The right to discriminate is just a cover for prejudice

May 26, 2015 – 1:26PM

Illustration: Simon Letch

Illustration: Simon Letch
The most significant thing to come so far from George Brandis’ inquiry into freedoms is a reminder that the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) still exists.

Almost a century on from the revolution, after the fall of the Soviet Union and conversion of China to one-party capitalism, its central committee reminded the inquiry that true freedom requires the fall of capitalism.

I suspect those of this view are not talking of the right to choose a better teacher for their religious school, but the right to choose a straight one.

Until then, we have to survive colonial imperialism as best we can, and if anything else is to come from an inquiry into freedoms, other than that we are in favour of them, it is that the Australian Law Reform Commission concentrates on real problems for liberty, and ignores the religious extremists rushing in submissions.

Take the Presbyterian Church, the rump left behind after the sensible wing went off with the Methodists to form the Uniting Church in the 1970s.

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According to its Victorian chapter, a most pressing cause for attention is not the downfall of capitalism, but of equality.

“The problem is that freedom and equality are not mutually compatible,” it said. “Unfortunately, we cannot all be free and completely equal at the same time. Freedom implies an inequality that goes hand-in-hand with difference. We cannot all be equal except in the eyes of the law. As a society we need to work out what we cherish more: freedom or equality.”

Really? No, please, do go on.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental underpinning of our society; freedom from discrimination is not. Freedom from discrimination is not a fundamental human right because it is neither attainable nor universal. Discrimination – that is, to choose something or someone over another – needs to be a lawful part of a free society.”

Now, if it were speaking of freedom to choose coffee, a choice between Illy and Lavazza, Harris or home brand, I’d agree. We should all be free to choose espresso over instant.

But I suspect they’re not. I suspect those of this view are not talking of the right to choose a better teacher for their religious school, but the right to choose a straight one.

I suspect they’re talking of the freedom to sack teachers not for poor performance, but for having a child out of wedlock. I suspect they want to use freedom of religion as cover for prejudice.

Everyone who knows what it is like to be treated differently – for being a woman, for being black or Asian or lesbian – knows the argument is bollocks. They know freedom of discrimination is a fundamental human right.

Everyone who’s had their CV passed over because of a bad postcode or odd surname knows it. Every gay man who’s had a bottle thrown at him while being called a faggot on Oxford Street knows it. And I suspect even most people who haven’t suffered from prejudice know it too.

The old-school Presbyterians are not alone in lobbying for the right to discriminate.

Family Voice, for its part, picks on transsexuals, saying gender identity is “highly controversial” because “the reality is that sex change is a myth”. Intriguingly, at the same time it is also “immoral”.

Before embarrassing itself, it should have followed the lead of another submitter who had the self-awareness to say: “I can’t comment – I do not know Commonwealth law too well”.

Another batty entry comes from the Australian Christian Lobby, protesting for the right to be sexist and homophobic, in public and private. Its submission lists threats to the freedom of religion such as the Sex Discrimination Act, the Racial Discrimination Act, and anti-vilification laws.

What do we want? The right to be a bigot, you know.

The ACL said the latest evidence for the continuing downfall of society (which seems to have started about the time Leviticus was published), was the Andrew Bolt issue – or non-issue, given the case amounted to an error-strewn article declared wrong (no criminal offence, no conviction, no fine, no jail and not a cent in compensation).

Other evidence was an American florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay couple for their wedding.

According to the ACL, florists should be free to ban gays from their shops. Segregation, sexuality style. Perhaps they should just hang “No Fags” signs in the window.

A sensible response to this freedom-to-discriminate brigade, if one is needed, comes from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

It told the inquiry that if a religious organisation provides services to the public – especially if government funded – it should not have an automatic exception to discriminate. If it wants to discriminate it should have to justify why.

The cool, obvious voice of reason, the proper answer to those religious fanatics who describe themselves as Christian but who want the rest of us to live with their bigotry disguised as belief.

Tim Dick is a Sydney lawyer. Twitter: dick_tim

This story has been gratefully copied from www.smh.com.au 

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