NSW RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL: “Heavy handed” changes threaten religious freedoms of minorities

23 October 2020

Proposed amendments to NSW’s discrimination laws to strengthen religious freedoms are ‘heavy handed’ and threaten to undermine the rights of non-Christian religious communities, the Moderator of the Uniting Church (NSW/ACT), Rev. Simon Hansford has warned.

Rev. Hansford rejects claims that discrimination against Christians is spiralling in Australian society and instead said the evidence showed most discrimination was directed towards religious minorities.

“It is disingenuous to portray Australian’s Christians as victims of persecutions and to bolster their religious freedoms to the detriment of our diverse religious communities, many of which are subject to discrimination, some of which is unconscious and some, sadly, deliberate,” Rev. Hansford said.

“Christians are not victims in Australia because of our faith, and we should not seek freedoms that are self-serving and come at the detriment of others in the community.

“We strongly urge that any such provisions to protect Christian freedoms, must in no way diminish mutual respect, freedom from discrimination and enjoyment of the human rights of everyone in NSW.”

Rev. Hansford also expressed concern about proposed amendments that would protect people from adverse action by employers for destructive comments made outside the workplace that are motivated by religious belief.

“We affirm our eagerness to uphold basic Christian values and principles, such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, the proclamation of truth and justice, the rights for each citizen to participate in decision-making in the community, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.”

The Uniting Church is one of the largest Christian denominations in Australia. The Synod of NSW and the ACT supports more than 500 Congregations, 50,000 members, incorporating nine schools and Parish Missions including Wesley Mission, Wayside Chapel and Exodus Foundation.

Rev. Hansford has been invited to attend the public hearing of the Joint Select Committee on the Anti- Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 on Friday 23 October.

In its submission to the committee, the Uniting Church acknowledges that while there is a mosaic of laws nationally that afford some protections, there is no current law in NSW that specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of religious belief.

“At the same time, at this time of heightened discord and division across national, racial, and religious lines, we are cautious about any legislation that could favour one group of rights over another, or one form of religious belief over another, and so undermine, even inadvertently, the tolerant and inclusive society we are striving to create,” Rev. Hansford said in the submission.

“Fundamental to the Uniting Church’s approach to its own religious freedoms is that such freedoms are never to be only self-serving but rather ought to be directed towards the Church’s continuing commitment to the flourishing of the whole community and all groups within it as part of a richly diverse but cohesive society.”

 The submission argues that while there is a case that legislative protection of religious freedom in NSW could be strengthened, it is not the case that it is imperilled. It is not yet clear to the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT, that the possible benefits of the proposed legislation substantially outweigh the potential disadvantages of its introduction, some of which we have sought to identify above.”

Ends

For more information, please contact:

Martin Thomas, martin@martinwthomasconsulting.com, 0477 340 704

About the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT | nswact.uca.org,au

The Uniting Church is one of the largest Christian denominations in Australia. Our Congregations and members are diverse in age, location and culture. The Synod of NSW and the ACT supports more than 500 Congregations, 50,000 members, 13 Presbyteries and 9 schools and Parish Missions. We are connected by a single story, worshipping every week in more than 40 languages.

About Uniting | uniting.org

Uniting is responsible for the social justice, community services and chaplaincy work of the Uniting Church in NSW and the ACT, providing care and support for people through all ages and stages of life and with a focus on people experiencing disadvantage and vulnerability. Our purpose is to inspire people, enliven communities and confront injustice. We celebrate diversity and welcome everyone exactly as they are.