Religious Freedom Review: ECAJ ‘cautiously welcomes’ findings + Schools reject discrimination | AJN

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ajn-20181221-p5 ECAJ cautiously welcomes findings + Schools reject discrmination

ECAJ ‘cautiously welcomes’ findings

December 23, 2018

THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has “cautiously welcomed” the long-awaited release of the Religious Freedom Review and the federal government’s response.

The government has endorsed 15 of the 20 recommendations in the report, which was handed down in May but only released last week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government plans to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act, employ a Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission and look to introduce a range of other amendments.

The issue of whether religious schools should be allowed to discriminate based on LGBTI+ status has been deferred for the time being.

“Discrimination on the basis of a person’s identity – including their religious identity – is unacceptable … we [also] respect the right of religious institutions to maintain their distinctive religious ethos. Our laws should reflect these values,” Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter said last week.

“Our commitment to striking an appropriate balance is clear. We are committed to finding a way forward that cuts through the political debates about whether some rights are more important than others.”

ECAJ co-CEO Peter Wertheim said that although the roof body believed religious freedom in Australia is not under threat, “as both an ethnic and a faith community we support the government’s intention ‘to further protect, and better promote and balance, the right to freedom of religion under Australian law and in the public sphere’.”

He said there “should be little controversy” about the endorsed recommendations, but did say the introduction of a Religious Discrimination Act will be more contentious.

“On the one hand the legislation will prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity … on the other hand there will be similar exemptions to those in other anti-discrimination legislation,” he said.

“In practice, however, some difficult situations may arise in which one or the other principle will have to give way, and where no broad social consensus exists as to which principle ought to prevail.”

Wertheim added the creation of the Freedom of Religion Commissioner role was “good sense”.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council director of community affairs Jeremy Jones said the government would have a “difficult task trying to get the correct balance between protecting the right of all Australians to enjoy religious freedom while also trying to ensure that we can have full and robust discussion on matters of concern”.

GARETH NARUNSKY

MEDIA RELEASE: Religious Freedom Review and Federal Government Response | ECAJ

MEDIA RELEASE: Religious Freedom Review and Federal Government Response

To download this media release in PDF format, click here.


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Religious Freedom Review and Federal Government Response

16 December 2018


The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, has cautiously welcomed the release of the Religious Freedom Review handed down by the Expert Panel chaired by the Hon Philip Ruddock, and the Australian government’s response to it.

“Although we believe that religious freedom in Australia is not, and has never been, under serious threat, as both an ethnic and a faith community we support the government’s announced intention ‘to further protect, and better promote and balance, the right to freedom of religion under Australian law and in the public sphere’”, said ECAJ co-CEO, Peter Wertheim. “Much will depend on the governments of the States and Territories acting in co-operation with the Federal government to achieve that goal”.

“There should be little controversy about 15 of the Expert Panel’s 20 recommendations which the government has accepted either directly or in principle. These would ensure, for example, that charities do not lose their status simply for advocating a traditional view of marriage; that the government collects, analyses and publishes data about various forms of infringement on religious freedom; and that public education programs are developed about human rights and religion in Australia,” Wertheim said.

According to Wertheim, the proposed introduction of a new Religious Discrimination Act will be more contentious. “It’s relatively easy to state the broad principles” he said. “On the one hand the legislation will prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, including on the basis that a person does not hold a religious belief or participate in a religious activity. On the other hand there will be similar exemptions to those in other anti-discrimination legislation, which enable religious institutions to function in accordance with their religious beliefs and principles. In practice, however, some difficult situations may arise in which one or the other principle will have to give way, and where no broad social consensus exists as to which principle ought to prevail. The devil will be in the detail and I expect that many parts of the Bill when it is introduced will attract passionate debate”.

Wertheim said that if the legislation is passed, there is “good sense” to the government’s proposal for a stand-alone Religious Freedom Commissioner in the Australian Human Rights Commission to oversee religious freedom in Australia and handle religious discrimination complaints.

Wertheim said it was understandable that the Panel’s recommendations for amending the current exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act might be referred to the Law Reform Commission. “Legislative changes have often had unintended consequences, and it is prudent to try to minimise the scope for these to occur through the well-established processes of the Commission. This is another area where statements of abstract principle can seem more clear-cut than the way they would be applied in real life situations”.

The government has also referred to the Law Reform Commission the Panel’s recommendations that religious schools no longer have the right to discriminate against students or employees on the basis of their race, disability, pregnancy or intersex status. “It’s hard to see how discrimination on these other grounds can have anything to do with religious freedom”, Wertheim said. “I would have expected the government to accept the Panel’s two recommendations about these matters”.

