In recent days and weeks, serious concern has been raised about the prospective ‘equality bills’ being discussed at committee stage in parliament.
The evident flaws in these bills have been clearly pointed out by NGOs, Christian and Catholic groups, and people of calibre such as Tonio Borg and academic Ranier Fsadni.
As Borg warned in his article (Times of Malta, May 19): “the bills are defective, to the point of being dangerous. There is no provision for conscientious objection, but worse than that, there is no provision for the right of Churches to run their own schools according to their own ethos.”
The finer points in this law have been addressed in several position papers by the Church in Malta, Life Network Foundation, Catholic Voices, Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors, and the associations of Catholic lay organisations, among others. These position papers are endorsed by leading intellectuals and jurists, exposing the very serious flaws in the envisaged legislation.
Freedom of expression will become restricted, as will the possibility to live one’s faith publicly and unashamedly. The definition of harassment is vague and does not include the expression of one’s opinion as exempt from libel. One wonders what will happen to journalistic freedom in covering events or expressing opinion pieces that touch upon any of the protected characteristics.
Anyone who has a conscientious objection will not be able to refuse giving a service that goes against his faith, and will be liable to prosecution. Organisations with a religious ethos are not exempt either and this may impact on their use of properties such as halls and meeting rooms.
It will also mean that gender ideology can be promoted in school curricula, as can other subjects or issues not compatible with the schools’ faith ethos. This will lead to a lot of unnecessary litigation, hefty fines, and fear. People who raise their children according to their traditional religious beliefs will be called homophobic if they disagree with the imposed agenda.
The law will undermine the peaceful co-existence we have had until now. It will empower authorities to impose a new ideology on the people.
Earlier this month, during his homily at Santa Marta, Pope Francis pointed out that removing freedom, erasing memory, and indoctrinating young people have been the three indicators of cultural and ideological colonisation throughout the ages. He has spoken often and strongly warned about such dangers, stating: “freedom is taken away, history, people’s memory is deconstructed, and an educational system is imposed on young people… Those who do not think like this are cast aside, even persecuted. This has happened even in Europe.”
Are we going to heed his warning and avoid this happening in Malta?
The supremacy of this bill over the Constitution of Malta and the European Convention Act is of utmost concern and must be addressed and rectified.
It is the responsibility of all involved to ensure that religious freedom, religious ethos, and conscientious objection remain protected.
This time round, government and opposition MPs cannot pretend to be ignorant of what is at stake. They have a grave responsibility to promote and defend basic human rights and the common good.
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