What is religious freedom?

I spoke today to the Justice Select Committee on the Conversion Practices Bill.

You can read St Matthew’s submission here

You can watch the Committee at work here and feel for the MPs listening to endless 10 minute slots of people speaking all day on Zoom – they had a 10 minute break at lunchtime and that was it! Wonderful to see our democracy at work.

You can read the bill here

In my remarks I reflected on the issue of religious freedom.

The Bill says:

5 However, conversion practice does not include—

(2) (f) the expression only of a religious principle or belief made to an individual that is not intended to change or suppress the individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

This is designed to allow religions to express a view on homosexuality.

This is what I said to the Committee:

“Words have great power, especially in a religious context. We call ourselves people of the word, the Bible.

So if a religious leader says for example – that homosexuality is a sin – those words have power, and the intention of those words is to change someone. You cannot separate the words from the intention to act. The words we know cause great damage on their own, as well as the actions this bill will prevent.

I know there are some church leaders (a minority I believe) who will tell you that they need their “religious freedoms” protected in this bill. They want to be able to quote their misguided biblical interpretation, of a couple of bible verses taken out of context, in order to support their homophobic views. They want the freedom to discriminate and to preach discrimination.

Religious freedom is the freedom to exercise your beliefs, not to impose your beliefs on others.

Conversion practices begin with conversations and sermons where people want to impose their beliefs on others, in a way that is so psychologically damaging.

MPs would not protect in a modern NZ law the right to say that slavery is permitted; or that women should not speak or lead in church; or that adulterers should be stoned to death – yet all these things are found in the Bible.

The Biblical world had no concept of same gender relationships as we understand them today, just as the biblical world saw women as the property of men.

As Christians we follow the way of Jesus who refused to stone a woman accused of adultery, who berated the religious leaders of the day for following the letter and not the spirit of the law.

When Jesus tells us to love our neighbour we hear words of embrace, inclusion and acceptance.

We know that so many LGBT people have been deeply damaged by the words of exclusion and hate heaped upon them by churches.

Conversion practices are the worst of this and we applaud this bill to ban them.

But in making these good steps it is important that you do not enshrine the right of churches or other faith groups to continue to speak hate to members of the LGBT community.”


7 thoughts on “What is religious freedom?

  1. A great contribution Helen- lucid and logical, making a great pitch to follow the teachings and example of Jesus rather than the legalism of the Old Testament. Thanks for making this submission in person on behalf of St Matthews.

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    1. yes – Louisa Wall asked about protecting religious rights under the Bill of Rights and I said it was a balance between those “rights” and the rights of people not to be abused by religious rhetoric. Each presenter only had 10 minutes so that is all there was time for.

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  2. Great work Helen: for decades now the general issues of “programming” and “deprogramming” have been around. The issue of forced manipulation – especially in relation to sexual orientation – is a violation worthy of legal prohibition.

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