Freedom of Religion Cannot Be an Excuse for Freedom to Hate | Inverell times

commentary, gay rights, gregory andrews, ghana, religious discrimination, bill

As an Australian Aboriginal born in 1968, just a year after the referendum, I know what it’s like to be treated like a second-class citizen, to face systemic discrimination. Fortunately, Australia has come a long way since I was a child. Of course, there is still a long way to go, but we are increasingly recognizing, respecting and including our First Nations. This week, however, a human rights warning signal came from our Parliament. The religious liberty debate has sent the message that some of our leaders still want to pick, choose, and prioritize rights. They wanted religious freedoms to come at the expense of the freedoms and rights of minority groups. Ghana in West Africa is an example of what can happen when a society allows religious rights to prevail over universal human rights. Having just returned from representing Australia as High Commissioner there, I witnessed firsthand the effects of religion-based discrimination against LGBTIQ+ and other peoples. LGBTIQ+ people live in constant fear, fearing exposure. In the name of religion, they are banished from their families and communities, fired from their jobs, blackmailed, arbitrarily arrested, assaulted, raped and killed. Just to just be who they are. I have heard first hand from women who have been raped by men while in custody to teach them not to be lesbians. I saw images of young men being forced to strip and threatened with hot irons and machetes because they were gay. The first LGBTIQ+ safe space in the capital Accra – backed by Australia, Denmark and the EU – was illegally raided by police and closed weeks after it opened. In Ghanaian schools, Rastafarian children were forced to choose between expulsion or a haircut, and Muslim children were forced to eat lunch during Ramadan. And while it’s technically not yet illegal to be LGBTIQ+, Pentecostal churches and other evangelicals are tapping into the opportunity of a society where religious rights come first. The churches are sponsoring a bill to criminalize LGBTIQ+ people, who they say are an “abomination” according to the Bible. The law will force LGBTIQ+ people to choose between prison or mandatory conversion therapy, considered a form of torture by UN experts. Allies also risk jail time for speaking out, funding or providing support for LGBTIQ+ people. Targeting allies also sets a dangerous precedent for using religious rights to curtail everyone’s freedom of speech and expression. READ MORE: I am not a Christian. But from my understanding, Jesus believed in compassion, peace and tolerance. Surely he would not support the expulsion, dismissal, criminalization, assault, torture or humiliation of people because of their identity? And I know that here in Australia, Jesus would not support picking children to kick out of school or teachers to kick out based on who they are. In a previous role as Australia’s National R2P Focal Point (facilitating the responsibility to protect citizens from genocide and atrocities), the most important thing I learned is that major atrocities like the The Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide did not happen overnight. They increase over time, in smaller and seemingly less significant steps. Progressive discrimination creates a dynamic and social acceptance of discrimination. This is another reason why Australia cannot start suppressing human rights for certain groups in the name of religious freedom. Evidence shows that it is the thin edge of a larger, longer wedge. It is sobering that this week the government attempted to pass laws legitimizing discrimination against minority groups on the basis of religion. Australians deserve better. Human rights belong to all of us equally. We agreed to that at the United Nations. As a company, we believe in equality, a fair fit for everyone. I don’t care what people believe, as long as they don’t use their beliefs to abuse others. It’s simple. Freedom of religion cannot serve as an excuse for freedom to hate and discriminate. Allies must now stand up for LGBTIQ+ communities and other minority groups. Human rights belong to everyone. In Australia, Ghana and everywhere. They cannot be removed. We cannot choose who receives them.

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