Maronite Bishop Antoine Tarabay has told the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, that Catholics “share your disappointment” over the shelved Religious Discrimination Bill during a service in Adelaide for the Feast of St Maroun.
The Prime Minister and Minister for Immigration, Alex Hawke, were received warmly on 13 February by the Maronite community in the wake of the parliamentary fracas over the bill.
Bishop Tarabay’s homily linked the challenges of St Maroun, and the persecution suffered by the early Maronites, with the religious freedom issue today.
“Our times are far more similar to those during which St Maroun lived than we would expect. In fact, we are facing many similar challenges,” Bishop Tarabay said.
“And here, dear Prime Minister, we share your disappointment regarding the obstacles that the Religious Discrimination Bill faced in parliament earlier this week.” Bishop Tarabay added that “we are mostly disappointed” about the way people of faith were spoken about during the debate of the bill.
“When proposing amendments, many suggested that people of faith would use any freedoms given to them to be hateful and discriminatory. We know this is not the case,” he said.
“We hope that when discussion and debate regarding the Religious Discrimination Bill resume, it is with a manner that celebrates the contribution of people of faith to this country, and a true understanding of the need for a right to express our beliefs and values freely and without any fear.”
Christians are fundamentally people of service, he insisted, a fact that was “certainly lost in the debate of the bill in recent weeks”.
“I would rather lay down our attempt to secure those additional protections, than see them compromised or undermined.”
The Bishop also thanked the Prime Minister for Australia’s support of Lebanon during its ongoing political and economic crisis.
Morrison addressed the congregation, saying that many who have migrated to Australia were seeking religious freedoms denied in their countries of origin.
“That freedom is here. But we sought to add to those protections and we were unsuccessful. And that is a bitter disappointment,” he said.
He compared the situation over the bill to the story of the Judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28, in which two mothers both claimed to be the parent of a child.
“The woman whose child it was said, no, the other woman can have my child. And at that moment, Solomon knew who the mother was,” Morrison said.
“So, I would rather lay down our attempt to secure those additional protections, than see them compromised or undermined.
“I share your disappointment, but I have not forgotten upon which everything else rests, and that is not something that I would forsake.
“So there will be those who will say that I have been humiliated and all of those things.
“But [I am] happy to suffer those things in a cause that I believe strongly in and that I know you share. We will see where this goes in the future.”