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Jim Wallace takes strong line as Government postpones anti-discrimination legislation

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The Australian Christian Lobby’s (ACL) Jim Wallace has mounted a strong defence of the right of Christian organisations to discriminate in staffing and service delivery. ACL’s strong stance comes as the Federal Government has placed its anti-discrimination legislation on the back-burner.

“We think it is very important that Christian organisations are able to preserve their character and ethos both by selecting their own staff and defining what the nature of their service delivery should be,” Wallace told Eternity.

“Service delivery is the main contentious point at the moment. If you can think of Christian schools you can think of a school wanting to keep a balance, say 80 per cent of church people coming to the school. Of course some will decide they don’t want to discriminate at all.”

The schools which aim to operate for a Christian community tend to be smaller and belong to the Christian Education National group formerly known as Christian Parent Controlled Schools. Most other independent schools have open enrolment programmes.

One class of Christian organisations- aged care providers- face a major change if the new anti-discrimination proposals become law. The main change in the government proposal law is that exemptions for religious aged care providers in service delivery will be rolled back. The government has expressed concern that gay couples have been missing out on aged care.

“We see straw men put up in these cases,” Wallace said. “I think there would be very few instances where aged care would not be available by a non-faith provider.”

“I think we have to be reasonable in this and say that in the same way that a Christian school wants to maintain a particular ethos, if (and not all will) an aged care provider wants to provide a particular ethos in their establishment then offering their services to a Christian clientele is part of that. And I think they should be able to do that.”

Despite arguing that Christian welfare organisations should be able to discriminate in service delivery, Wallace notes that many will want to offer their services to all.

“For example, no provider in the welfare area such as the Salvation Army or Wesley Mission would discriminate in the delivery of their services because they are there to witness to Christ. They are against drunkenness, but they offer services to drunks, they would be against gambling, but they offer their services to the victims of gambling. It is a complex area but I think it should be up to the service provider to work out what service they provide.”

ACL is battling for a right to discriminate service providers may not want to exercise, says Human Rights campaigner IsaiahOne. “It would be hard to find Christian aged-care providers who have refused services based on the sort of attributes covered by proposed new Commonwealth laws,” says IsaiahOne’s Angus McLeay. “It is therefore surprising to hear that some are calling for the Government to give Christian service providers (who receive Government funding) special exceptions from Commonwealth law to deny services.

“Perhaps this stems from well-meant, but misdirected, concern for rights of religious freedom. Regardless, the impression created by calls for exceptions from laws that everyone else abides by is that Christians want the ‘right’ to treat some people with less respect and decency. This would be the result if elderly same-sex couples, who have been together for decades, are told to separate or face being turned away. Christian service providers base their mission on God’s love with open-hearted and generous grace. Let’s ensure that the core gospel truth isn’t lost in a fight for a legal right we don’t need to claim.”

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