As parliamentary committees reconvene after the summer COVID-imbued break, the Equality Bills discussion rears its ugly head again.

Why should equality laws cause worry and concern to the ordinary law-abiding citizen?

Why have so many people – educators, doctors, employers, organisations, parents, faith groups, schools and NGOs – sounded warnings over such a seemingly innocuous positive legislation?

The dual Bill legislation 96 and 97 is set to change our Maltese landscape like nothing else before.

Vague definitions that include harassment will pose a threat to peaceful people who dare express an opinion on any of the protected characteristics.

Pitching in both sexual orientation and religion together as protected characteristics in these Bills will obviously lead to an escalation of controversy at some point in time.

All Christians, including Catholics, have clear teachings on sexual conduct which no law can change. This has never been a problem until now because people are free to believe, to reject or to embrace their faith and live it in the public square as they deem fit for them.

The Equality Bill makes a mockery of religious freedom by relegating it to a barely tolerated issue- Miriam Sciberras

If Bill 96 sails through without including an overriding clause on religious freedom and conscientious objection, faithful believers will be sued and will be at the mercy of a police state where they will be suddenly under a gag order if they fail to endorse what they do not believe in.

There will be an obvious conflict established by the new law, and the hierarchy of rights will be challenged.

Treating people with respect, tolerance and love of neighbour can never mean endorsement, support or approval of behaviour that goes against their conscience or faith.

Imposing acceptance or endorsement in the name of equality is unacceptable. Threatening people into compliance is tantamount to brainwashing and Marxist indoctrination.

This moral code, which has been the backbone of families and our country for centuries, is now at the mercy of an ‘anti-discrimination law’, which ever since its evil inception was targeted at believers and marketed as a desirable quality. In fact, anti-discrimination laws worldwide do not allow religious freedom and conscientious objection because that is what they are targeted to exclude.

One look at the aftermath of equality laws in other countries shows that peaceful law-abiding citizens are being persecuted for simply living out their faith.

People have been taken to court for wearing a cross around their neck; pastors preaching the Gospel have been sued; children have been taken from their parents if the letter failed to endorse hormone treatment of their minors; midwives have been struck off the register for failing to assist in abortion procedures, and doctors struck off the register or paediatricians sued; writers have been questioned by the police over the publication of leaflets on human sexuality; and schools have been forced to close unless they change their curriculum. These and so many other examples are there for all who want to look up and see what’s in store for us unless we get some serious amendments in these Bills that will make living with them acceptable.

We are moving from freedom as a way of life to freedom as an exemption under these laws.

This is very serious for those who cherish journalistic freedom of expression and religious freedom in the public square.

Religious freedom as a pre-eminent right will now fall under exemptions. How can one relegate a cherished value set in our constitution to an exemption? Exemptions imply bare tolerance that can be removed over time.

The Equality Bill makes a mockery of religious freedom by relegating it to a barely tolera­ted issue. This is a very dangerous subtle attack on the Church in Malta, on faith and on all believers.

The time to speak out is now.

Miriam Sciberras is chair, Life Network Foundation Malta.

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