Church questions the cost of ‘free’ speech

The Uniting Church in Australia has named racism as a sin in a strongly-worded submission to the Federal Government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

The submission, prepared by UnitingJustice, called on the Federal Government to abandon its plans to repeal the provisions that offer protection against offence, insult and humiliation and refocus the definition of intimidation narrowly on physical harm or the threat of physical harm.

Moderator of the Vic/Tas synod, Dan Wootton, also signed onto a joint submission of the Victorian Multifaith Advisory Group that urged a further strengthening of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The submission states: “Australia is a global success story with people of many different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds living together in peace and prosperity. However, this success has been built upon the long-term commitment and investment of successive Commonwealth and State Governments. We believe the proposed amendments to the Act represent a step back from this commitment and, if passed into law, may have negative consequences for peace, harmony and prosperity in the longer term.”

The Uniting Church is particularly concerned that the proposed changes will offer almost no protection against racial hatred and may even make it legal to incite racial hatred.

A significant number of church members made submissions to the formal consultation process in their own right. “It was inspiring to see so many people tell the government that they want a future free from racism and racial hatred,” Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the Justice and International Mission unit, said.

The consultation has now finished. The Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, will consider the submissions made and present legislation to the Senate later this year.

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