The Federal Government established that an expert panel chaired by retired parliamentarian Philip Ruddock, to examine whether Australian law adequately protects freedom of religion. It received over 16,000 submissions.
The leaked sections of the report recommend that religious schools have the right to turn away LGBT+ students and teachers based on the school's religious beliefs. The ABC news on 12 October noted the right of religious bodies and individuals to discriminate against LGBTI people in particular.
The newspaper articles use the term 'discriminate' in both directions. Discriminate against gay people or discriminate against religious beliefs. It is an issue worth exploring – is freedom to practice one's religion an overriding belief? Are people ever allowed to discriminate against others because of their religious beliefs?
If we search through the multitude of moral and ethical theories that have been established over the years, we find little help. One, Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative, a highly regarded moral theory, even allows us to hold opposing moral views. Kant's firstformulation of his Imperative says: 'Act only in accordance with that maxim where you agree that it can become a universal law.' As most of us, on a host of moral issues, believe that we are in the right, that our view is the correct one, the one that everybody should follow, and that the opposing person is in the wrong. Kant,in short, is no help at all in reaching a decision on this or any other of the multitude of arguments facing the world – gay marriage, gun control, immigration, etc. etc. .
If we search through all the western moral theories, of which there are in excess of some twenty or so, and add in the eastern philosophies and religions, we find one rule that is quoted more frequently than any other. It is, in the words of the current Dalai Lama:"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."
We find this theory in four Western theories – JS Mil's Utlitarianism, Beauchamp and Childress:Principles of Biomedical Ethics, William Frankena's 1973 book Ethics andBernard Gert's: Common Morality. We also find it in the teachings of the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist philosophies. Overall it is seen in the common belief: Ahimsa – Do no harm
This rule is also found in the teachings of Jesus Christ, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and in The Sermon on the Mount .The Parable tells us that priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man who had been beaten by robbers and left for dead beside the road. This is avoiding the helping of others The Parable and the Sermon on the Mount, in numerous ways, also tell us not to harm others.
So then we need to weigh one harm against another. Is discriminating against LGBTI people harming them? Or is it a greater harm to deny the adoption of a religious belief? This article argues that this religious belief - discriminating against LGBTI people - is embedded only in some verses of the Old Testament You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22).
There are a few people who believe in the teachings of the Old Testament, but they are misguided. An examination of the reliability of the Old Testament as a moral guideline would require many pages; and take this article well beyond its original purpose. But in summary, the Old Testament is an unreliable document and provides no basis for any religious beliefs.
I argue that to discriminate against LGBTI people is the greater harm. Humanity has discriminated against them for centuries; at one stage even executing men accused of homosexuality. Moral beliefs have now matured. The Catholic vote at the recent gay marriage plebiscite was dominantly to allow gay marriage. The freedom to practise a religious belief is a lesser right, especially when that religious belief is of dubious moral validity.
In summary, religious institutions, or businesses, should not be allowed to refuse their services or products to LGBTI people. To do so is to discriminate against them in a morally unacceptable manner.
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