Religious freedom in “crisis”

Religious freedom in “crisis”

“I’m not normally prone to alarmist language.” – Anglican Bishop Michael Stead

When mild-mannered Christian legal academics and Anglican bishops start using the language of “crisis”, we should take note.

“I’m not normally prone to alarmist language but crisis is where we are,” said the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney and chair of Christian religious freedom think tank Freedom for Faith, Michael Stead.

But these were the words he used opening the group’s conference at Parramatta this week in the heart of multi-religious western Sydney.

Bishop Stead said there had been a “massive increase in laws forcing religious organisations to act against their beliefs”.

He cited euthanasia laws forcing religious hospitals to store poisons and allow the killing of patients on site, so-called “conversion therapy” laws which criminalised someone who responded to a request for prayer and laws which restricted religious organisations from employing staff who share their ethos.

One of the conference speakers was Christian Schools Australia public policy director Mark Spencer.

No group has been attacked more by LGBTIQA+ political activists since same-sex marriage passed in 2017 than the Christian school movement.

Spencer told the Telegraph religious freedom was not being taken seriously enough by both sides of politics.

“It certainly seems through this election campaign … an essential campaign element alongside kissing babies is having a photo with a priest or rabbi or imam.

“We’ve seen a lot of MPs seeming to rediscover their faith over this Easter period, which we would be happy with if it was genuine, but there are some concerns that many of them have turned up to have a photo op and left.’’

Spencer said Christian schools still did not have certainty in employing staff who shared the ethos of the school community.

He said false fear had been whipped up about Christian schools expelling kids because they were gay, something that does not happen.

“The fear that’s being created of LGBTQI students of faith-based schools hasn’t been addressed,’’ he said.

“We can tell them ‘you’re not going to be expelled, it’s not going to be a problem’ but that fear is still being pushed by the activists.

“We’re going into the next parliament with no clear plan or process or pathway from either party to resolve these issues.’’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has written to religious leaders pledging to re-introduce his Religious Discrimination Bill after the election. In February he withdrew it from the Parliament after Labor, Greens, cross-benchers and five rebel Liberals teamed up to unfairly strip Christian schools of freedom to be Christian.

Labor says it will support a Religious Discrimination Bill but it is unclear if it will allow schools to keep boys identifying as girls out of girls’ toilets or sports.

It’s an indictment that after nine years of supposedly conservative government, four of them under a Christian Prime Minister, religious freedom remains in “crisis”.

I’m not advocating a vote for Labor and the Greens, that would make things far worse.

But the Coalition must stop being Labor-lite, find some courage, and actually move the freedom ball forward.

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