Above: John Anderson, former Deputy Prime Minister, and Michelle Rowland MP, Federal Member for Greenway, speaking at the Free 2 Be Me event in Blacktown.
A crowd of 500 people from Western Sydney’s faith communities gathered in Blacktown last night, to hear political and academic speakers address the growing pressure on religious freedom in Australia.
The Free2BeMe event, organised by Lalor Park-based Anglican minister Mark Tough with the support of various faith- and law-based organisations, was held at Blacktown’s Bowman Hall. It attracted a mixture of Christians (including evangelical and Catholic), as well as leaders from the local Sikh and Muslim communities. It was designed to inform, educate and activate people about the very real issue of how religious freedoms are coming under threat in Australia, and about federal legislation currently being drafted to address the issue.
Political speakers included former Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, an outspoken Christian and defender of religious freedoms. He spoke of the “madness” of some the litigation being pursued in courts across the nation, in which people of faith are being sued, ostracised, or sacked by employers—for expressing their faith often in very quiet, innocuous ways.
Also speaking was the ALP’s Michelle Rowland MP, Federal Member for the local Blacktown seat of Greenway, who urged urging her audience to write and speak to their local members about their concerns, in order to help politicians take the matter seriously. Ms Rowland said she believes the issue is a bipartisan one that won’t be decided along party lines, and also spoke of the need for not only a Religious Discrimination Bill, but also a Religious Freedom bill that protects the right of all Australians to practice faith. She encouraged people to sign a petition lobbying for said Religious Freedom legislation.
“We keep hearing about the ‘quiet Australians’, and we need to be people who aren’t so quiet.”
~ Rev Mark Tough
John Steenhof, managing director of the Human Rights Law Alliance, spoke from a legal perspective. He told stories of individuals who’ve had cases brought against them for of their faith, such as:
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- Jason Tey, the West Australian photographer who was sued for discrimination after telling told a lesbian couple that he was a Christian – despite not refusing them his photography services;
- A West Australian couple who were labelled as “unsafe” by a foster care agency they’d approached in the hope of being respite carers for young children. Their application to be foster parents was rejected, due to their traditional Christian beliefs about gender and sexuality.
The Alliance handed out a brochure on the night, recounting more than 30 different cases of this nature.
Event organiser Reverend Tough said it was good to see so many people of faith taking time out from their weeks to get informed about such a vital issue.
“We keep hearing about the ‘quiet Australians’, and we need to be people who aren’t so quiet,” he said.
Religious Freedom Events in Fairfield and Chippendale
The Blacktown event represents a growing groundswell of support for religious freedom among Australians of all ages, religious beliefs, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Further public meetings coming up on the issue include:
- The Western Sydney Religious Freedom Forum – a cross-party, free event at the Assyrian Sports and Cultural Club in Fairfield Heights on November 30, 3pm. Organised by the political group Australian Christian Alliance, headed by Dr Con Kafatis, it will feature five speakers including: Liberal Senator Concetta Feirravanti-Wells, Liberal MP for Mulgoa Tanya Davies, Labor MP for Fairfield Guy Zangari, One Nation State MLC and former ALP member Mark Latham, and Labor MP for Prospect, Dr Hugh McDermott. Details and registration through Facebook.
- The Annual Religious Liberty Lecture, at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Law Sydney in Chippendale, Thursday, November 28, 6pm. The speaker will be Monica Doumit, a writer and commentator on faith in the public sphere. Register via the university website.
- The Conference on Religious Liberty, also at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Law Sydney in Chippendale, 9am to 5pm on Friday, November 29. This one-day conference will focus on religious freedom and inclusivity, exploring the meaning of the term, “inclusivity”, and whether it can co-exist with religious liberty which is often built around differences. The conference is scheduled to coincide with the week of “Red Wednesday”, a day recognising religious persecution. Register through the University of Notre Dame website.