“We strongly urge that any such provisions to protect Christian freedoms, must in no way diminish mutual respect, freedom from discrimination and enjoyment of the human rights of everyone in NSW.
“It is disingenuous to portray Australian’s Christians as victims of persecutions and to bolster their religious freedoms to the detriment of our diverse religious communities, many of which are subject to discrimination, some of which is unconscious and some, sadly, deliberate.”
Reverend Hansford’s comments butt against Mr Latham’s assertion in his speech introducing the bill to Parliament earlier this year, during which he said, “the fastest growing form of discrimination in our society is against people of religious faith, especially Christians”.
The Uniting Church, one of Australia’s most populous denominations, has some 50,000 members in NSW and is the religious institution backing several Sydney private schools, including Knox Grammar, Newington College and Pymble Ladies College.
But the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, a body that also represents those schools, conveyed its support for the bill in its own submission to the committee.
AISNSW chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe said the organisation was particularly supportive of section 22M of the bill, which would allow “religious ethos organisations” to discriminate in line with the tenets and doctrines of its faith, including giving preference to people of that faith when hiring and firing.
A conspicuous feature of the bill is that it would protect people such as former Wallaby Israel Folau from punishment by employers for comments made outside the workplace that are motivated by religious belief.
In his maiden speech to the upper house last year, Mr Latham used Folau’s case to launch his bill.
“No one should be sacked by their employer for statements of genuine belief and faith that have got nothing to do with their job,” he said.
Mr Folau settled an unlawful dismissal case with Rugby Australia last year after his contract was terminated for repeatedly posting on social media that homosexuals were destined for hell unless they repented their sins.
In a note accompanying his diocese’s submission to the parliamentary committee dedicated to dissecting the bill, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies said in the social media era, “even the private, social and charitable lives of people of faith become subject to workplace scrutiny and assessment.”
But Reverend Hansford said he was concerned about those particular proposed amendments, saying the church affirmed its commitment to upholding basic Christian values “such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life … religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race.”
Reverend Hansford will join a cast of religious identities, equality advocates and legal experts before the committee’s first hearing on Friday.
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Angus Thompson is an Urban Affairs reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.