Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has said the Morrison government’s “unbalanced” draft religious discrimination bill will lead to “intolerance and hostility” in Australian society.
In a letter to the Australian Law Journal, Kirby said the bill was born of “hostile religious assertions of a minority of conservative politicians” after same-sex marriage passed in 2017.
“If enacted, the new legislation will introduce into Australia an unbalanced law that will sustain nastiness and hostility that we can well do without,” he wrote.
“I am unconvinced that such newfound protections are really needed. And I see serious dangers in the present form of the proposed laws.”
Kirby argued existing discrimination laws follow the principle that “the right to swing my arm ends when I hit another’s chin”.
However, the news laws “dismantle” that principle “to give a free go to the religious arm swingers,” Kirby wrote.
“If this move goes ahead, I predict that the result will be a rise in religious intolerance and also anti-religious hostility to replace the more relaxed ‘live and let live’ tradition of modern Australia.
“This will also damage the principle of secularism.”
‘Scripture can be found for just about every prejudice’
Kirby said the new religious freedom bill “will support extreme assertions of religious rights by religious minorities who want to go around condemning others.”
This condemnation is “often based on previously obscure passages in religious texts that faith communities or their zealots invoke to defend their religious freedoms.”
“Never forget that apartheid in South Africa was ultimately justified by reference to the supposed religious condemnation of miscegeny,” he said.
“That racial intolerance was based on the alleged inferiority of black people traced to contestable biblical texts.
“Passages of scripture can be found for just about every prejudice known to mankind.
“They have even been invoked against natural or innocent features of human nature or conduct such as left-handedness and masturbation.
“There is a need for considerable caution in elevating every religious opinion to an enshrined legal right to hurt and harm others.”
Morrison government to introduce religious discrimination bill before end of the year
Attorney-General Christian Porter has said he plans to introduce the draft religious freedom bill to parliament before the end of the year.
LGBTIQ advocates have previously flagged numerous concerns with the draft bill. These range from anti-discrimination law to health services and the scourge of harmful “conversion” therapies.
In a submission to the government, the Law Council of Australia said the draft bill contains “new and unorthodox” provisions that go too far.
Labor’s Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has said the party would not form a position on the draft bill until it is introduced to parliament.
Christian Porter said while there “will be changes [to the draft bill], they’re not changes at the margin, nor are they massive or substantial changes.”
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