As the date for the discussion on the dual equality bills 96 and 97 at committee level approaches, one cannot but feel apprehensive. Will life as we know it with guaranteed fundamental freedoms of expression and lived religious freedom in the public square be guaranteed? Will Catholic schools be allowed to retain their religious ethos without intrusion from the state?
Will Church schools be made to comply and teach or allow promotion of lifestyles that go against their core Catholic teachings such as gender ideology? Will curricula be imposed on us with content that we find objectionable to our faith?
Will lay organisations having a Catholic ethos be free as they are today in the administration and use of their property, advertising and marketing? What about the freedom of journalists?
These questions need to be addressed clearly by the law. Many sectors of society, professionals, health workers, faith-based groups and believers are worried, and they have reason to be. This is because goods and services are not exempt from litigation. This means for example that if one is a photographer and is asked to do a photo shoot of a promotion or an event to which he has a conscientious objection, and he refuses, he will be sued.
The right to religious freedom is included in the European Convention of Human Rights and the Constitution of Malta, and includes the freedom to live one’s faith freely in the public square. If the equality bills are truly about equality and not the imposition of some ideology, there should be no hesitation to removing the supremacy clause which would override these.
Will Catholic schools be allowed to retain their religious ethos?
The principle of reasonable accommodation can be considered and would allow niche markets to flourish freely, as has been the case up until now. This includes people groups who have a right to religious freedom, customs and traditions as long as they can live within the parameters of the law pertaining to a democratic society.
Impinging on the right to live one’s religious freedom in the public square is a very serious breach of human rights as is the right to conscientious objection. This will mean that there will be the policing of thought and freedom of expression if they as much as touch upon any of the protected characteristics.
Parents will face penalties if they raise their children according to their faith, or if they object to certain new ideologies that can be promoted in schools. This is because the equality bills are not only about accepting diversity but includes the obligation to promote diversity. What does this mean? Acceptance and tolerance of various lifestyles is different to mandatory promotion of these lifestyles. Sugar coating the issue to impose gender ideology is not acceptable.
Parents who teach their children that there are different lifestyles around us as we live in a diverse culture but who teach them biblical truths related to marriage would be labelled homophobic when this is not so. Limitation of expression and free speech is not conducive to a free society.
To illustrate the seriousness of this clause I will use Franz Jaggersatter, an Austrian conscientious objector who was beheaded simply because he refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Fuhrer. Beheading is not included in this bill of course, but because of their supremacy clause, the bills will become the rule of the land and we can be held hostage to the ideology of the day. This would mean the persecution of all Catholics and Christians. Is this what this government really wants?
The Life Network Foundation has been following these bills since they came out in their original version a few years ago. We have attended numerous meetings and spoken to various stakeholders and the fears remain there. One augurs that as the debate continues today, the decision will mature such that the fundamental rights of religious freedom, Catholic ethos and conscientious objection be protected in the ordinary law.
The European Convention and Constitution should reign supreme. This would render the equality law true to its name and avoid any mishaps in the future. Avoiding to address these serious flaws risks introduction of a minority dictatorship.
Miriam Sciberras, Chairman, Life Network Foundation Malta
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