Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop, Julian Porteous got a good hug from a Pentecostal pastor at one recent event. In fact, wherever he goes around Australia – like today’s Freedom 16 conference run by Christian thinktank Freedom For Faith – he gets warm handshakes and pats on the back from clergy of all stripes.

Porteous has found himself the poster boy for freedom of religion in Australia. Yet one of his greatest concerns, after a year of public spotlight, is still that Pentecostal pastor, and others like him.

He told the Freedom 16 audience that he will continue to speak out against anti-discrimination legislation which he believes is being used to “silence religious opinion.”

“Even though my case was dropped, the law remains … So somebody else could come forward tomorrow and have exactly the same issue and present the same challenge. That has caused a vast degree of uncertainty …”

In 2015, the Archbishop became the subject of a complaint to Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner after he authorised the distribution of a booklet advocating for traditional marriage in Catholic churches, agencies and schools. The booklet had been distributed by bishops across the country, at the urging of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

A Hobart woman, Martine Delaney, made the complaint under section 17(1) of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which states that a person must not engage in conduct which “offends” where offence might be anticipated by a reasonable person. Delaney – a transgender rights activist – claimed the contents of the booklet marginalised LGBTI Australians in an offensive and insulting way.

The incident was shaping up to be a test case for religious freedom and was being watched closely across the country. But in May this year, Delaney withdrew her complaint.

At the time, the Archbishop said in a statement that the withdrawal still left a number of issues unanswered, “in particular the ability of the church to freely express its view on marriage.”

“That Pentecostal pastor approached me and gave him a warm bear hug … But he then said, ‘You’ve got the whole Catholic Church behind you. I’m just in local ministry, with 20-30 people. If this happened to me, who would support me? I would be so vulnerable before the law.’”

“Even though my case was dropped, the law remains,” the Archbishop told the conference. “So somebody else could come forward tomorrow and have exactly the same issue and present the same challenge. That has caused a vast degree of uncertainty in Tasmania. An enormous uncertainty.”

“That Pentecostal pastor approached me and gave him a warm bear hug. ’Brother,’ he said. ‘Good on you!’

“But he then said, ‘You’ve got the whole Catholic Church behind you. I’m just in local ministry, with 20-30 people. If this happened to me, who would support me? I would be so vulnerable before the law.’ I think that’s the key point,” said Porteous.

“It’s important the Government address this question so that in public debate people can be reassured and speak freely and honestly in relation to marriage.”

“I knew that anti-discrimination law could always be used against Christians, but I didn’t envisage it would happen to me,” said Porteous.

“I’m aware of the fact that I was protected, to a certain extent. And I’m very aware that a minister doing no more than presenting the Christian teaching on the nature of sexuality is so much more vulnerable and may not have the resources to get support and protection against these laws.”

Porteous told Eternity he has made several representations to the Tasmanian Premier to reconsider the state’s anti-discrimination laws, especially in the lead up to the promised plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

“It’s important the Government address this question so that in public debate people can be reassured and speak freely and honestly in relation to marriage,” he said.

“My view is that I didn’t do anything wrong under the anti-discrimination law. The document I released was respectful in its language and stated very clearly its respect for people who find themselves in situations of same-sex attraction.

“That is what we must continue to do. To speak respectfully but present clearly the view of the church about the nature of marriage. I wouldn’t change my approach at all. I don’t believe I broke the law.”

A previous version of this story misquoted Archbishop Porteous as saying his case was lost. He in fact said ‘dropped’, as reported elsewhere in the story. 

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