People must be free to express beliefs, inquiry told

Religious freedom in Australia is the subject of two inquiries (Bigstock)

Religious leaders, including senior Catholics, have told a parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom that the legalisation of same-sex marriage had laid bare the fragility of protections for religious freedom. Source: The Guardian.

Numerous witnesses from faith-based organisations yesterday addressed the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry, which was instigated by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in November 2016. According the inquiry’s website, Ms Bishop asked the committee to inquire into and report on “The status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief”.

Broken Bay Bishop Peter Comensoli told the inquiry yesterday that religious people need to be able to lawfully express their views in “all dimensions of their life”.

He said there could be no freedom of religion without the freedom to exercise their beliefs “individually, or in community; privately or publicly”.

Michael Casey, who is the director of the PM Glynn Institute, a public policy institute within Australian Catholic University, warned that forcing people to accept others’ views of marriage would lead to “more conflict and acrimony in public debate”.

Mr Casey said Australian society needed to discourage the default view that people with strong opposing beliefs are one’s enemies, adding “we need to de-escalate these things”.

The parliamentary inquiry is separate to the Ruddock review of religious freedoms, which was established in November 2017, following the Yes result of the national marriage postal survey. The review has opted for secret hearings as it examines “whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion”.

In submissions to the Ruddock review, the Equality Campaign called for exemptions in discrimination law that allow religious institutions such as schools, hospitals and aged-care facilities to discriminate against staff and clients based on beliefs to be abolished.

Lee-Anne Perry, the executive director of the Queensland Catholic Education Commission, told the parliamentary inquiry that Catholic schools’ right to hire and fire staff is not a matter of “discriminating against” certain people but rather “positively selecting for those who are supportive” of their values.


Catholics warn against ‘winner-takes-all’ approach on marriage equality (The Guardian)

Inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief (Parliament of Australia)

Religious Freedom Review (Parliament of Australia)

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