One of the most challenging issues to come under scrutiny at Synod and Assembly meetings in recent years was resolved today by the Synod meeting of the Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania at Latrobe University.
The meeting accepted that a balance needs to be struck between freedom to practise religious beliefs and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of certain characteristics.
But it resolved to record its opposition to specific forms of harmful discrimination.
This follows intense debate in recent years leading to the national Assembly resolution Dignity in Humanity: Recognising Christ in Every Person 2006 and Synod resolution 5.1.1-3(c) in 1993.
The Synod meeting resolved by consensus to oppose religiously motivated harmful discrimination generally and, in particular, in the following areas:
(i) Antisemitic discrimination;
(ii) Discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt;
(iii) Discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits in India;
(iv) Discrimination against Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories; and
(v) Discrimination against Christians in Indonesia, especially in the construction of churches.
The meeting also resolved to support laws that would prevent these forms of discrimination.
The meeting noted that the absence of a situation of religiously motivated harmful discrimination from this list does not indicate the Synod’s support for such discrimination.
The director of the Synod’s justice and international mission (JIM) unit, Dr Mark Zirnsak, told the Synod meeting that advice has been received from government bodies, human rights academics and lawyers indicating that the right to freedom of religion enshrined within the UN human rights treaties can be argued to provide a right to carry out all forms of harmful discrimination, including racial discrimination, provided that the discrimination is religiously motivated.
Dr Zirnsak explained that the resolution, now passed, makes it clear that, despite the Uniting Church’s support for UN human rights treaties, it opposes harmful discrimination in the situations listed.