Blasphemy (Abolition of Offences and Related Matters) Bill 2019: Committee Stage (Resumed) and Remaining Stages

SECTION 2
Question again proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

We will resume with Senator Mullen on section 2.

I will be brief. The point I was making is that it will be open to us in the future to see if any mischief emerges from the new changed situation. I had no problem with the existing constitutional provision because it was so harmless but I have some sympathy with the idea that in its absence, one might have kept the legislation, since it was already there, and doing no harm but in some way signalling the respect that is due to people's religious beliefs. One can argue it both ways: that the constitutional provision without the legislation would have been adequate; or that the legislation without the constitutional provision would have been adequate. The question Senator McDowell is raising for us is whether in the absence of any constitutional reference or any legislative prohibition whatsoever on blasphemous matter we are exposed to a situation of unnecessary, intentionally injurious, extreme attacks on religion, in a way that is neither civil nor conducive to proper public debate, or at least that is my understanding of what he said.

I refer to what the Minister of State said. Anything that involves the invocation of religious singularity or anything that seeks to identify this State, this nation, with any one religion, to the exclusion of expressions of solidarity or acts solidarity with people of other faiths or none would be very bad indeed and I commend the Minister of State 100% on what he said. However, the single most abused, tortured, attacked and persecuted group in the world today are Christians. We do not talk enough about that. This is not put Christians above Muslims, Yazidis or people of no faith. If someone is persecuted for being gay in a country, we should condemn that and act in solidarity with that person. It is not nothing that the vast majority of people in the world today who are persecuted are Christians. Within the Christian faith, there have been abuses by Christians-----

These blasphemy laws are used to target these Christians.

It can and does occur today. It is not nothing and it is no accident that the single most targeted people in the world today for religious persecution are Christians.

Using blasphemy laws.

Not only blasphemy laws.

It needs to be said that there is a risk in this country, because of a certain allergy to religion within the cultural elite, that not enough would be said and done to call out persecution of Christians where it occurs. I have always said that when it comes to migration policy, we should have a structured but generous approach, and we should not distinguish between people of faith, per se, but if Christians are suffering particularly, if there is a situation where Christians do not go into refugee camps for fear of what might happen to them there, if one has a situation where the first people to Europe's borders are those with resources and strength and are relatively strong compared with much more oppressed and weaker people of religious minorities, including Christians, it is legitimate for us to seek out where the need is greater. It is legitimate for us to be mindful of our own Christian heritage in showing solidarity with those people. That is not the same thing as suggesting that this country is a Christian country to the exclusion of all others. We need to be mindful that Christians are particularly getting it in the neck in the world today. Due to the culture that now dominates in our country, there might be a certain nervousness in the highest places to name what is happening to Christians. We must warn against that as well which is a point on which the Minister of State may probably agree with me.

I thank the Senator and call Senator Higgins.

In naming different discriminations, it is not necessarily useful to go to anything that might be construed as a hierarchy of who should be considered, and so forth. There are different debates on which groups are targeted or persecuted at different times, in different areas and in different ways, be it by the law or in other different forms of oppression. In different places, different groups have been targeted. In each of these individual instances, we talk about the groups being targeted and why this is so. The overall framework under which we operate, which is the international framework, is the principle of human rights, which incorporates religious freedom. One of those human rights principles is the right to freely practice one's religion. Rather than focusing on this group or that group and whether we have an interest in or alliance with a group, the important thing and most globally useful thing, both to those Christians who are being persecuted in certain areas of the world, to Muslims and to the Rohingya people, for example, in Burma, is to bear in mind and continue to use our international UN human rights frame, as our reference point. That is something we need to be cognisant of, under and within which we need to be cognisant of the protections of the rights of those of all faiths and those of no faith, covering the full spectrum of the rights of humans.

I did not intend to come in on the debate but I wanted to at that point. The Minister of State spoke very eloquently in addressing the issues of hate, which I realise is separate, relates to other legislation and is not relevant to this, but I appeal to him - this is an appeal I have made a number of times - for us to reconsider a national action plan against racism, which may also include issues of religious intolerance, and to look at how that might be addressed. These are issues which should be addressed not only in terms of the crime of hate-speech but the active promotion of harmony, understanding, engagement and the protection of the rights of all, which we previously had under the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, NCCRI, the national committee, the advisory group which I was a member. That was a really approprriate and often very positive mechanism for promoting harmony, understanding and engagement and protecting the rights of all. This was a useful frame that we had previously. Will the Minister of State consider that as part of how we address these issues, going forward, since we are now changing the law?

On that last point, that is under active consideration. I thank the Senator for her support and her ongoing commitment to this area, which is something we are taking very seriously. I hope to be in a position before the end of the year to come here to present some ideas and proposals in that whole area, which is of great importance.

On the international dimension, which I mentioned at the tail-end of my submission earlier and has been mentioned by a number of Senators, that if this legislation saves one life internationally, by other jurisdictions not being able to reference it, it is worth it.

Question put and declared carried.
Section 3 agreed to.
Amendment No. 1 not moved.
Section 4 agreed to.
Section 5 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.