Sydney’s Bishop Richard Umbers has called for vigilance on the part of legislators to ensure that religious organisations’ ability to operate according to their foundational beliefs remains a priority in NSW.
“While the issue of religious freedom gets a lot of air time at the federal level it is really at the state level where these things are sorted out,” he said.
“Religious freedom is not only about freedom to worship.
“For Christians it is about the ability to carry out many works of mercy for the benefit of all the people of NSW, not as an NGO but as people motivated by Jesus Christ.”
The state’s Catholic hospitals, aged care facilities and schools risk being “severely restricted” if there are no guarantees that explaining or operating according to Catholic beliefs will not bring them before the courts, as was the case with Tasmania’s Archbishop Julian Porteous who faced anti-discrimination charges for distributing a booklet on marriage in his schools, he said.
“Even though currently in NSW our laws would not allow for that, we are only ever one progressive government away from something like that being introduced,” he said.
The bishop made his comments at a forum at NSW Parliament House on 20 August hosted by the recently launched Parliamentary Friends of Religious Freedom which featured a panel of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders.
The event, led by co-chair of the group Tania Mihailuk, was also attended by more than 30 MPs from the upper and lower houses including Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Minister for Counter Terrorism Anthony Roberts, Minister for Police David Elliott, Tanya Davies, Mark Latham and Reverend Fred Nile.
Ms Mihailuk said she hoped the group would form a working party with the aim of achieving laws protecting religious freedom in the state.
Finance Minister Tudehope, who also co-chairs the group, said that the events of recent weeks with the abortion bill being rushed through parliament showed a concerning lack of respect for people of religious faith.