Contact
Peter Wertheim AM | co-CEO
ph: 02 8353 8500 | m: 0408 160 904 | fax 02 9361 5888
e: pwertheim@ecaj.org.au | www.ecaj.org.au

ECAJ-Media-Statement-Religious-Freedom-Review-and-Federal-government-response-14.12.2018

 

ECAJ responds to Bill Leak’s “Waffen-SSM” cartoon

The Australian has published a letter from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in their September 22 letters column, in response to Bill Leak’s “Waffen-SSM” cartoon:

I refer to Bill Leak’s cartoon (“Waffen SSM”, 21/9). It can be readily accepted that hyperbole is a stock in trade of any cartoonist, and Leak is entitled to give satirical expression to his opinion that certain advocates of same-sex marriage are intolerant to any contrary point of view. Yet to compare them to Nazi SS divisions does little credit to the point he was presumably trying to make.

To liken any advocate of SSM to the perpetrators of mass murder and cruelty in the Nazi era is an inversion of history. In Nazi Germany, about 100,000 suspected homosexuals were arrested and up to 15,000 of them were interned in concentration camps where many were killed.

As a political cartoonist, it is Leak’s job to be provocative and controversial, but this was not his best work.

Peter Wertheim, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Sydney, NSW

This is the original cartoon:
20160921-the-australian-bill-leak-waffen-ssm

AIJAC should apologise for unsubstantiated criticism of Greens policy

On June 27 2016 the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) published an article by Ahron Shapiro critical of the Australian Greens entitled “The Greens and Israel“.

The article opened with the following caution:

Pre-election polling and analysis suggests the Australian Greens party is likely to pick up one or more lower house seats this election – on top of retaining the seat of Melbourne. This gives it the potential to not only hold the balance of power in the Senate, but if a hung parliament results from this election, also determine who forms government – with very significant leverage over the minority government thus formed.

and concluded with the following section on domestic policy:

Religious Exemptions

A further issue in the Greens platform likely to concern many in Australia is its policy of removing clauses granting limited exemptions to religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws. This would likely impact significantly on Jewish schools and other communal institutions and concern has been expressed about this policy by Jewish community leaders.

Aleph Melbourne approached AIJAC for clarification of the “significant impact” and the “expressed concern” referred to in the article.

Colin Rubinstein, AIJAC Executive Director, provided the following explanation:

In response to your query I refer you to the story below in the Australian from May 24.
While it may be that there was not much Jewish reaction in the press on the Greens plan, the reaction that was published was top-level.
Peter Wertheim does not comment on every story he is approached for, and his decision to comment here, I would say, well  reflected his confidence and our feedback too that he was conveying the community’s sentiment expressed anecdotally behind the scenes.
At any rate, our mention of this plan took up a very small part of our overall report on the Greens, and should be put in proper perspective.

Colin also provided the two source paragraphs from the May 24 2016 article “Federal election 2016: Greens under pressure on religion reforms” in The Australian by David Crowe:

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders are objecting to the Greens plan to remove the religious ­exemptions, saying it could force people to act against their faith.

and:

Executive Council of Australian Jewry director Peter Wertheim said: “It would be wrong and unworkable for the law to compel people to do things that are contrary to their religious beliefs or conscience.’’

Independently, Aleph Melbourne had contacted Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, on May 24 2016 about the aforementioned article, querying if he had been quoted accurately.  Peter provided the following response:

Here is the whole quote I gave to The Australian.

It is appropriate for the law to ensure that people are  not discriminated against at work or in accessing education, housing and other services, because of their race, gender, sexual preference, age or disability.    However, it would be wrong and unworkable for the law to compel people to do things that are contrary to their religious beliefs or conscience. 

My comment would therefore not apply to a proposed change to the definition of marriage in section 5[1] of the Marriage Act.  But it would apply to a proposed repeal of section 47[2] of the Marriage Act. My understanding is that the proponents of marriage equality are only seeking the former, not the latter. I didn’t refer specifically to the Greens, but given the vagueness and generality of Senator McKimm’s statements I couldn’t work out what he was proposing, and therefore thought it was right to comment.

It is evident that AIJAC was not aware of Peter Wertheim’s full quote supplied to The Australian, and by inference was similarly unaware that Peter was referring to issues relating to the Marriage Act and not anti-discrimination legislation.

AIJAC was lobbying their interest groups to vote unfavourably for the Greens in the July 2 2016 Federal election.  Religious exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation directly impact LGBTIQ Australians, some of whom are Jewish, who are employed by Jewish organisations.  It is deeply disappointing that AIJAC targeted the Greens anti-discrimination policy based on an unsubstantiated claim, more so when it has the potential to hurt some of the most vulnerable members of society.

