Seventh-day Adventists in Australia are being encouraged to be part of a renewed push to get the Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB) back on the agenda of politicians around the country.
In the lead-up to Australia’s federal election on May 21, Adventists are being asked to contact their local Member of Parliament and the federal senators in their state, urging them to support the RDB without amendments.
“The bill passed the House of Representatives with a resounding 84 vote majority, with both sides of politics strongly affirming the need for people of faith or no faith to be protected from religious discrimination,” said Pastor Michael Worker, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia.
“Prior to the vote the RDB received bipartisan support from two separate parliamentary committees, both recommending it be passed with some minor changes. However, the bill was withdrawn by the government before proceeding to the Senate.”
The bill was withdrawn after five government MPs crossed the floor of parliament and supported Opposition Party-backed amendments that repealed Section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act, an entirely separate Act of Parliament. The government chose to withdraw the bill in its entirety after recognising the legal consequences for faith-based schools of revoking Section 38(3).
According to Pastor Worker, Section 38(3) enables faith-based schools to maintain their distinctive ethos and doctrine. “It allows schools to faithfully teach their beliefs to students and to set policies and standards that are in keeping with their religious ethos,” he explained.
The government also realised that it faced Opposition amendments to the RDB in the Senate that would weaken the bill. Consequently, it did not proceed to a Senate vote.
Critics of the bill have suggested it would enable people to express bigoted views, however Pastor Worker refutes this claim.
“The RDB has no impact on laws against speech that incites violence, serious ridicule or contempt, or laws about statements that harm a person’s reputation,” he said. “The bill only protects statements of belief made in good faith and not deliberately malicious, intimidating or harassing, threatening or vilifying.”
Pastor Worker said it’s important that the significance of the passage of the RDB continues to be impressed upon all MPs and senators from all sides of politics. He encouraged Adventists to keep the matter in their prayers.
“Pray for our parliamentarians, that they will be wise and discerning as they debate and consider this important legislation,” he said.
“And pray that Christian schools will be protected from those who seek to prevent the teaching of Christian sexual ethics and to remove the associated freedom to set policies aligned with the beliefs and ethos of religious schools.”