Australia’s Religious leaders to the PM: Have you thought about this?

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pictured in March during Indonesia Australia Business Week. PHOTO: Timothy Tobing, DFAT, cc 2.0

Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders have asked the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to consider what same-sex marriage without substantive protections for religious freedom would mean for the operation of their charities.

Around 30 leaders, including Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, have signed a joint letter to Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, urging them to include protections as the House of Representatives takes up a bill, later on today, which the Senate passed without amendment last week.

The leaders express concern about whether parents will retain the right to have their children educated in accordance with their moral and religious convictions, and whether religious institutions will continue to be allowed to express their beliefs in public.

They also wonder whether they will be able to refuse use of their facilities for activities at odds with their beliefs and whether their charities “will lose their charitable status at law, as has occurred in other common law jurisdictions”.

“We welcomed your respective independent undertakings, given during the postal survey, that such freedoms would be protected in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote,” the letter states.

“Much turns, however, on what is enfolded within the content of those freedoms.

“The Senate has now voted against amendments that aim to reasonably accommodate these matters … the bill now due for consideration by the House of Representatives does not address adequate consideration of these fundamental freedoms.”

The letter, as published by The Australian, was signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies; the National President of Australian Christian Churches, Wayne Alcorn; the National Chair of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia, Hedley Fihaki; the Maronite Bishop of Australia, Antoine-Charbel Tarabay; Imam at Lakemba Mosque, Sheikh Yahya Safi; the director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen; Imam at Arraham Mosque, Sheikh Youssef Nabha; the President of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Australia, Jorge Munoz and the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, John P Wilson, among others.

Some key frontbenchers have already voiced their concern about the lack of protections – Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor among them – while others have invested hope in government’s 2018 religious freedoms inquiry, headed by Philip Ruddock.

The Coalition for Marriage last month expressed its disdain for the inquiry when it was announced, describing it as a “betrayal of the nearly 5 million Australians who voted against gay marriage.”

“Once again, the Turnbull Government has failed to consult relevant stakeholders,” the Coalition said.

“It is hard to view this inquiry as anything other than a thought-bubble, designed to solve a political problem for the Prime Minister.”