Archbishop Fisher: Upholding freedoms not likely in Australia

Daniel and Amy McArthur, owners of Ashers bakery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, leave the Supreme Court in London on 10 October. The court upheld their right to refuse to make a cake emblazoned with a slogan in support of same-sex marriage. PHOTO: CNS/Simon Dawson, Reuters

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has commended the British Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding the religious freedom of an Irish bakery, while lamenting Australia’s lack of legal protections for people of faith.

On 10 October the British Supreme Court had found in favour of Christian bakers in Belfast who had refused to make a cake with the words “Support Gay Marriage” on it, requested by a gay rights activist.

“The decision in this case upholds the important freedoms of thought, conscience and belief, and confirms that these freedoms are not just enjoyed by church men like me, but by every person equally,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“At its heart, the case wasn’t about whether or not you agree with same-sex marriage, but whether a person should be forced to express an opinion that they do not believe to be true.”

“The unanimous decision of the court affirms that the law demonstrates that freedoms of conscience and belief are basic human rights, and do not depend on whether a person is engaged in a commercial business or a not-for-profit venture.”

The British ruling came on the heels of a leak from the Australian Federal government’s Ruddock review of religious freedoms. The leak indicated the review would not uphold the right of service providers, such as bakers, to refuse requested services based on freedom of conscience.

Comparing the British decision and the current lack of protections in Australia, Archbishop Fisher warned the same decision will most likely not apply here.

“Australia’s slim religious and conscientious rights laws mean there is no guarantee courts or anti-discrimination tribunals in Australia would be so respectful of free belief and speech,” he said.

The leak also stipulated the Ruddock review would propose that religious schools have the right to deny admittance to same-sex attracted students and teachers.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the review will be released by the end of this year along with the government’s response.

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