Calling All Aussie Christians

I received the following e-mail from both my dad and a friend. I know that it is ‘legit’ because I have met the guy who sent it out from the organisation; I have visited the premises of the organisation and I also was interviewed by them for a job a couple of years back. If you are an Australian Christian, please do something about this!!

I write with some urgency about the Equal Opportunity (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill (the “EO bill”) which you may have read about in our recent November mailing letter.

The EO bill has a number of serious flaws – eg clause 61 would undermine free speech, especially for Christians; clauses 17 and 61 would restrict the freedom of Christian schools to maintain a biblical ethos.

Two days ago Hon Dennis Hood MLC of Family First spoke to Attorney-General Michael Atkinson about the EO bill. Dennis stated his concerns about restrictions placed on Christian schools – they would no longer be able to prevent homosexual students promoting their lifestyle and they could be prohibited from teaching biblical verses about marriage and homosexual behaviour.

Mr Atkinson commented to the effect, “If this is such a worry, why has no Christian school written to me on this matter?”

Dennis also asked if the bill could be amended to delete the new “victimisation” (= vilification) clause 61, and to allow a general exemption for religious bodies from equal opportunity legislation, as exists in other states. But at this stage, it seems that not enough people have complained.

I realise that the pre-Christmas period is a very busy time – but there is a lot at stake. I wonder if it is possible for you and your friends to email Premier Mike Rann (premier@saugov.sa.gov.au) and Attorney-General Michael Atkinson (attorney-general@agd.sa.gov.au) if possible today – asking them to amend the Equal Opportunity (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill to preserve religious freedom of religious bodies to conduct their education and other business according to the ethics and principles of their religion.

The legislation could be debated in the House of Assembly next week. Opposition leader Iain Evans should also be contacted (davenport@parliament.sa.gov.au), as he appears to be ambivalent on this issue.

SOME COMMENTS ON THE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL

Clause 61 of the bill would make it an offence to “incite hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule” for a person or group on over seven separate prohibited grounds including race, sex, marital status and sexuality. There is no objective test to establish whether or not “hatred” etc has in fact been incited. There is an “artistic” exemption for comedians, but no religious exemption for pastors. The effect of similar legislation interstate has been to provoke complaints by lobby groups who disagree with another person’s opinions. No other state has so many different grounds on which a vilification complaint could be laid.

At a briefing on the EO bill arranged by the Attorney-General’s chief of staff Peter Louca on 9 November, I asked the SA Equal Opportunity Commissioner Linda Matthews (who helped draft the bill) about a scenario where a country doctor has a letter published in a Mount Gambier newspaper about the health risks of the homosexual lifestyle.

“If a homosexual activist complained that this letter incited serious contempt for him on the ground of his sexuality, would you dismiss such a complaint, given that the doctor was a professional discussing medical facts?” I asked. “And if you did not dismiss the complaint, would the doctor and the newspaper editor have to travel to Adelaide for an EOC hearing?”

Ms Matthews said she would not automatically dismiss the complaint because she would have to “listen to both sides”. She said the law did not require her to go to country areas to conciliate complaints. However she said she was conscious of possible hardship for defendants and would go to them rather than insist they come to Adelaide.

I raised this particular scenario because it is similar to a real case in NSW which has had a law against homosexual vilification for 12 years. In another NSW case, a country pastor who supported traditional man-woman marriage in a statement on his website was required to travel to Sydney at his own expense for a conciliation session after a homosexual activist laid a complaint against him.

The doctor who wrote about health risks of anal intercourse was required by the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to produce medical journal articles substantiating every point he had made. The doctor did so.

The Board then said that the doctor should have quoted from all these journal articles in his letter to the editor. The doctor pointed out that had he done so, no editor would have published such a long and complicated letter.

The newspaper editor paid for legal advice in the dispute and was required to be present at hearings. Although the complaint was dismissed after many months, the ultimate effect appears to have been self-censorship by the NSW media of any letters or articles dealing with the risks of homosexual activity. Editors do not want the expense, stress and lost time which complaints entail, even if they are later dismissed.

I asked government legal advisers at the EO bill briefing if truth or “substantial truth” is a defence under this legislation, as it is under the Defamation Act 2005. The answer was no. Nor is there an exemption for acts done for a religious purpose.

I asked if complaints could be laid against clergy who preach sermons about Bible passages condemning homosexual behaviour. The answer was yes.

This bill would undermine freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Do not hesitate to phone me if you would like further information.

Sincerely,
ROS

Mrs Roslyn Phillips, B Sc Dip Ed
Research Officer, Festival of Light Australia
4th Floor, 68 Grenfell Street, Adelaide SA 5000
Phone 61 8 8223 6383
Fax 61 8 8223 5850
Email: rhp@fol.org.au
Website: Festival of Light

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