Tennis legend turned pastor Margaret Court has told the federal government’s Religious Freedom Review the legalisation of marriage equality raises “alarming” issues for the country.
The review – which was recently given a two month extension after it was inundated with 16,000 submissions – published almost 2000 of them late last Thursday.
In her submission to the review, Reverend Court told the review’s panel that Christianity carries “biblical principles of excellence, integrity and creativity that influenced and shaped the Western world” and calls for the panel to ensure “that Christianity will not be silenced or stifled” in Australia.
“I am deeply concerned that, as a nation, we are forsaking foundational truths and the blessings that have made Australia great,” she said.
“Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion are foundational cornerstones of a democratic society and it is therefore imperative that we value, foster and protect them within Australia,” she said.
Court included in the submission an academic essay that argued marriage equality will have consequences for Christian bakers, photographers and florists who refuse to serve same-sex weddings on the basis of their religious beliefs.
Susan Ryan, the Hawke government minister who wrote Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act 1984, said the law already recognised religious freedom and protected ministers of religion from being required to marry same-sex couples and anti-discrimination exemptions should not be extended to business owners.
“The ‘right’ of cake makers to refuse a cake sale on such a basis has been alleged loudly and repeatedly as an example of this desired new right to discriminate,” she said.
She said in the submission that “such ‘new rights’ should not be given any positive consideration” by the panel because those service providers were “not a legal part” of the marriage contract, Fairfax Media reported.
In his submission, legal academic George Williams argued religious freedom should be protected but warned it “should not be by way of a standalone right” and freedom of religion “must not be used as cover to wind back historic gains towards equality made by women and other groups.”
“This would introduce a different problem by privileging religion over other freedoms, such as freedom of speech and the right to equality,” he said.
LGBTIQ group just.equal told the review they strongly oppose any weakening of Australian anti-discrimination laws and urged the creation of a national bill of rights to safeguard religious belief and protect LGBTIQ people from discrimination.
And in its submission, the Equality Campaign said that exemptions in anti-discrimination law go “too far” in allowing publicly-funded religious institutions such as schools, hospitals and aged care facilities to discriminate against staff and clients based on religious beliefs.
Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) spokesperson Shelley Argent questioned the review’s premise in the group’s submission.
“If this result had been for the ‘no’ campaign, we would not be having a review about anything,” she said.
“Nobody disputes people should have the freedom to practice religion without fear of danger and discrimination.
“However, freedom of beliefs about religion should not impact on others. LGBTIQ people should, like any other citizen of this country, have the freedom to live their lives without fear or discrimination from any group.”
The Religious Freedom Review in Australia was set up by the Turnbull government to examine “whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom” following the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in December.
All of the submissions published so far can be read on the review’s website here.
The review’s panel will deliver its final report on May 18.