Abp Anthony Fisher vs NSW Equality Bill

NSW Equality Bill Will Curb Religious Freedoms

An interesting morning in parliament

On Wednesday morning (May 1), I appeared before a NSW Parliamentary inquiry considering the Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill 2023.

Unfortunately, the bill carries with it a troubling anti-religious undercurrent, because it seeks to remove the few existing protections for religious institutions contained within our laws.

It would also allow prostitutes to solicit for customers outside churches and schools, and give people the ability to change their sex on their birth certificate simply by filling out a form.

Not only does this place “women only” spaces at risk, it has a significant impact on religious communities that still say biological sex is important for schooling, for marriage and ordination.

It also places vulnerable groups at risk, particularly in its push for commercial surrogacy and the ability for children to undergo life-altering medical treatments without parental consent.

As I began to share our concerns with the parliamentary committee, I was interrupted by some people who were sitting quietly until I began speaking, and then began a profanity-laden tirade, seemingly objecting to my appearance before the committee.

The pair were escorted out and I was able to complete my opening statement, a copy of which you can read below. It is sad, but unfortunately not surprising, that there is a growing number within our community who do not think people of faith should be able to express our faith in public.

In another recent example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is planning to change the religion question in the 2026 Census, making it more difficult to answer. Instead of the current system, which asks “What is the person’s religion?” and provides a list of options from which to select, the ABS proposes asking “Does the person have a religion?” and requires the respondent to either tick ‘no’ or write in their answer.

While it seems like a small change, it creates a bias for a choice of ‘no religion,’ removes consistency of responses and makes it harder for recently-arrived migrants to understand.

The end result will be a reduction in the number of people who provide their religious affiliation.

Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has written eloquently about the risks of this change, and I commend his comments, published in The Australian, to your attention: “Changing measure of faith will weaken census data”.

The protection of our religious freedoms into the future will depend on us being counted accurately now.
It is important you contact your federal MP and ask them to make sure we are counted fairly. You can find their details here.

While it seems that the challenges facing the space of religion in the public square are never-ending, please know that your Bishops are doing our best to represent you before our decision-makers.

Please pray for us and for the upholding of religious freedom in this great country. Know of my prayers for you as well.

Yours sincerely in Christ,
Anthony Fisher OP

~~~

‘Troubling anti-religious undercurrent’ in NSW equality bill

by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney,
Wednesday, May 1, 2024.

Opening statement by the Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, to the NSW Parliamentary Committee on Community Services regarding the Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill:

I’m grateful to be invited to appear before the Committee today on behalf of more than 20 Catholic and Orthodox Bishops of NSW, to express our concerns and those of our people in relation to this bill.

Troubling anti-religious undercurrent

We sympathise with all efforts to discourage or forbid unjust discrimination against LGBT people, but there is a troubling anti-religious undercurrent in the bill.

For example, the bill proposes to remove the few existing protections for religious institutions from anti-discrimination lawfare, including schools, healthcare, aged care, welfare and pastoral services, while offering no protections at all for individuals of faith.

As the Committee would be aware, New South Wales and South Australia are the only two states where it remains perfectly legal to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religious belief or activity. In proposing to remove the only religious protections, the bill would only enlarge the scope for discrimination against believers.

Secondly, regarding prostitution: while prostitution has long been legal in NSW, there are certain restrictions in place to safeguard public decency. This bill would make it permissible for a person to engage in solicitation even outside a church or faith school.

Changes to birth certificates

A third example is regarding self-identification of sex on official documents such as birth certificates. This will not only put “women-only” spaces at risk, but make it near-impossible for religious communities to retain customs regarding the separation of sexes in prayer, wedding only those of opposite sex, ordaining only men, or schooling girls separately from boys.

It is one thing to disagree with world religions on such matters, but quite another to deny them the right to practice their faith by making official documents deceptive regarding people’s biological or birth sex.

It is difficult to view all three proposals as not being inimical to religious freedom in this state.

Vulnerable groups

The bill also places vulnerable groups at risk. Its proposals around commercial surrogacy risk exploitation of women, especially in poorer countries; while its proposals around medical consent allow children to undergo life-altering medical treatments without parental consent, exposing children to interventions they may well later regret.

Just when several overseas jurisdictions and local experts are counselling caution regarding gender-affirmative treatment of minors and even an outright ban, this state would be giving it the green light.

The reality of this bill is that, in the name of equality gains for a few, it proposes reducing the rights of the great many with faith and puts at risk some of the most vulnerable.

I commend these considerations to the Committee.

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One Comment

  1. Barbara Bluett 20 May 2024 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Thank you Archbishop Fisher for making a stand on such an important issue.

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