and awarded compensation to Ms Walsh as well as court costs. Mr Campbell said that although Ms Walsh did volunteer work, she also was a member and they believed they should have the rights to choose their members, just as a bowling club did. He said the rule that all presidents should be Catholic was "understood", even if it hadn't been written prior to Ms Walsh's membership. He declined to comment further.
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