Friday, 17 November 2017

Balancing Religious Freedom and Rights

Written by Rev. Dr Matthew Wilson, Co-Chair UCA-ECAJ Dialogue
Photo: Jeremy Jones Photo: Jeremy Jones

The 45th dialogue meeting of the Uniting Church and Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) met in Sydney, hosted by the ECAJ at their offices. Six members of the UCA from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria met with five representatives of the Jewish community.

The Dialogue discussed religious blasphemy laws around the world and their implications.

With recent cases of people falling foul of blasphemy laws in some countries, we noted the rising concern to protect religion across political and religious divides.

As a group, we felt that while previously blasphemy laws were in place to protect individuals' rights to practice their belief, there has been a shift towards protecting God/religious figures or the belief itself.

We agreed that religions should be understood as an idea. Ideas should be able to be discussed and debated, however this should not be done in a manner which seeks to deliberately hurt or defame those who subscribe to a particular idea or religion.

As a group, we shared a concern that blasphemy laws, and increasingly calls for extended religious rights, are being used politically as a means of targeting religious or community minority groups.

Religious laws should not be used to coerce, nor should religious freedom be used as an excuse to weaken protections against discrimination.

We fear with the current debate in Australia in relation to extending religious freedom, anti-discrimination legislation may be weakened, opening the way for discriminating on ethnic, gender, cultural or religious grounds. Both Christian and Jewish partners are committed to standing against this kind of discrimination.

The next meeting of the dialogue is scheduled for May 2018 in Melbourne where we will discuss the important distinction between the policies and government of the state of Israel and Judaism as a religion.

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