It is also deeply disappointing that AIJAC attempted to minimise the significance of mentioning the paragraph about the Greens policy on removal of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation.  The damage to people’s lives due to this exemption is amply significant.

An apology from AIJAC to the Greens and to LGBTIQ people for their unfair criticism of the Greens policy would be appreciated.

[1] http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ma196185/s5.html
[2] http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ma196185/s47.html

ECAJ & Marriage Equality

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 16 February 2016 at 22:06
Subject: ECAJ & Marriage Equality
To: Peter Wertheim <PWertheim@ecaj.org.au>, Robert Goot <president@ecaj.org.au>

Hi Peter, Robert,
 
I see the ECAJ are keen to discuss “LGBT equality” for it’s ideological purposes:
 
http://www.ecaj.org.au/2016/open-letter-to-the-anti-israel-left
 
Ordinarily this use of LGBTI people would not bother me but given Australia doesn’t have LGBTI equality and given your organisation exists to promote the welfare (eg equality) of Australians, it seems you’re taking a liberty with the liberties LGBTI Australians don’t yet have.
 
Allow me to remind you of your platform:
 

This Council:
1.1 NOTES that it is the vision of the ECAJ to create and support a community in which all Australians, including all Jewish Australians:
(a) feel valued and their cultural differences are respected;
(b) have a fair opportunity to meet their material and other needs; and
(c) are equally empowered as citizens to participate in and contribute to all facets of life in the wider community;

Right now I’m not feeling especially valued, not do I have fair opportunity to meet my needs, and am not empowered to participate in or contribute to all facets of life in the wider community.  I am sure I speak for others too.
 
On this particular ground, I’d really like your organisation to sign its name to marriage equality so LGBTI people in Australia can have equal rights, similarly to those of the people you are so proud to show off in your open letter.
 
To this end, Australian Marriage Equality have provided a simple mechanism to facilitate your addition to their list of over 800 supporters:
 
http://www.australianmarriageequality.org/non-profit-support
 
It would also be an ideal opportunity for the ECAJ to follow in the footsteps of Bialik College, a proud supporter of marriage equality.
 
How soon can you arrange this support?
 
Regards,
Michael.
0417-595-541.

Australian Jewish community leaders denounce Jerusalem Pride March knife attack

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has issued a welcome statement [PDF] in response to the despicable knife attack in the Jerusalem Pride March overnight.


MEDIA STATEMENT
31 July 2015
STABBING ATTACK IN JERUSALEM

We are appalled and shocked by the knife attack at the Pride March in Jerusalem where six people were stabbed. We understand that two of them are in a critical condition. The Jewish community in Australia condemns the attack in the strongest possible terms, and we are pleased to see statements from Jewish community and religious leaders across the world expressing outrage at the attack.

A purportedly religious Jewish extremist has been arrested in connection with the attack. That person was released from prison three weeks ago, after serving a ten year sentence for a similar attack. We have confidence that the Israeli Justice system will deal with him appropriately.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the innocent victims and their families. We wish all the injured a speedy recovery. Israel is known for its welcoming acceptance of Jews of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity, and for providing asylum to Palestinian gays who are in mortal danger from their own community.

Israel is a beacon to other nations, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the work in its inclusion of the LGBTI community and its embracing of diversity.

This incident hits at the heart of the freedoms and social inclusion that we promote and welcome in the Jewish community in Australia and in Israel. We must all condemn this attack and increase our focus on promoting inclusion, tolerance and acceptance of every member of our community.

Robert Goot AM SC          Peter Wertheim AM
President Executive          Director

Contact:
Peter Wertheim AM Executive Director
ph: 02 8353 8500 | m: 0408 160 904
e: pwertheim@ecaj.org.au | www.ecaj.org.au


 

Rabbi’s homophobic comments provoke criticism, petition | Gay News Network

Rabbi’s homophobic comments provoke criticism, petition | Gay News Network.

Unholy Alliance: Rabbi sides with Margaret Court, attacks Safe Schools | Rainbow Reporter

The Rainbow Report: Coalitions Part 2

Doug explains why this segment about Rabbi Shimon Cowen doesn’t have a spokesperson from the Jewish community

The Rainbow Report: Coalitions Part 2– JOY 94.9 – Broadcast date: February 14 2012

See also: Rainbow Report on Coalitions

Note: the title of this post was drawn from the corresponding audio track on the Rainbow Reporter SoundCloud channel. That audio track is no longer available.