Faith leaders back proposed NSW legislative change
In a united front on faith in the public sphere Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic and Orthodox bishops of New South Wales are supporting a bill aimed at addressing a lack of legal protections for believers in the state.
The submission to the joint select committee on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 was signed by 25 bishops spanning eastern and western traditions.
They included Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, President of the East Christian Apostolic Churches Bishop Robert Rabbat who heads the Melkite Catholic Eparchy of Australia and New Zealand, and Maronite Bishop of Australia Antoine-Charbel Tarabay LMO.
The leaders warned that recent years have seen a hardening of attitudes in some of elements of Australian society towards religion and religious believers with resulting challenges for people of faith in accessing employment, education and professional accreditation.
“we feel that everybody has the right to live their faith publicly and they should be offered the necessary protection to do so.” Ann Pereira
There is also a trend towards increasing attempts to punish them for expressing a faith-based view,” they wrote, while same-sex marriage and a push to define access to abortion and euthanasia as rights also pose new challenges for religious organisations such as schools and parishes as well as people of faith engaged in the health care or aged care sectors.
Catholic Schools NSW, Catholic Women’s League NSW and the Australian Catholic University’s PM Glynn Institute were also among the organisations which made submissions supporting the bill.
President of Catholic Women’s League NSW Ann Pereira said that its members feel strongly that society is best served by allowing space for religious belief to flourish by protecting families who wish to raise their children in the practice of their faith.
“We believe the country is enriched by the presence of religious believers who regularly contribute to society in a way that should benefit everybody,” she said.
“There is increasing concern about the increase of hostility towards people who do live their faith and make it public. But we feel that everybody has the right to live their faith publicly and they should be offered the necessary protection to do so.”
The religious leaders pointed out that despite six inquiries at the national level into or relating to the protection of religious freedom in recent years there has been no legislative action taken on the matter.
“By seeking action from the New South Wales parliament in protecting its citizens from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity, people of faith are not asking for special treatment, but equal treatment,” they wrote.
Also signing the bishops’ submission were the leaders of the state’s Chaldean, Syrian, Coptic Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Ancient Church of the East, Armenian Catholic churches as well as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross.
The private member’s bill by Mark Latham MLC is a response to a recommendation by the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom in 2018 that an amendment be made to anti‐discrimination laws in New South Wales rendering it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity.
The state has the highest religious affiliation in the country, with 66 per cent of the population professing a faith, and 24.7 per cent identifying as Catholic.