Canberra, Australia, Nov 11, 2019 / 22:01 pm
While the Catholic bishops of Australia have said a religious discrimination bill does not go far enough to protect religious freedom, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has claimed the proposal would foster religious intolerance and extremism.
In a letter to the Australian Law Journal, he said that the effort to protect religious freedom was “a product of hostile religious assertions of a minority of conservative politicians” that followed Australia’s legal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2017, The Guardian reports.
“I am unconvinced that such newfound protections are really needed,” said Kirby, who identifies as homosexual and who served on Australia’s highest court from 1996 to 2009. He suggested the proposal has “serious dangers.”
Kirby said the new laws “will support extreme assertions of religious rights by religious minorities who want to go around condemning others, often based on previously obscure passages in religious texts that faith communities or their zealots invoke to defend their religious freedoms.”
He had spoken earlier this year at a dialogue at the Vatican hosted by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, where he advocated the repeal of “laws that criminalize adult consensual sexual conduct.”
The ruling Liberal-National Coalition government wants to make religious belief and activity a protected class, like race or sex. It also wants to ensure that groups which reject same-sex marriage are not stripped of their charitable status.
The bill would establish a religious freedom commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; and amend existing laws regarding religious freedom, including marriage and charities law, and objection clauses in anti-discrimination law.
In its current version, the bill would not protect religious statements that are “malicious, would harass, vilify or incite hatred or violence against a person or group or which advocate for the commission of a serious criminal offense.”