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Experts accuse federal government of seeking to establish theocracy and segregation

Two mental health experts have slammed the religious discrimination bills in a submission to the federal government, accusing it of attempting to establish theocracy and segregation.

Retired clinical psychologists Yvonne Patterson and Paula Nathan wrote that the bills are unnecessary because Australians “already have the right to practise religion”.

The original Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, along with the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019, would allow discrimination against LGBTIQ people and other marginalised groups.

People could be refused employment or healthcare, for instance, on religious grounds.

“The government has not yet explained the real reasons that these bills are being pursued,” Patterson and Nathan’s submission reads.

“The bills will be seen as a statement by government that it’s OK to treat others badly.

“Through these bills, the Australian government is modelling and condoning disrespectful and harmful discriminatory behaviour.”

The psychologists wrote that the proposed new laws “appear to establish theocracy by privileging religious beliefs” and “establish separate classes of citizens – those who are at liberty to discriminate by citing chosen religious and conscientious beliefs, and those who are the victims of the harm caused by privileged discrimination”.

They said that the bills would further “segregate LGBTI citizens through targeted discriminations, legitimising the denial of marriage equality for same-sex couples and providing tax exemptions to religious organisations for denying marriage equality”.

The bills could have mental health consequences by deepening stigma and marginalisation, as well as allowing “psychologically abusive” conversion practices for gay, bisexual, and trans people, the psychologists warned.

“These bills, if they became law, will irreparably damage the Australian psyche,” the submission reads.

“They would segregate and fracture civil society along new fissures.

“They are unworkable, unnecessary, and dangerous.”

Patterson and Nathan further cautioned that laws enshrining the right to discriminate against marginalised groups could be part of a descent into fascism.

“In Europe last century we saw the rise of fascist governments where citizens lost, and continue to lose, all rights,” they wrote.

“We see it in many countries today.                                                                                            

“The religious freedom bills will herald the same in Australia if we do not now realise the dangers and seek a civil society, not one torn apart by hate, mistrust, and discrimination.”

The psychologists join a large body of experts, community groups, individuals, and religious organisations calling for the bills to be scrapped.

Community group PFLAG+ has established a website making it easy for people to contact key politicians about the bills.

Thousands of submissions were received in the first days after the website was made available.

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