Time and time again, the Andrews Government has declared war on faith communities by dismantling their religious freedom.
In February, we saw the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 passed as law. Now, another anti-religion bill – the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendments Bill 2021 - passed in the Upper House last Friday without amendments. (You can read about the bill here)
Both bills were tabled at the most inappropriate time when Victorians were just coming out of lockdowns, and while pastors and religious school principals were run off their feet to get their churches and schools moving forward. Both bills were hastily debated and passed without proper consultation with faith groups and stakeholders.
Both bills claim to end discrimination while sidelining religious groups and undermining freedom of religion and expression.
Why would the Andrews’ Labor Government do that? There’s no better explanation than “discrimination.” Indeed, the Victorian government is discriminating against, and silencing faith communities to protect the LGBT community - even while declaring that, “Equality is non-negotiable in Victoria."
Just as the Conversion legislation knocks on the doors of churches and Christian families and interferes with pastoral care and Christian parenting - the Religious Exceptions legislation invades Christian schools, organisations and churches, and interferes with their daily operations and meddles with their culture and doctrines.
To make things worse, the Religious Exceptions legislation threatens the very existence of a religion and its institutions.
The war against faith communities has been so intense, even the non-Christian Liberal Democrats MLC Tim Quilty said in his speech last Friday, “The devout religious groups make up only a small minority in today’s Victoria, and perhaps they now need protection.”
The Andrews’ government is hypocritical. While most politicians think that there should be a “separation of church and state” to prevent the church from “interfering” with politics, the Andrews government is repeatedly interfering in the affairs of churches and other faith groups. That's actually why the principle of separating church and state was established - to prevent the government from interfering in matters of faith. But the Andrews government is relentless.
Even David Limbrick, another non-Christian Liberal Democrats MLC questioned the level of state interference, saying, “Then there is the question of the role of government and if and where it is appropriate for the elected government of the day to declare some of these rights and values more important than others and impose this view on people through legislation.”
Indeed, the Religious Exceptions Bill is not only discriminatory and overreaching, it’s dictatorial, as it seeks to impose a certain ideology on all Victorians and force faith communities to comply.
Tim Quilty MLC rightly observed,
“I see bills like this as an attempt to force all of society into a particular mould: the views held by the current moral enforcers. I believe it is overreach—intrusion of the state into areas that it should not intrude into—so I will oppose this on principle.”
It should concern us to see how the Andrews government is trying to indoctrinate Victorians through legislation at lightning speed - and to see the tactics employed - of ramming through bills at inappropriate times and advancing its agendas with deception.
The Religious Exceptions Bill interprets “exemptions” as “discriminations,” and accuses Christian schools and organisations of being discriminatory in order to remove their exemptions. Yet political parties retain their own exemptions under Section 27 of the Equal Opportunity Act.
As Liberal MP Gordon Rich-Phillips pointed out, “I think it is a deliberate attempt by the government to undermine this exemption and to undermine the capacity for religious institutions and schools to employ people of their own faith while pretending that the exemption remains.”
Despite the disappointing result, we are grateful to the 12 MPs who voted against the bill. Please email to thank them:
As we come to the end of 2021, the outlook for churches and Christians in Victoria is concerning.
The Conversion legislation will come into effect on 17 February 2022 and part of the Religious Exceptions Bill – on religious bodies and educational employment – will commence six months after the bill is assented to.
In spite of this, Christians should not give up, for our hope is in the Lord. As long as we persistently speak up and take appropriate action, I believe we’ll see the tide turn.
The good news is, as the Shadow Attorney-General Dr Matt Bach pointed out, the constitutionality of the Religious Exceptions Bill is in doubt and could potentially be challenged in court. Besides, the next state election will be an opportunity for us to make a difference.
So, let’s clothe ourselves with courage and continue to fight on.
As Liberal Bernie Finn MLC said in his speech last Friday,
“This bill, sadly, is another attack on religious freedom. The time has come, and I implore religious leaders throughout the state to get involved. Do not wake up when it is too late. Get involved and stand up for your rights, for the rights of your faith and for the rights of the people in your congregations. You have a duty to that, and I say that most sincerely.”
Church leaders and Christians, let’s continue to rise up and fight this spiritual battle!
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9