There will be Religious Freedom Bill in front of Parliament soon. As a church that should be a good thing right?
And not just wrong – its very, very wrong!!
You don’t have to dig very deeply into the legislation to find huge flaws in the bill. A very quick google search comes up with hundreds of hits for people standing against it. But that is not usual, there are people who stand against every Act or Bill before Parliament. But usually it’s not the associate professor of constitutional law of Monash University. Luke Beck, for that is his name, has written that the Bill “appear(s) to be motivated by a desire to allow people to be nasty to others”.
The Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group call the bill, “Deeply flawed” and the Professors Simon Rice and Beth Gaze, of Sydney and Melbourne universities respectfully, have said the bill’s wide definition of “statements of belief” meant current unlawful acts of discrimination would “likely become lawful if based on religious belief”.
These ‘current unlawful acts of discrimination’ are not just against marginal groups. Before any major revisions take place here are some of the things that could allowed according to the Guardian who have collected these examples from various sources –
Here are some Statements of religious belief that, if the bill is passed, will not be found in breach other federal, state and territory discrimination laws.
(These things could be allowed!!)
A single mother who, when dropping her child off at daycare, may be told by a worker that she is sinful for denying her child a father.
A woman may be told by a manager outside work that women should submit to their husbands or that women should not be employed outside the home.
A student with disability may be told by a teacher their disability is a trial imposed by God.
A person of a minority faith may be told by a retail assistant from another religion that they are a “heathen destined for eternal damnation”.
All that needs to happen is that these statements must be made in good faith; not be malicious or harass, vilify or incite hatred against a person or group; not advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offence but apart from that all of the above will be legal.
In the future discrimination against a person on the basis of religious activity will be unlawful.
So a public evangelist / street-preacher cannot be stopped even where they are in contravention of council bylaws and no matter how bigoted they are being.
Under this bill, unless it is against the law to refuse treatment, health practitioners are allowed to conscientiously object to providing a health service and no professional rules can override that right.
So soon a doctor could refuse to provide contraception to all patients or to prescribe hormone treatment for gender transition because he/she doesn’t agree with it.
Or a nurse can refuse to participate in abortion procedures or to provide the morning-after pill to a woman admitted to hospital after a sexual assault.
A pharmacist will be able to refuse to provide the pill to women for contraceptive use
Although the primary aim of the bill is to prohibit religious discrimination there are a range of exemptions that will allow other religious discrimination to happen:
Religious hospitals, aged care providers or accommodation providers such as retirement villages may discriminate against their staff on the basis of religion both in terms of hiring and to set codes of conduct requiring them to act in accordance with that faith at work.
These are just some of the things that could happen, and I haven’t touched on education, social media and the workplace that have their own major problems under this bill.
I’d love to be able to say that these examples are far fetched and in reality will not happen but, unfortunately they are not, all of these things, and worse will happen if the bill is passed unchanged.
Many of the major churches and their leaders, many Muslim and Jewish leaders have already spoken out against this bill; whether they will be heard and listened to is yet to be seen.
The Uniting Church in Australia, in its submission against this bill, echoed the concerns of legal experts, saying the redrafted version of the bill does not “get the balance right”.
“To be a welcoming, inclusive, multi-faith and multi-cultural society, it is important that people are able to freely practice religion without fear,” Uniting Church president Dr Deidre Palmer told a forum in Sydney last week.
“But privileging statements of religious belief at the expense of other people’s dignity and wellbeing is not something we support. Christians in Australia are not persecuted. In Australia, churches aren’t victims. To cultivate some kind of victim status is disingenuous.”
Professor Beck, who we heard from at the beginning of this blog, says the practical effect of the right to make statements of belief was to establish “the right to be a bigot”.
As Christians we are not victims and we would like to believe that bigotry is not a religious freedom!!