I am a lawyer. I am also a Christian. This means that I wake up every day and go to work with the goal of running my law firm according to a few basic Christian principles, like treating my customers the way I would want to be treated, trying to resolve conflicts instead of causing them, and putting ethics ahead of profit. I believe this is what the intersection between Christian faith and the law should look like.
There is no law against any of those things, so I have no reason to believe that anyone is ever going to try to threaten my freedom to practice my faith in this way.
Today, being a Christian lawyer also means that I feel compelled to comment on an article that appeared in The Age recently, with the headline Churches demand new ‘religious freedom’ law to combat era of ‘hatred’ . I believe that this is the exact opposite of what the intersection between Christian faith and the Law should look like.
According to the report, several church groups, including Hillsong, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, have endorsed a submission to the Federal Government’s review of religious freedom laws calling for existing exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to be codified and expanded.
The submission proposes that Church church-run organisations (including schools and aged care homes) would be allowed to hire and fire staff “in accordance with their values”. This would mean an employee who enters into a same-sex marriage could be fired for that reason.
The report did not indicate whether the submission also calls for the right to fire people who get divorced, or try to re-marry after a divorce, or who live together before they are married.
The submission also called for:
- Changes to the Marriage Act to ensure facilities such as school chapels cannot be used for same-sex weddings against the wishes of the diocese, even if the school principal gives permission;
- The right for parents to remove their children from public school programs that don’t accord with their values; and
- The creation of a “national religious freedom commissioner” within the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The Age quotes the author of the report, Professor Patrick Parkinson from the University of Sydney, as saying “Christians are not into freedom to discriminate, they’re really into freedom to select.”
I must admit to being very surprised that a professor of law at a leading Australian University would suggest that when it comes to employment law, there is any difference at all between “freedom to discriminate” and “freedom to select.”
With all due respect to Professor Parkinson, firing someone because they choose to get married is wrong no matter what you call it. As a Christian, I do not want this “freedom to select”. I do not want it at my law firm, I do not want it at my church, I do not want it at my children’s schools. I do not want it anywhere.
I married my beautiful wife sixteen years ago. It did not even occur to me that someone could threaten to fire me for that decision, because that is just not how things work in this country. If we change the law to allow people to be fired for getting married, that will be a huge backward step.
Let’s not do that.