Letter to the Prime Minister

The LGBTI community needs to let government and opposition know that we are alarmed at the dangers posed by empowering religious organisations to discriminate against us. I have written to the PM and AG as follows: I urge you to do likewise.

Feel free to adopt, adapt and copy any/all of the following for your own messages.

PRIME MINISTER

To: Scott.MorrisonMP@aph.gov.auCc:
Christian.PorterMP@aph.gov.au

Dear Mr Morrison,

I have been a campaigner, writer, journalist and broadcaster on LGBTI rights for almost 50 years: one of the founders of Gay News in London in 1972, eventually moving to Australia, editing Melbourne Star, and broadcasting on Joy 94.9 Melbourne for ten years.

I am now retired, living in Queensland, and right now, I am worried about your proposed religious freedom law and religious freedom commissioner. It seems to me these could be abused by religious extremists to licence a gay-bashing spree, by people claiming to “Defend Islam” or “Defend the traditional family” under the cover of religion.

The Ruddock Review Report showed there would be negligible impact on Christians – or any other religious adherents – from the recognition of LGBTIQ equality. Christians already have full religious freedom: what now appears to be sought are an extension of the existing broad religious privileges.

These include the religious instruction – not education – of state school children by unqualified untrained amateurs (instead of teaching religion in a structured academic manner); subsidising religious owned and run schools; allowing religious owned commercial organisations to ignore anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBTI, single mums and adherents of other religions and none; and giving religious businesses unfair advantages through tax exemptions.

For example, welfare groups, aged care units and hospitals are predominantly run by Christian businesses. Their employees can be retrenched or service refused to people because their diverse sexuality or gender is against the organisation’s religious beliefs.

Yet all these organisations are supported by the (secular) taxpayers dollar.
Teachers in religious schools can be retrenched and students rejected, again because their sexuality and gender diversity is against the schools religious beliefs.

Proposals have been floated to remove these rights, it is true, but only to replace them with the right to run the schools in accordance with a religious “ethos”, which is just the same discrimination under another label.
In a free and fair society, these special privileges ought to be done away with. But instead, additional ‘religious freedom’ laws are being suggested that threaten to empower businesses to retrench workers who are sexually and gender diverse, single mums, unmarried, etc. etc., if the owners can claim that this conflicts with their ‘religious’ principles.

And not just Christians: the same principle would apply to Muslims, Scientologists, Jews – any businesses owned by the adherents of any recognised religion.

Presumably this would also licence any sect within any religion to discriminate against other sects. Thus Catholics would be licensed to discriminate against Protestants, Uniting Church against Pentecostals, Sunni Muslims against Shia, and so on.

In short, religious freedom laws, which would have to apply equally to all, are a recipe for discord and division. They could not privilege only one religion, or one subset of a religion, leaving all other sects unprotected, or they would be seriously unbalanced.

Such laws would provide legal cover for hate speech, and increase the likelihood of communal religious violence, especially homophobic and transphobic violence.

A religious group or individual may not believe their words are harmful (or may not care) but the impact of what is said or written under the cover of “preaching doctrine” can be devastating, not just for LGBTI people, but for the aforementioned single parents, unmarried couples, members of competing religions and sects and so forth.

I ask you, please, to speak strongly, and take the lead against any such dangerous and divisive proposals.

If you seek a ‘balance’ of allegedly ‘competing rights’, then you must consider creating not only a Religious Rights Commissioner but also a Commissioner dedicated to the protection and advancement of LGBTI human rights.

LGBTI people need protection far more than the alleged religious majority of Australians do.
Thank you.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)