Catholic leaders back religious freedom bid

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Bishop Richard Umbers
Bishop Richard Umbers said it is fundamentally just and necessary to freely express and live one’s own religious beliefs. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

NSW private member’s bill addresses ‘critical’ need

Catholic leaders have welcomed proposed new legislation aimed at protecting people of faith against unjust discrimination and allow churches and faith-based organisations to operate according to their central tenets. 

The private member’s bill by Mark Latham MLC is an amendment to New South Wales’ anti-discrimination laws and would make discrimination on the ground of a person’s religious beliefs or activities unlawful. 

Currently it is illegal to discriminate against a person in NSW on the basis of age, sex, race or disability, but not religious belief despite a recommendation to address that gap in the law by the 
Ruddock Religious Freedom Review in its 2018 report. 

Addressing parliament last week
, Mr Latham said that despite Australia being one of the “most tolerant nations on earth” there are concerted attempts to redefine the Bible as hate speech and cited the examples of Israel Foleau and Margaret Court. 

“Religious discrimination is real, it is unacceptable and it needs to be outlawed,” Mr Latham said.

While many Christians did not necessarily agree with rugby league player Israel Folau’s interpretation of Scipture, they nevertheless thought he was mistreated for expressing his faith on social media and in a church. Photo: AAP

He said that workers must be able to be hired and promoted without regard to matters of faith” and be able to freely express their religious views away from the workplace. 

Professional people should not be forced to abandon their faith, the very basis of their existence, in the conduct of their duties,” he said. Religious organisations must be able to publicly hire venues, run events and organise charities, schools and clubs without prejudice. Our society should be free of discrimination against people on the basis of their faith or non faith.” 

Bishop Richard Umbers, member of the Australian Catholic bishops’ committee for life, family and public engagement, said that it is fundamentally just and necessary to freely express and live one’s own religious beliefs 

“Holding a religious belief should never be used by others as a form of manipulation”

Holding a religious belief should never be used by others as a form of manipulation,” he said. I welcome the intention of this bill and the protections it seeks to ensure. 

Professor Michael Quinlan, dean of the University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Law in Sydney, 
said he thought the bill “should not be controversial” and should attract bi-partisan support as it contains “sound principals” reflecting the international recognition of this fundamental human right. 

Amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) to include religious beliefs in the characteristics protected from discrimination by that Act is an obvious step which ought to have been taken long ago,” he said. 

It is regrettable that protections of persons with this attribute were not included in the Act when it was passed by the Wran government in 1977 and that despite recommendations from the Law Reform Commission in 1999, the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review in 2018 and many other inquiries which have identified the manifest deficiencies in protection for religious freedom in this country and State reform of his nature has not been progressed by any NSW government.” 

Dr Kevin Donnelly, senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University, said that
 as the Commonwealth government has accepted in principle the Ruddock Review’s major recommendations it is critical that the NSW Government legislates as quickly as possible to protect the rights of people of faith and no faith

State ideology? The current public hearings into religious freedom and faith-based schools are clearly an attempt to prevent Christians teaching the faith that they believe. Where’s the freedom in that?
Mark Latham said attempts to reframe the Bible as hate speech was one reason for his private member’s bill.

Along with the inalienable right to what the American Declaration describes as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness religious freedom is an inherent right the must be guaranteed and protected,” Dr Donnelly said. 

As has been argued by Archbishop Fisher OP the need to protect religious freedom is especially urgent as we are now living in an increasingly secular age where there is a campaign to marginalise Christians and to banish them from the public square. 

Extreme secular critics argue faith-based schools should not be funded by government, that religious bodies and organisations like hospitals and aged care facilities must not be allowed to discriminate and religious beliefs and convictions have no place in deciding public policy. 

Judeo-Christianity underpins and safeguards Australia’s legal and political systems and informs much of our culture in areas like music, literature and art.  

It must be safeguarded.” 

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