More than 30 religious organisations and hundreds of senior Victorian church leaders have signed letters to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews voicing their “strong and unequivocal opposition” to the current draft of the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, which was passed in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, December 10.
The letter signed by 31 religious organizations describes the Bill as an “unprecedented attack” on religious liberty, which is contrary to the government’s claims to support the rights and freedoms of all Victorians.
The signators are urging the government to understand that “the millennia of teachings of our Religious Books and Oral Traditions” are not negotiable. The letter warns that should the Bill pass into law, “undesirable tensions” between religious communities and the state will inevitably eventuate.
The letter states:
“This Bill in its current form is causing considerable angst amongst our communities and should it be passed into law unamended the government should expect that it will affect how our respective congregants will vote at coming elections, our expectation being that many of them will direct their votes away from MP’s who support this legislation with the aim of election MP’s who will have this legislation removed from our laws.”
Eight key concerns are summarily offered in the letter, highlighting how the Bill threatens to remove the right to religious freedom, expression, and choice on issues of sexuality and gender identity. These can be read here.
If passed, the Bill could see people of faith hit with heavy fines and lengthy jail time for teaching the Biblical view of sexuality and gender. Under Section 5 (3), the Bill criminalises common religious practices such as prayer and even informal conversations that express orthodox religious beliefs relating to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Penalties could be as much as 10 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine. Complaints can be made from any person, even those unaffected, and can remain anonymous.
The Australian Christian Lobby has described the Bill as “the most dangerous and draconian Bill” the country has ever seen.
The Christian organisation took out a double spread in the Herald Sun on Saturday which included another letter addressed to Premier Daniel Andrews, signed by hundreds of senior Victorian church leaders.
The ACL’s letter warns the Bill will criminalise many common religious practices, and many people of various faiths for doing nothing wrong.
Examples of what the Bill would do, include:
- Regulate the subject matter of prayers, according to Section 5(3);
- Make some consensual prayers into criminal acts, if they pertain to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity;
- Criminalise voluntary faith-based support groups for people who want to live out their sexual orientation or gender identity consistent with their faith;
- Make certain conversations about faith-based sexual ethics illegal, as confirmed in the Explanatory Memorandum;
- Make all faith-based teaching or discussion on issues of sexual orientation or gender identity legally fraught;
- Force parents to affirm and encourage a child’s felt gender identity at any given time, regardless of circumstances, and permit gender transition medical therapies.
The letter notes the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Section 14 (Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief) and Section 19 (Cultural rights), everyone has the right to think, feel, believe, share and practice his/her beliefs, values and culture publicly.
Signators are urging the government to retract the Bill to respect religious freedom and cultural rights.