David Shoebridge MP

David Shoebridge: “Under his eye” we need freedom of (and from) religion

Scott Morrison’s “religious freedom” platform has little to do with the right to pray, it has everything to do with the right to discriminate and undo what the country voted for.

 

 

Do we need the unqualified right to be bigots, the right to openly discriminate against same sex couples and to denigrate any marriage that does not have as “a fundamental feature” knocking out kids? Prime Preacher Scott Morrison thinks we do. He holds this belief so firmly that he is championing legislation that green lights this style of bigotry.

This debate is being carefully framed by the likes of Morrison as being about “religious freedom” when that’s not what the proposed law change is about at all. It’s not protecting the right to practice your belief as a Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Muslim or, heaven forbid, atheist. The “religious freedom” he wants to protect is limited to the freedom to discriminate against LGBTIQ people.

People are still recovering from the pain of the marriage equality survey which subjected LGBTIQ people to months of debate about their essential humanity. At no point were there any legal constraints on those who used this national debate to insult, belittle and debase others because of their interpretation of their religion. This fight directly harmed LGBTIQ people, it was unacceptable, immoral, but not illegal.

The Catholic and Anglican Churches both poured significant amounts of money into fighting against equality. Many Catholics and Anglicans were hurt by this and opposed this use of church money, others supported it. But there was no legal impediment to it.

Having lost the political fight on marriage equality, the Coalition is now seeking to strike back with its “Religious Freedoms” Bill. This proposed law would establish a novel concept in the law. They are calling it a “relevant marriage belief” which can be held by individuals or institutions. In summary, it’s a belief that:

  • marriage can only be between a man and a woman;
  • all marriages must have as “a fundamental feature” the birthing and raising of children, and;
  • all other types of marriage are contrary to “human society” and disadvantage any children raised in them.

The “Religious Freedoms” Bill then makes it unlawful for the Federal, or any State and Territory government or any local council to limit the funding it provides to any entity because they have a “relevant marriage belief”.

This would make it unlawful for any future government to put in place a blanket non-discrimination provision in their funding agreements. It would prohibit the kind of decent 21st century provision that is in most public funding arrangements. It’s the one that says, in a roundabout legalese way, “you must provide the services funded by government without being a shit to LGBTIQ people.”

It’s basically creating a backdoor to discrimination and could allow LGBTIQ people to face direct discrimination from schools, hospitals and charities.

Far from creating freedoms, all this does is remove the modest protections currently in place under anti-discrimination law that protect people against discrimination on the grounds of their sexuality. It creates a special class of rights to discriminate that can only be held by a sub-set of religious people and organisations.


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It will further push us down the road of becoming a society in which there might be marginally greater freedom of religion, but no freedom from religion.

It’s hard to see why this angry drive is needed by the religious right. Under the existing system, we all pay for religion even if we choose to have no contact with it in our lives.

Our schools allow preaching under the guise of “Special Religious Education”, more than $250 million of public money is spent on the divisive school chaplain program, and religious schools are handed billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars every year. We also exempt religions from taxation, even on the corporate arms of those religions that operate as property developers, and aged care providers.

They are now asking for their own special laws to exempt them from anti-discrimination laws. To that demand, I say this. More than 7.8 million Australians voted for marriage equality. Scott Morrison’s “Religious Freedoms” bill is a direct insult to those people. It must be opposed.

 

David Shoebridge MP

David is a Greens MP in the NSW Parliament, serving in the State’s Upper House since September 2010. David is the Greens NSW spokesperson for Forestry, Industrial Relations, Planning and Heritage, Firearms, Justice and Local Government.

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