Part 1 of 4
Watch out! The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill (2012) is currently before a Senate Inquiry and, looking at the submissions, it seems like a lot of Christians are concerned.
The bill is mostly a consolidation of existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation (Age, Disability, Racial, Sex, Human Rights). The main addition has to do with protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination and greater protections against relationship discrimination for same-sex couples. The bill will also make it simpler to make a complaint and shift the burden of proof to the respondent (who generally has more money and access to legal services) to explain themselves, rather than on the complainer to justify their complaint. I welcome these changes.
The protections for religious organisations are largely unchanged. The exception is that the bill will:
Ensure that no provider of aged care services with Commonwealth funding can discriminate. This includes religious organisations (although such providers can continue to preference people of their faith).
Controversially, (at least for Christians) it defines discrimination as behaviour which ‘offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates another person or a group of people.’ A lot of people are saying this would violate their freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Perhaps this bill will make things more difficult for Christians. But I argue that we should not primarily be concerned for our own rights, but for the rights and protections of others. We should support the bill.
Christians often get defensive when human rights come up. I’m not sure why. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; secular human rights have much in common with Christian ideas (you could even argue they’re derived from scripture). The secular world is copying us when they insist on human rights.
Abrahamic faiths believe that all of us were made in God’s image so we each have intrinsic value. We have obligations to treat one another justly (or from the other side, you could call it rights) because of God’s image.
Then Paul took it further when he described a people where social, gender and racial hierarchies do not determine one’s status but where all are equal and deserving of inclusion. Neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male and female. This is a foundation for human rights.
The difference between a Christian ethic and secular rights is that we know our obligations to humanity are not merely ‘self evident’ or a nice idea, they’re based in God, his character and Jesus’ work. We have a firm justification for respecting others’ rights.