Archbishop defends Religious Discrimination Bill against activist’s claims

By Catherine Sheehan

A Tasmanian LGBT activist has claimed that the Morrison government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill will allow unjust discrimination, overriding Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws.

Long-time promoter of LGBT rights, Rodney Croome, a member of the Equality Tasmania committee, has released a joint statement along with four other organisations, claiming the Bill “directly and explicitly target’s Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act and will have a disastrous impact on protections that have been in place for over two decades”.

Archbishop Julian Porteous has defended the Bill, saying that the legislation would “finally give federal recognition in law to the importance of preventing religious discrimination”.

“It is disappointing to read negative comments about the proposed Bill which claim it will allow all manner of adverse discrimination,” Archbishop Julian said.

“This is simply not true. It is a very modest Bill. I would like to have seen it go further than it does in this draft.”

Archbishop Julian said religious freedom had not historically received the same protection as other attributes such as sex, race or age.

He said the Bill, which was introduced into the Parliament in November 2021, “simply seeks to address this historical anomaly and give religious belief the same kind of protections we currently provide to other attributes”.

“Let’s be absolutely clear about this. The proposed Bill is not, as some have asserted, giving any special treatment to religion over other attributes or indeed other types of organisations. In fact, it is simply trying to bring the treatment of religious belief into line with how other attributes are protected in various other discrimination laws.”

In 2015, under Tasmania’s current Anti-discrimination Act, a complaint was lodged against Archbishop Julian because of a pamphlet from the Australian Catholic bishops outlining Catholic teaching on marriage which was distributed to parents of children attending Catholic schools in Tasmania. The complaint which had been lodged by transgender activist and federal Greens candidate, Martine Delaney, was later withdrawn.

“I have seen and experienced first hand the chilling effect of laws like the Tasmanian Anti-discrimination Act which allow complaints because a person feels offended,” Archbishop Julian said.

“Many Australians do not want even the slightest possibility of being hauled before a tribunal of this nature by an activist and so no longer feel comfortable in respectfully expressing their religious beliefs.

“The proposed federal Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 will finally address this situation.”

Mr Coome’s statement was co-signed by Disability Voices Tasmania, Women’s Health Tasmania, Unions Tasmania, and Independent Education Union (Tas). It claimed the proposed legislation would weaken the state’s current protection against “humiliating, offensive and other demeaning conduct”, protection of staff, students and clients of faith-based schools and organisations, inclusion policies in workplaces, schools and clubs.

The statement also said the Bill would reduce the state’s ability to pass laws against conversion practices, the ability of local councils to manage where and when street preachers can operate, and the capacity of professional bodies to discipline members for “demeaning and derogatory behaviour”.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, are currently conducting inquiries into the Bill and are due to report their findings in early February.

Read Archbishop Julian’s blog on the topic of protecting religious freedom.

Archbishop Julian’s Homily on Religious Discrimination and the Religious Freedom.
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