ACL grateful but wary after venue ban is reversed

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Leaders say it’s concerning the policy approved by WA arts minister existed at all

Overwhelming community support for the Australian Christian Lobby saw the Perth Theatre Trust reverse its decision to ban the organisation from hiring its venues for its show, The Truth of It Live.

Last month the state-backed trust refused the ACL’s request to hire the Albany Entertainment Centre and Perth Concert Hall for the event giving “a multitude of reasons” including that its content was not aligned with the Western Australian Government’s views and with the majority of the community’s views.

The ACL and its supporters said it was a clear case of discrimination. The organisation was notified last Friday by the Perth Theatre Trust to say its venue hiring policies were “under review” and in the meantime would rescind the decision to refuse the request.

ACL WA Director Peter Abetz. Supplied

ACL’s Western Australian director Peter Abetz said it was “pleasing” that the McGowan Government backed down on their booking policy but it was still concerning that it existed in the first place.

“Even the mainstream media recognised it as an unwarranted attack on freedom of speech, and an attempt by the Government to silence dissenting voices,” he said.

“It is hard to believe that those responsible for writing and implementing this policy were not aware of their obligations under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. I am very thankful for all the people who called their MPs, the Minister’s office and objected to a Christian group being banned from public venues for simply giving voice to traditional Christian views.”

Human Rights Law Alliance managing director John Steenhof told The Catholic Weekly he believed it had been a clear case of discrimination.

“In my view, what the Western Australian government had done here was highly illegal and it amounts to unlawful discrimination under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 which clearly prohibits discrimination against somebody on the basis of their religious or political convictions,” Mr Steenhof said.

“The Act clearly provides that the State can’t discriminate in the process of providing services or goods or in the hire of facilities. It is hard to see how the WA government would have been able to defend a claim of discrimination.

“it is concerning that there has been no acknowledgment of wrongdoing, or any commitment not to interfere with freedom of speech going forward”– John Steenhof, HRLA

“They were wise to backflip on this. However, it is concerning that there has been no acknowledgment of wrongdoing, or any commitment not to interfere with freedom of speech going forward. This should be concerning for Christians and anyone else whose ideas are out of step with the prevailing fashionable ideologies.”

Mr Steenhof said it was striking that the WA Government changed its venue hire policy after the ACL booking had been rejected, which is a good indication that the government was trying to mask the real reason for rejecting it which was purely ideological – the ACL’s stance on marriage, sexuality, gender and pro-life issues.

John Steenhof of Human Rights Law Alliance says cases of discrimination against people with traditional religious views are increasingly common. PHOTO: Supplied

“Increasingly, HRLA is hearing stories all around Australia of conditions being placed on Christians and religious organisations in relation to venue hire and other services that exclude people with orthodox religious convictions on these issues,” he said.

“It is a real concerning freedom of religion issue and an attack on a pluralistic society where people can hold and share diverse beliefs and views and can disagree well with each other without government or cultural coercion.”

ACL managing director Martyn Iles thanked supporters for “calling, emailing, and acting”. Mr Iles said while he thought there was potential for the new policy to “have major problems” it showed that government-owned facilities “could not be permanently closed to Christians”.

Mr Abetz said that the challenge will now be to make sure that the new policy that is being formulated is not discriminatory. “The forces that want to silence any Christian voice in the public square are still very determined to impose their ideology on everyone,” he said.

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