Religious freedom is back on the agenda in 2024, with debate rapidly approaching on the “Equality” bill introduced by the independent member for the NSW state seat of Sydney, Alex Greenwich.
The 50-page bill will be debated in the first week of February, when NSW Parliament first sits in 2024, after the government voted last year to make it a priority this year rather than let it lapse.
Religious freedom think-tank Freedom for Faith says if successfully passed the bill will “drastically undermine religious freedom” by making more than 80 changes to 20 different pieces of legislation, including 52 amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act alone.
They have encouraged Christians to visit contactyourmp.org.au to call, write and meet MPs to oppose the bill.
The bill seeks to remove provisions in the Anti-Discrimination Act that allows faith-based institutions to teach their own doctrines on gender and sexuality, and preferentially hire those who uphold an institution’s faith and values.
Religious schools, for instance, will be required to show that their actions (aside from the appointment and training of leaders and direct religious appointments) are “reasonable” if challenged in court.
This might include teaching the traditional Christian view of marriage in schools, directing teachers not to teach views contrary to the faith, or refusing to employ teachers who also engage in sex work or produce pornography.
The changes are being proposed even though the Anti-Discrimination Act has been referred for review to the NSW Law Reform Commission.
The bill also permits a child under 16 to consent to medical treatment, such as gender transitions, against the desires of their parents—so long as a doctor believes that “the child is capable of understanding the nature, consequences and risks of the treatment and the treatment is in the best interests of the child’s health and well-being.”
A person older than 16 years will be declared competent to consent to these procedures, and will be allowed to change their sex on their birth certificate as they desire, without biological or surgical procedures.
The bill also seeks to protect sex work, making it equivalent to race and disability, and will remove limits on the provision of prostitution, including solicitation outside a school or place of worship.
It will also legalise commercial surrogacy, including surrogacy of women in developing countries overseas, which Pope Francis recently described as “deplorable” and a “grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs.”
Freedom for Faith have called on the NSW Government to reject the bill in full, saying Greenwich’s omnibus “Equality” bill is too complex to be safely split without unintended consequences.
“The bill seeks to eradicate sex-based language and distinctions in the NSW statute book. It also seeks to entrench controversial gender ideology within NSW law,” the group said.
“These changes will not benefit the NSW community. They will make the law confused and unworkable.”