Australia to adopt a more progressive stance on religious freedom

Australia’s new Liberal government is expected to approve a move to allow churches and other religious groups to run their own businesses and churches will have a greater say in determining what businesses can operate in their areas.

The move, to be considered by Parliament later this month, is aimed at easing tensions in the country over religion, with the opposition warning it would open the door for people to discriminate against others.

“This bill will give churches and religious groups the right to run a business in their community,” opposition leader Bill Shorten said.

“That will allow them to operate where they want to operate, whether that’s in their own home or in their local council’s community centre, or they can operate outside of their community centre.”

The more that we allow people to decide where they go to church, the less likely we are to be a society where there are no walls separating religious freedom from secular freedom.

“Under the proposed change, churches would have the right of first refusal on property, including land.

Church property would be exempt from any restrictions on how they are run and a church could set up a business if it so chose.

The bill will also provide the new minister for religious affairs with the power to allow any church to use their own facilities and services, such as an entertainment centre, for public events, including weddings.

The legislation would also give the new Minister of Religious Affairs the power “to approve or disapprove the operation of a business owned by a religious organisation that is operating in a local area” to avoid any discrimination.

The Liberal Party’s parliamentary leader, Christopher Pyne, told Sky News: “If you have a business, whether it’s a church or a business that is just a small business, it has to be able to operate as a local business.”

If you want to build a church in the centre of town and there’s a lot of people in the community, there’s an obligation to operate in a way that is acceptable to everybody.”

He said the government had not considered whether a small church could operate on private property, but said it would make an exception for churches that operated out of their own homes.

The changes are aimed at the country’s two most populous states, Victoria and South Australia, which have long struggled with tensions over religion.

“We’re in a very dangerous place, and it’s time to get serious about tackling it,” Liberal MP Tim Pallas said.

Mr Pyne said the proposed changes would be a welcome change for some churches, including the Catholic Diocese of Sydney, which has long been at the forefront of debate about religious freedom.

“As far as the church is concerned, they’re not the most important thing in the world,” he said.

The government is also expected to sign an agreement with the Anglican Communion, which includes a clause which gives churches greater control over how they can advertise their services.

The Anglican Church has long had a fraught relationship with the Liberal Party, with some politicians arguing it was a “fraud” that it had never had a ministerial role.

But some Liberal MPs have privately been encouraged by the relationship, and some believe it is an important way to boost church attendance in the future.

“There are many people who want to see the Liberal Government get serious on religion, and I think this is one of those areas,” Mr Pyne told Sky.

“I don’t think that we have the votes to do that on a constitutional basis, but it is something that I think we have to be proactive about.”

The proposed changes will be debated in Parliament next week, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott expected to use his address to parliament to make the case for the proposed legislation.

The proposed legislation will also be subject to a Senate inquiry into religious freedom, with former Labor leader Kevin Rudd among those who will be questioned.

Topics:religion-and-beliefs,government-and.parliament,parliamentary-office,government—rural,australia,indonesia,southeast-asiaFirst posted February 05, 2020 15:27:48Contact Julie-Ann WarrenMore stories from Western Australia

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