A conservative government senator has stepped up pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deliver a Religious Discrimination Bill that meets the expectations of religious leaders.
In a webinar hosted by the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (IJC) at the end of October, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells reaffirmed her view that “no bill would be better than a flawed bill”.
She also warned that the Prime Minister needed to deliver on his promise to faith communities.
“Whatever the politicians may say, what matters here is what the faith leaders preach and tell their congregations which will dictate if there political expectations have been met,” she said.
“Scott Morrison needs to meet those expectations to retain that electoral support.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells made similar comments at a webinar hosted by Christian lobby group FamilyVoice in September. But divisions within the Coalition have deepened since the Australian Christian Lobby announced on 18 October that it had successfully had the ‘Folau clause’, protecting statements of belief, re-inserted into the bill.
In the middle of the year, a group of moderate Liberal MPs made it clear to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash that parts of the second version of the bill were unacceptable to them, including the ‘Folau clause’.
In her presentation to the IJC on 26 October, Senator Fierravanti-Wells said that people of faith were concerned that what happened to Folau could also happen to them.
“At the kitchen table, Australians of family and faith were concerned. ‘If I say something about my religion, will I find myself in trouble?’ And they asked: ‘If it can happen to Israel Folau, it can happen to me’,” she said.
“But, regrettably, as I have publicly advocated for quite some time, the current bills fall far short of adequately protecting their religious freedom.
“And it reinforces my view, as I have publicly stated, that, sadly, no bill is better than a flawed bill.”
Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig said it would be concerning to many Australians if the government developed a bill merely to meet the expectations of faith leaders.
“Based on the research work of Neil Francis in his landmark Religiosity in Australia series, we know that there is a large gap between the views of religious clerics and their congregations,” she said.
“We know, for example, the the majority of Catholics support social reforms such as voluntary assisted dying, abortion rights and same-sex marriage. Yet, Catholic bishops across the country do not.”
The RSA has written to a number of moderate Liberal MPs to raise concerns about the Morrison government’s decision to ignore non-religious and pro-secular groups in its consultation process this year.
The RSA joined with a number of other pro-secular community groups in supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against the first two drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill. You can support the campaign here.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman