Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has slammed the Morrison government’s religious discrimination laws as allowing Australians to use “religious belief as a weapon against non-believers”.
Mr Kirby, who is an Anglican, said the Morrison government’s second draft religious discrimination bill was divisive and breached human rights.
“This is not a bill that protects Australians from discrimination on religious grounds,” he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Instead, it actively facilitates intolerance and will work to divide rather than unite Australians.”
Kirby said the bill “breaches universal human rights by unfairly privileging religion over other attributes such as race, sex, disability and age.”
“Instead of acting as a shield to protect people’s religious beliefs, this bill would be a sword to harm those with different beliefs,” he said.
“It will encourage the bigots and those who hide behind religious claims to pursue an agenda of hate.”
Kirby said the first draft of the bill “was seriously unbalanced with the capacity to sustain a toxic atmosphere of nastiness and hostility.”
But he said the second draft “has swung the pendulum even further to support those who use religious belief as a weapon against non-believers.”
“This is something obsessive religious proponents demand,” he said.
“But it is not in the best interests of Australian society.
“We are witnessing the rise of the religious right in the US. We can do without it in Australia.”
Michael Kirby predicts rise in religious and anti-religious hostility
Kirby said he is an Anglican, but he is “deeply concerned at the potential impact” of the proposed laws.
“Most religious Australians don’t want to see their community divided. We seek a community at peace,” he said.
He said it was encouraging to see faith-based organisations come out strongly against the bill for that reason.
“The principle of secularism is one of the most valuable constitutional gifts of our British heritage.
“We should be vigilant to preserve it, not erode its legacy by enacting laws to appease an extreme minority.
“If the law passes, I predict it will result in a rise of religious intolerance.
“But also an increase in anti-religious hostility to replace the more relaxed, live-and-let-live tradition of modern Australia.
Instead, the government should enact “a comprehensive charter of rights” balancing every citizens’ rights without specially privileging any.
Attorney General Christian Porter has defended the bill as a “powerful shield” for people of faith with “no avenue of redress when discriminated against on the basis of religion”.
He said the bill’s “statement of belief” provisions only protect religious Australians “speaking in good faith”.
“You’re not protected for statements that harass, vilify, threaten, seriously intimidate, or urge the commission of serious offences,” he said.
However Equality Australia warn the “statement of belief” provisions would allow discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians, women, and people with disability.
The National LGBTI Health Alliance also warn the bill’s conscientious objection provisions could compromise access to healthcare.
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