Church speaks into religious review

Posted in News

The Uniting Church has affirmed its opposition to all forms of discrimination at a federal government hearing on religious freedom.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed an expert panel to examine whether Australian law adequately protects religious freedom.

The panel began its review on Wednesday 10 January, and closed submissions on Wednesday 14 February. It received more than 16,500 submissions.

The Uniting Church Assembly argued for a careful balance between the right to practice religion and freedom from discrimination in its submission.

“The Assembly wishes to reiterate the Uniting Church’s commitment to the right of every person to a robust freedom of religion as described in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the submission states.

“We believe however, that these protections should be set within a broad commitment to the upholding of all human rights, preferably enshrined in the development of a comprehensive Human Rights Act.”

The Uniting Church’s LGBTIQ Network also made a submission to the panel. Warren Talbot, the National Secretary of Uniting Network, says the change to the Marriage Act has not reduced religious freedom.

“There is no threat to religious freedom in Australia. Religions remain free to marry, or not marry, couples in accordance with the policy of the religion,” he says.

Warren argues there are no grounds for further discrimination against LGBTIQ people.

“Faith-based education and community services receive far too many exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. This allows many faith groups to deny basic health, education and community services to LGBTIQ individuals and couples, even when those services are funded by the taxpayer for the common good,” he states.

“The Uniting Church has a proud record in defending human rights. All people are the children of God – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.”

On Wednesday 14 February, UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little participated in an expert panel review into Australia’s religious freedom laws. The panel asked representatives from faith-based agencies how changes to the Marriage Act might impact the way they perform their services.

Claerwen said UnitingCare Australia took a different view to a number of other faith-based agencies on religious protections.

“Our agencies are open to all, regardless of their race, religion or sexual preference,” Claerwen told the panel.

“As an Assembly agency, and as the Church, we don’t discriminate in the way we employ our staff or recruit our carers, or with what we do in service.”

The panel will report its findings to the Prime Minister by Saturday 31 March.

This article is based on submission information provided by different groups, and reporting from the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly and Crosslight magazine.

Other New Times articles related to the religious freedom review are available online here and here.

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