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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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It’s Groundhog Day, again

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Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart holds a copy of his new book on the Plenary Council in his office. Photo: Mark Franlin
Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart. Photo: Mark Franlin

Nine years ago, the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart distributed a copy of a pastoral letter to parents of children in Tasmanian Catholic schools. The letter, published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, outlined the Catholic understanding of marriage at a time when the push for the legalisation of same-sex marriage began in earnest. 

Promptly after its release, Australian Marriage Equality, via its then-national director Rodney Croome, issued a media release encouraging people to make an anti-discrimination complaint against the Archbishop. At the time, Croome said: “The booklet likely breaches the Anti-Discrimination Act and I urge everyone who finds it offensive and inappropriate, including teachers, parents and students, to complain to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks.”

The reason Australian Marriage Equality chose Tasmania is because it has the most draconian anti-discrimination laws in the country, making it illegal to offend someone on the basis of a protected attribute. 

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Soon after, an anti-discrimination complaint was made, not by a teacher, nor a parent, nor a student. It was made by a trans-identifying person named Martine Delaney who had not received a copy of the booklet but searched for one online so that they could download it, read it and be sufficiently offended by it in order to justify a claim of discrimination. 

The claim was eventually withdrawn, likely because it made clear that the push for same-sex marriage was not simply about a society in which people could ‘live and let live’, but also about enforcing a particular worldview on those who did not agree. Even though the claim did not proceed, the archbishop spent nine months of his own time and that of his staff defending it, not to mention racking up significant legal costs in the process.  

Well, it’s Groundhog Day again because another pastoral letter was distributed to parents of kids in Catholic schools last week and Croome issued another media release calling on “anyone who has experienced anti-LGBTIQA+ discrimination in a Tasmanian faith-based school to seriously consider legal action under the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act.”

His release has been backed by Independent MP Kristie Johnston and Greens MP Rosalie Woodruff, who each claim that the distribution of the letter itself is in breach of anti-discrimination laws. Now the games begin, with Archbishop Porteous left waiting to see if another Martine Delaney figure, inspired by Croome’s latest missive, will step forward and lodge a claim. 

Almost a decade has passed, there have been numerous inquiries into religious freedom and various bills drafted, and still we are in a position where an archbishop can be threatened with lawfare simply for trying to convey Catholic teaching to the members of the Catholic communities of his schools. 

The one thing that has changed is that attempting to silence the archbishop is no longer enough for the “equality” crowd. This time around, Equality Tasmania want to send their own materials home in schoolbags of Catholic kids, requesting a “right of reply” to the pastoral letter.

They suggest that this would demonstrate a commitment to free speech. Actually, it would represent an abdication of the responsibility of the archbishop and Catholic educational leaders to ensure that students in Catholic schools are educated in accordance with the Catholic faith and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of why we have Catholic schools in the first place.

Suggesting that freedom of speech requires Equality Australia to have a platform in Catholic schools is about as ridiculous as suggesting that a commitment to freedom of religion would require imams and rabbis to be given the opportunity to proselytise in Catholic schools. 

It’s nonsense and Equality Tasmania knows as much.  

But it doesn’t matter, because if someone decides to make a complaint against Archbishop Porteous, he will be dragged into a process that—run enough times—becomes a punishment in and of itself. And without a religious discrimination bill that is bold enough to override oppressive state laws like Tasmania’s, it will just continue. 

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