Philip Ruddock to appear at the NSWJBD plenum

June 12, 2019 by Natalee Pozniak
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Philip Ruddock, who chaired the Prime Minister’s ‘Religious Freedom Review’ which was handed down last May will one of the NSWJBD’s speakers at its June plenum.

Philip Ruddock

Sharing the platform will be Rabbi Shua Solomon.

Five years ago, when Australia’s Attorney-General of the time, Senator George Brandis, said people had a “right to be a bigot”, it was in the context of the debate around section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act. A robust public discourse around freedom of speech ensued, and section 18C was ultimately left alone.

The freedom of speech issue has re-emerged with the Australian Human Rights Commission currently writing guidelines on religious freedom in the wake of the Israel Folau sacking from Rugby Australia. This issue is the hot social/political topic at the moment.

“The Israel Folau fiasco hit a nerve because it was a person with strong religious beliefs making a deeply offensive homophobic comment,” says NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Lesli Berger.  “Whether or not that should have resulted in his dismissal by Rugby Australia is another matter.”

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, conservative Coalition MPs have been emboldened by support from religious voters at the election and are pushing the government for far-reaching religious freedom provisions in forthcoming laws. Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce wants laws to exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts – in effect giving legal protection to views such as those expressed on social media by Folau – that gay people and fornicators will go to hell.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter is expected to present a Religious Discrimination Act to the Parliament as soon as July, acting on a pre-election commitment to boost protections for people of faith against discrimination and vilification.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells – who worked extensively with faith leaders to galvanise the support of religious voters before and during the campaign – said the election marked a “new dawn” on religious freedom. She called for a standalone Religious Freedom Act that would give greater legal heft to the demands set out by church leaders, Christian schools and other faith-based institutions.

What does this mean for the Jewish community?

“We wanted to provide a forum for our community to discuss the issue of religious freedom,” says Berger. “There are a number of areas in which Jewish beliefs and customs are unpalatable to segments of broader society, such as circumcision, animal slaughter methods, lack of gender diversity among rabbonim in orthodox congregations etc. Do orthodox people in our community feel vilified? It’s an issue we should certainly address.  We are pleased that the Honourable Philip Ruddock, who chaired the Prime Minister’s ‘Religious Freedom Review’ which was handed down in May last year, will be one of our June plenum speakers. From a policy point-of-view, he is the most knowledgeable on this topic”.

Mr Ruddock’s expertise will be complemented by Rabbi Shua Solomon’s focus on how any new religious freedom legislation may impact the Jewish community.

Lesli Berger said: “We look forward to welcoming a broad cross-section of the Jewish community to this stimulating evening of discussion”.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies June plenum, 7:30pm Tuesday June 18, Sydney Jewish Museum Education Centre, Darlinghurst. Inquiries: 9360 1600.

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