Churches split on government’s religious discrimination bill

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Photos: Pixabay/ABC News

The Uniting Church in Australia has warned the Morrison government’s draft religious discrimination bill would “diminish protections” for LGBTIQ Australians and others.

In a submission to government on the draft bill, the Uniting Church’s national leaders warn the bill “leans too heavily in favour of religious freedom over other rights”.

The Church takes aim at a clause in the bill stating “statement of belief does not constitute discrimination for the purposes of any anti-discrimination law”.

“We’re concerned that this clause legitimises virtually any opinion, however hurtful or harmful, as long as a case can be made that it is a statement of belief,” the church writes.

This could expose women, the LGBTIQ community, divorcees, single parents, unwed couples, and those with disabilities “to a range of statements that would otherwise be considered discriminatory,” the submission reads.

The draft bill does include a caveat. It reads statements of religious belief aren’t lawful if they are “malicious” or likely to “harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence”.

But the Uniting Church argues the bill sets the bar for “harm” too high.

“We wholeheartedly encourage religious beliefs to be expressed in the public domain,” Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer said.

“However we maintain that religious bodies and individuals must be accountable for the language they use, the context and the likely impact it might have on others.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter unveiled the controversial draft religious discrimination bill in August. But LGBTIQ advocates have warned of numerous problems with the drafting.

Concerns range from anti-discrimination law to health services and the scourge of harmful “conversion” therapies.

Anglicans say religious discrimination bill doesn’t go far enough

But the Anglican Diocese of Sydney wrote in a submission the bill has “serious problems” and called for more extensive “religious freedom” provisions.

Anglican Bishop Michael Stead wrote that the term “vilify” isn’t defined in the bill. As a result, “orthodox statements” about religious beliefs were made “vulnerable”.

Stead also argued “religious bodies” who engaged “primarily in commercial activities”, such as faith hospitals or aged care providers, should get exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

In the current draft of the religious discrimination bill they would not.

MCC Brisbane says ‘no need’ for new laws

Pastor of the inclusive Metropolitan Community Church in Brisbane, Alex Pittaway, wrote in his submission on the religious discrimination bill he believed the laws are not needed.

“Our church is full of those who have been fired, excommunicated, rejected, had their families torn apart and told that they will be eternally punished just because they are LGBTI+,” Pittaway wrote.

“My question to the government is why does the type of ‘freedom’ that is being espoused in this bill have so many victims?

“When LGBTI+ people come out in taxpayer-funded educational institutions and are rejected… it creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation for those that remain who are secretly LGBTI+ and are figuring out how to come to terms with their faith and their sexuality.

“Our church has grave concerns about the Bill and its ability to override existing anti-discrimination laws already on the books in Queensland.

“We only seek the freedom to love others and welcome all. This bill is unnecessary and should not be supported.”

Public submissions on the bill closed on Wednesday.

Attorney-General Christian Porter (pictured above) said in a statement the government will “respond substantively after all submissions have been received and considered”.

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