The Catholic Weekly 6 December 2020

$2 6, December, 2020 A PROPOSED law to ban so- called conversion therapy in Victoria is the most egregious attack on religious freedom the country has ever seen, accord- ing to faith leaders and legal ex- perts. If passed, the bill tabled in parliament on 25 November would criminalise any practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the bill is so broad in its definitions that, if passed, it would crush any Christian expression of human sexuality, capturing homilists, educators, academics, scripture teach- ers and parents with penalties reaching up to $200,000 or up to 10 years in jail. Any religious practice, including praying for a person at their request in rela- tion to issues concerning their sexual orientation or gender, is described in the draft bill as a criminal offence. Exempted are activities relat- ing to gender transitioning from a person’s biological sex to a new gender identity. If passed, the law would em- power Victoria’s Equal Oppor- tunity and Human Rights Com- mission to respond to reports of change or suppression practic- es from any person – not only those directly involved – and to launch its own investigations. Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said that any coer- cive practice “is an affront to hu- man dignity” and that he firmly rejects such harmful acts, but that “nobody is protected when Governments seek todetermine what prayers are ok to say, or what faith reasonably proposes”. John Steenhoff, managing director of the Human Rights Law Alliance said the bill is “a direct attack on religious beliefs, in particular Christianity, and will target thosewho hold to tra- ditional convictions on sexual orientation and gender identity issues”. “It is far too broad and will legislate extreme ideology, par- ticularly around gender ideolo- gy,” Mr Steenhoff said. “On first review, the bill is the worst of the recent State legislative efforts that deal with so-called conversion therapy bans and will be dangerous for religious freedom. “The bill imposes draconian limits and criminal sanctions on what Australians can think and speak about contentious issues of sexuality and gender. “[It] is thinly veiled ideologi- cal compulsion.” Professor Michael Quinlan, Dean of the School of Law at the University of Notre Dame’s Syd- ney campus, said Victoria was taking a “very draconian and authoritarian approach which no government should take”. “While New South Wales considers introducing protec- tions for religious believers from discrimination Victoria is looking to introduce legislation which, among other things, criminalises prayer,” Professor Quinlan said. “But the proposed Victorian legislation is not only an affront to freedom of religion it is also an affront to freedomof choice. “I don’t think it should ever be a crime to pray. “I also think that this legis- lation assumes that everyone knows their sexual identity or sexual orientation and it is a CONTINUED PG2 Legislation presented to the Victorian State Parliament last week would actually make some prayers illegal in Victoria, resulting in ... 10 years in prison PremierDanAndrews’draftbill themost flagrantattackonbasicfreedomAustraliahaseverseen, saycritics ¾ Marilyn Rodrigues and up to $200,000 in fines • Laws banning ‘conversion therapy’ practices exist in Queensland and the ACT but the proposed Victorian law is broader. • In Tasmania, the Tasmania Law Reform Institute is seeking public feedback on possible reforms to its law to ban sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) conversion practices. • In an issues paper released last Conversion therapy bans month, the institute highlights prayer or religious practices associated with “morally conservative or fundamentalist religious groups and/or doctrines” as harmful. • In Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised a national ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ while similar laws exist in several states in the US. AT THE HEART OF THE STORM P8 CHRISTMAS LIGHTS WILL DELIGHT ALL P5