When one examines the theory behind the recent attempt by the U.S.Catholic Bishops Conference to ban non-conforming Catholic politicians from receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist – a measure which has largely failed because of the opposition of Pope Francis and the Vatican Doctrinal Commission – one is now confronted with the prospect of a Pentecostal Prime Minister in Australia, Scott Morrison, wanting to saddle his government with legislation that would allow religious bodies in Australia to discriminate against people whose ‘moral probity’ is considered to be against the precepts preached by any religious organisation. This is not too different from the sort of moral suasion that the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference were intent on exercising on behalf of their dogmatic beliefs, in a way that could impinge on the legal rights of non-Catholic American citizens.
In a well-known case in Australia, the Kiwi-born sportsman, Israel Falau, used his sporting personality to publicly support a cult of homophobia in a speech he made in Australia, condemning homosexuality on his own private religious grounds. For this, his sporting code banned him from taking part in further sporting events on their behalf in Australia. If the Australian Prime minister’s legislation comes into effect with his proposed legislation, this could criminalise the action of the sports association that dismissed Falau for his transgression of the code of conduct upheld by the association that sacked him for what – to them and to most Australians – was an eggregious act of hatred against LGBTQ+people.
If this proposed legislation is allowed to go ahead in Australia, it will enshrine, in law, a policy of direct intent to allow for religious people to avoid penalties for the exercise of targetted discrimination against people who do not measure up to the religious code of a section of the communuty, in ways that do not agree with the civil rights of other people that are already enshrined in civil law.
In it interesting to note that Pope Francis, in his cautioning of the American Bishops who wanted to publicly penalise President Biden for his acceptance of the pro-abortion laws already enhrined in U.S. legislation, advised them that the Church cannot enforce Catholic dogma, willy nilly, on the legal system of a country where Catholics are free to worship. Government officials are not, per se, legal representatives of the Church they happen to belong to! If that is so for Roman Catholics; then surely Scott, Morrison, a Pentecostal, could not expect all Australians to be bound by the dogmatic polity of his own – or any other – religious organisation in a country where there is ‘freedom of religion’.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
Australian PM revisits religious freedom fight
Thursday, November 18th, 2021
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reignited the Australian religious freedom fight with a reworked bill protecting expressions of faith-based views even if they offend others.
Morrison’s religious discrimination bill, a 2019 election pledge, will shield Australians from prosecution if they express reasonable and genuinely held faith-based views despite offending others.
Senior government sources said the revised bill removed some of the more controversial or “extreme” measures in earlier drafts and offered a “sensible compromise”.
The government has removed the ‘Folau clause’ but retained exemptions guaranteeing that professional bodies cannot dismiss people based on religious beliefs. The clause refers to rugby union player Israel Folau who was stripped of his contract in 2019 after posting “hell awaits” gay people on social media.
It is understood faith-based groups have adopted a pragmatic approach to the bill, realising that outcomes gained from the proposed laws would offer more protections than they currently have.
Catholic Bishops Conference spokesman Peter Comensoli, the Archbishop of Melbourne, said a religious discrimination bill was “an important progression towards parity with other anti-discrimination protections”.
However, doctors have called for a halt to draft federal laws to enshrine religious freedom out of concern the changes would curb access to health services for women. They believe it will also compound discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians.
“It’s unnecessary to introduce ‘religious freedom’ laws when these rights are already protected under Australian law,” said Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“Furthermore, we remain concerned about the potential impact of the bill on the delivery and access to some women’s health services, and vulnerable groups’ access to suitable healthcare or particular health services.
“The proposed law could compound negative community attitudes toward those most vulnerable, including minority groups and the LGBTQI+ community.
“Given Australia is already in the grips of a mental health crisis, we must do everything in our power to prevent this.”
The religious discrimination bill will be debated by the lower house next week. It will then be sent to the Sen