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Faith leaders reject ‘Equality’ Bill

Archbishop Fisher greets members of the legal profession at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Archbishop Fisher greets members of the legal profession at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

The leaders of NSW’s major Christian denominations and other faith traditions have joined Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP in a call for the rejection in full of Sydney MP Alex Greenwich’s “Equality” bill, set to be debated when parliament returns in early February.

The archbishop put his signature to a document detailing the havoc the bill would wreak on religious freedom in NSW, alongside Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel, Imam Shadi Alsuleiman of the National Imams Council, Surinder Jain of the Hindu Council of Australia, and the heads of various Protestant denominations, the Australian Christian Lobby, and NSW Council of Churches.

The heads of major religious schools bodies also signed, including Catholic Schools NSW CEO Dallas McInerney, Christian Schools Australia’s Mark Spencer, and Abdullah Khan from Islamic Schools Australia.

The document was compiled by leading religious freedom think-tank Freedom for Faith, which is encouraging Christians to contact their members of parliament via the contactyourmp.org.au website.

If passed, the bill will alter 20 pieces of legislation, and will remove protections for faith-based schools and institutions that allow them to teach traditional Christian doctrine on controversial subjects, such as marriage and sexuality—along with dozens of other changes.

“There is no safe way of splitting this bill, or passing parts of it, without risking significant unintended consequences,” the document asserts.

“Mr Greenwich’s bill is extreme, and prioritises the desires of one small group over all other parts of society.”

“Most of the issues in this bill were not canvassed in campaigning leading up to the election. There is no mandate to make any of these controversial changes.”

Archbishop Fisher also mentioned the Equality Bill at this year’s Red Mass for the beginning of the year’s legal term, held on 29 January and attended by the upper echelons of NSW’s legal fraternity.

In his homily, centred on the first Chief Justice of NSW Francis Forbes, the archbishop described freedom as “the golden calf of secular modernity,” and our contemporary view of freedom as simply the right to “do what we like.”

“An ‘Equality’ bill, soon to be debated in state parliament, would allow minors to pursue medical treatments without parental consent; would let people change—some would say falsify—their birth records and other legal documents regarding their sex; would permit soliciting for prostitution even outside school grounds and places of worship; would abrogate all legal barriers to commercial surrogacy; and would stop faith-based schools choosing who joins their community on the basis of beliefs or actions,” the archbishop said.

“I will not trouble you with my opinion on the substantive questions: rather, I raise these as examples of an ‘unencumbered’ conception of freedom that Francis Forbes would have found deeply puzzling.

“For it presumes we are atomised individuals and eschews not just ‘Christian values’ and ‘British values’ but any explicit conception of the good.

“It is unclear how such an approach can sustain the virtues, practices and institutions that have underpinned our civilisation, community and legal system.”

The Mass was attended by the upper echelons of NSW’s legal fraternity, including the Chief Justice of NSW, Justice Andrew Bell; Justice Julie Ward, president of the NSW Court of Appeal; Justice Derek Price AO, Chief Justice of the District Court of NSW, alongside the heads of other courts, commissions, tribunals and other legal bodies.

Senior MPs were in attendance, including NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley, Leader of the Opposition Mark Speakman, Shadow-Attorney General Alister Henskens, as well as Dr Hugh McDermott and Susan Carter MLC.

The Mass also attracted Solicitor-General Michael Sexton SC, NSW Law Society president Brett McGrath, President of the St Thomas More Society Richard Perrignon and its chaplain, Fr Peter Joseph, as well as a host of other lawyers, students, dignitaries and massgoers.

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