RELIGIOUS FREEDOM LOST AS WHITE MAGAZINE SHUTS

Christians are being run out of business, hounded by boycotts and bullied by activists, for adhering to their faith a year after the celebrated same-sex-marriage vote.  In a sign Australia faces a “crisis of freedom”, a successful international wedding magazine that chose not to feature gay couples has announced its decision to shut down after becoming the target of an intimidation campaign.  The founders of White magazine, Christians Luke and Carla Burrell, said they were the targets of an activist campaign that deterred their advertisers, frightened their staff and included threats of physical harm because of their stand on same-sex weddings.

The couple, who have published White for 12 years, said the campaign was triggered by the same-sex marriage vote and saw them branded homophobes and bigots.  One individual warned their house would be burned down.  With the government poised to respond to a  review into religious freedoms amid concern gay school students and teachers will be subject to discrimination, the Burrells expressed deep frustration that activists had forced them to “draw the curtain on this part of our lives”.  “A number of advertisers withdrew their sponsorship out of fear of being judged, or in protest.  We have had to recognise that White magazine is no longer economically viable.’’

In another case, Christian photographer Jason Tey was taken to the West Australian Equal Opportunity Commission after agreeing to photograph the children of a same-sex couple but disclosed a conflict of belief, in case they felt more comfortable hiring someone else.  At the conciliation hearing, Mr Tey was ordered to provide an admission of discrimination and place a written apology on his website  homepage and all social media pages associated with his business for at least two months. Mr Tey, said: “I don’t believe I have discriminated in any way, nor offered unfavourable treatment.  I merely stated that I have a contrary view due to my Christian faith.”

The matter was not resolved at conciliation and was referred to the State Administrative Tribunal for mediation. Martyn Iles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby who helped establish the Human Rights Law Alliance, said the two cases were “the tip of the iceberg” that represented “a far deeper crisis of freedom”.  He warned that Australians with traditional views on marriage, gender and family were now in “direct contradiction to new laws” and said he was “imploring the government to pass high quality religious freedom laws”.  “We have assisted some 50 people who have come under legal persecution simply for what they believe,” he said.

“These cases demonstrate the intolerance shown towards those whose beliefs conflict with the new normal.  Jason is being sued simply for stating his beliefs. Luke and Carla were harassed out of business for saying and doing nothing.  We are at the stage where anything less than total affirmation is worthy of vicious attack.”  One of the recommendations of the review into religious freedoms, led by former  attorney-general Philip Ruddock, is for a religious discrimination act.  This would reframe the legal protections for religious freedoms as a positive right rather than continuing to have them enshrined as a negative right by way of exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act.

The current system of exemptions, strengthened by Labor in 2013, allows faith-based institutions the ability to discriminate in certain circumstances, an arrangement that triggered a public backlash in the lead-up to last year’s Wentworth by-election.  Attorney-General Christian Porter will take the proposal for a religious discrimination act to cabinet for approval, but it is unclear whether the proposal will have enough support to pass the parliament.  White was published quarterly and, at its peak, had a circulation of about 32,000 copies and was available in 17 countries.  It had a small staff with one full-time employee in addition to Mr and Mrs Burrell.

In August, stories broke in the mainstream media identifying that White did not feature gay couples, with photographer Lara Hotz arguing it was an unspoken policy that should be made clear.  Ms Hotz, whose images had featured in the magazine, said at the time she felt discriminated against.  The 32-year-old said she had also received numerous threats after posting about the magazine’s policy.  “I fully support religious freedom,” Ms Hotz said.  “But this was simply a request for White magazine to be transparent with their advertisers and contributors so they could make informed decisions.”

Source:  Compiled by APN from media reports

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