A senior church leader in Australia has said it is "disingenuous" to portray the Christian community as facing increased persecution.
Uniting Church NSW and ACT Synod moderator Simon Hansford's comments come as New South Wales considers a new piece of legislation aimed at protecting freedom of religious expression and making discrimination on the ground of a person’s religious beliefs or activities unlawful. The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill was introduced following the case of Rugby star Israel Folau, who was dismissed from the national rugby team in 2019 over a religiously-motivated Instagram post.
Hanford, however, believes that the bill could be of detriment to other religious minorities through its granting of rights additional rights to the Christian community.
"Christians are not victims in Australia because of our faith, and we should not seek freedoms that are self-serving and come at the detriment of others in the community," he said, before urging that "provisions to protect Christian freedoms must in no way diminish mutual respect, freedom from discrimination and enjoyment of the human rights of everyone in NSW".
"It is disingenuous to portray Australian's Christians as victims of persecutions and to bolster their religious freedoms to the detriment of our diverse religious communities," Hanford implored, adding that "many of which are subject to discrimination, some of which is unconscious and some, sadly, deliberate".
The bill was put forward by Mark Latham, a member of the right-leaning 'One Nation' party, who earlier this year insisted that "the fastest growing form of discrimination" in Australian society was "against people of religious faith, especially Christians".
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, welcomed the new bill, saying: “People of faith have waited far too long to receive the same protections against discrimination that others enjoy,” he said. “This isn’t about special treatment, it is about equal treatment. I am pleased that so many Catholics in Sydney and across NSW spoke up in favour of these laws, and I hope their voices are heeded by their elected representatives."
Hansford noted that even though he takes issue with some elements of the bill, he was still committed to protecting key Christian values "such as the importance of every human being, the need for integrity in public life, religious liberty and personal dignity, and a concern for the welfare of the whole human race".