This Easter as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are reminded of the need for freedom of religion more than ever. Freedom of religion is a universal human right to be protected for the benefit of all – but particularly those of the Christian faith.
On 23 February 2022, the Liberals and Nationals joined Labor and the Greens to vote down Mark Latham's religious freedom bill in the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill was defeated 29-4 with the only supporters being Mark Banasiak (SFF), Robert Borsak (SFF), Fred Nile (CDP) and Mark Latham himself (ONP).
When Latham introduced the bill in 2020, he said: "Just as it would be wrong to tell the Mardi Gras not to be gay, or to tell an ethnic body not to be ethnic, religious organisations must be allowed to remain religious in their guiding principles and practices".
Unlike Scott Morrison who failed to deliver, as promised, on the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB), Latham's bill would have protected people like rugby icon Israel Folau and others from losing their jobs if they quoted from the Bible in their own time.
The irony, as pointed out many times, is that Latham, who has professed not to be a Christian, has become one of the most notable defenders of religious freedom whilst Scott Morrison et al appear to be 'fair weather' Christians having been spooked into not defending Citipointe school, and previously tennis legend Margaret Court and of course Israel Folau.
There is no question that the fastest growing form of discrimination in our society is against people of religious faith, especially Christians. Most of us are unaware of the extent of religious persecution that still exists throughout the world – particularly of Christians and Jews.
Make no mistake – our religious freedom is 'at risk'. Many readers would have noticed over recent years the freedom to express and live by religious belief is increasingly being whittled away through legislation in different jurisdictions across Australia.
During the hearings on the religious discrimination bill, there were countless number of 'looney-left' groups suggesting that even though there is a clear gap in protections for religious belief in legislation the proposed bill goes too far – really?
As an apologist in the public square who has been on the verge of receiving attempts to 'silence the lambs' on religious beliefs, the real issues are that it is not just the attempt to silence individuals like me that is the problem, but also the chilling effect such actions have on the rest of the believing community and, more broadly, our Australian society.
Julian Porteous, the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, noted that anti-discrimination complaints directed against the expression of religious belief, whether successful or not, have a widespread effect of largely silencing those who share such beliefs out of fear of being hauled before an anti-discrimination tribunal, attacked through social media, and potentially losing their livelihood.
This is the reality we live in. Social media has helped to weaponise anti-discrimination legislation. This is not a good thing for the religious communities or for society.
Freedom of religious expression is not just critical for religious communities to flourish, it is also fundamentally important for our democratic system of government, which requires free, honest, and respectful public debate on issues affecting the life and direction of our nation.
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