Both the NSW Government proposal and Alex Greenwich’s legislation are based on the legislation currently in place in Victoria. The Government’s proposal explicitly states that its definition of “change and suppression” is the Victorian model. Mr. Greenwich’s legislation is over 80% word-for-word the same as the Victorian legislation.
Before implementing the Victorian model we must understand the devastating impact that it has had on religious freedom. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) plays a crucial role in enforcing the Victorian laws, and has a site detailing what has now been made illegal. In it’s own words, this site shows how dangerous the Victorian model is.
(All quotes are taken from the VEOHRC site, or the video that it hosts)
The laws are based on an extreme understanding of harm and what is harmful. They do not just ban coercive and genuinely harmful practices, they consider anything that is not full support for LGBTIQ+ people to be “suppression”, which they claim is always harmful. This includes:
The Commission states that these harms were significant enough to limit the right to religious freedom, which is otherwise protected under Victorian legislation.
The Commission considers that even simple conversations can be considered harmful “suppression practices”. This includes talking to someone about “who they should have sexual relations with”. There is nothing in the legislation that protects conversations between family members, children and parents, or married couples.
Religious conversations about sexuality are also heavily restricted, unless they are actively approving of LGBTIQ+ activity. For example the Commission states:
Astonishingly the Commission tells religious institutions what their religious beliefs should be providing :
Prayer is clearly seen to be a private practice by the VEOHRC, and prayer with other people or for other people regarding sexuality or gender identity issues is heavily limited. Prayers asking for Gods help – even if asked for and completely consensual – are banned. For example the Commission states:
These examples are contrasted with prayers that the Commission considers to be “acceptable”. They are described as follows:
The Victorian conversion laws preclude consent to a “conversion or suppression” practice. You cannot even consent to a conversation or a prayer.
The Commission’s website makes it plain that the Commission considers any religious teaching, counselling or conversation that does not affirm a person’s sexuality or gender identity as coercive, even in passive situations because of what they call a “power imbalance” between religious leaders and community members. The Commission states that any person who asks for counsel or prayer about changing their sexuality or gender identity is “heavily influenced by a desire to be accepted” and is doing so out of a position of fear. In other words, being part of a religious community that does not unconditionally affirm a person’s sexuality or gender identity is inherently coercive and harmful to someone who struggles with these issues.
The Commission states:
The Commission’s directions and information on their website don’t just target activities that they disapprove of, but also the beliefs that underly them. Throughout the website, they not only outline what is not acceptable, but tell people of faith what they are allowed to say, do and believe.
The Commission particularly targets the concept of sin or human brokenness – that humans are not perfect as they are, and need to be saved/healed/corrected. This is a fundamental belief of most of the world’s religions. Most faiths hold that all people have a broken sexuality in one way or another, and need to commit to living out a correct sexual ethic. The commission rejects this concept entirely, and requires faiths to teach that people are “perfect as they are”.
The Commission goes on to define approved religious beliefs and actions, including a section titled “what is allowed?”
The commission targets celibacy multiple times. The idea of a person not having sex, or exercising self-control, is considered to cause “serious and ongoing harm”.
The Commission claims that sermons and general teaching about sexuality are still permitted. However, any indication that the teaching might be directed at an individual means that it could be a “conversion practice”. Even if a teacher is aware of a LGBTIQ+ person in their audience, then their general teaching could be illegal. The commission is not trying to prevent only harmful practices, but the beliefs that underlie traditional teachings about sexuality, gender and marriage.
The Commission seems to reject the rights of a faith community to determine their membership and require their members to affirm and live out their faith in accordance with their own doctrines, tenets and beliefs. Instead, the commission expects communities must allow LGBTIQ+ to continue to be members, even if those people do not believe the community’s teachings on sexuality and gender, or live in contradiction to those teachings.
The effect of the Commission’s explanation of the Victorian Conversion Practice laws is that a religious community cannot require someone to uphold the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of the community in order to be a member of the faith community. This means that effectively the person’s ‘right’ to live according to their understanding of sexuality and gender identity overrides the religious rights and authenticity of the faith community and overrides the rights of all the other members of the community to associate with people who hold the same faith. Where a community’s faith conflicts with an individual’s sexuality or gender, then the community is effectively expected to either change or suppress their faith.
Not only does the Commission state what teachings and beliefs it considers acceptable, it effectively requires a faith community to actively prevent “conversion practices”. If a church or other legally identifiable group does not take these steps, it will be very difficult for it to defend a claim of vicarious liability for any “suppression practice” that one of its members has engaged in.
This forces faith communities to be able to demonstrate that they have taken “reasonable precautions” to prevent any activity that the Commission deems harmful. The definition of “reasonable precaution” is not provided, but would, in the view of the Commission would include educating their members to affirm LGBTIQ+ identity and ideology.
The Commission provides these examples of what is considers to be ‘reasonable precautions’:
The Commission also requires a religious believer who is not willing to ‘affirm’ a person’s sexuality or gender identity to refer them to someone who will so affirm. Many religious believers would consider such a requirement to render them complicit in what the believer conscientiously considers to be sin: