UCA gives evidence at Religious Discrimination inquiry
January 19, 2022
Uniting Church in Australia President Rev Sharon Hollis has told a Joint Parliamentary inquiry examining the latest draft of the Australian Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill that the UCA does not support the bill in its current form.
Although the Uniting Church supports the need for religious discrimination laws, the current draft does not get the balance right, Rev Hollis told the hearing on 7 January.
The President responded to questions from the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. She was accompanied by Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia. The Committee also invited Jason Masters and Elliot Nicholas to appear on behalf of the Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network.
The Assembly opening statement to the Inquiry argued that “there are certain provisions in this Bill that actually increase the likelihood of discrimination against people of minority faiths and also people from more vulnerable groups within society. We have particular concerns that there is increased potential for discrimination of people within the LGBTIQ community, people living with disabilities and women.”
“We believe it does this by privileging powerful religious voices at the expense of minority and vulnerable voices in society, which seems to be the exact opposite of its purpose, and by providing what we see as extraordinary and excessive religious exceptions.”
“We are concerned such provisions could have the effect in the wider community of emboldening discrimination by providing an authorising environment for demeaning statements or actions. Rather than building harmony and tolerance it would have a corrosive effect on society.”
Referring to the nearly 50,000 people who work in Uniting Church community services, Ms Little told the Inquiry that “We want those people who come and work in our services to believe in the ethos of the Uniting Church, but they don't necessarily have to be card-carrying Uniting Church members or Christians. They come from all walks of life and faiths. In fact, we have a really strong belief in diversity. It's very important for us to be able to do that in providing the quality services that we do.”
Ms Little said the dangerous part of the Bill was that vulnerable people in need of Uniting Church services might be “fearful that they will be discriminated against… and that is really not okay, because that is not what happens in our services at the moment.”
Mr Nicholas was the youngest person to appear before the Inquiry. He identified himself as an 18 year-old transman and spoke about the difficulties he had had at a church school when transitioning. “Faith,” suggested Mr Nicholas “is to love your neighbour as much as you love yourself and treat people with kindness”.
Speaking about schools, Ms Hollis suggested that “if we start to allow discrimination throughout the education process it actually hinders the capacity for students to engage fully in the education that they're meant to be getting.”
Mr Masters told the Inquiry that the Uniting Network believed that the Bills should not proceed and “there be further consultation and new bills drafted to be consistent with other anti-discrimination bills”. Referring to the LGBTIQ communities Mr Masters said that “our voice, our reality of what religion does and has done, needs to be heard.”
Additional to this inquiry, the legislation will be examined by a Senate committee at which the Rev Hollis and Ms Little will also appear.
You can read the Assembly's submission Senate committee at the link below: