AAP Report on NSL vs ACL Religious Forum at the National Press Club
The Christians and the secularists have faced off over religious freedom and whether proposed new laws hand Australians a licence to bigotry.
As the Morrison government finalises legislation to protect people from religious discrimination, the heads of the Australian Christian Lobby and the National Secular Lobby met in Canberra to debate the plan.
Christian Lobby boss Martyn Iles said it seemed people declared anything they did not like was bigotry.
Mr Iles said existing restrictions around speech that offended or harassed were "Humpty Dumpty" words, which could mean whatever people wanted them to.
"Protecting religious freedom is a good thing, because it sends a message to every bureaucrat, to every politician who has accrued a bit of power to themselves, that they cannot simply finish people," he told the National Press Club.
"They can't ruin their careers and do harm to them, simply because they don't like what they have said."
But Secular Lobby ambassador Fiona Patten, a Victorian state parliamentarian, says the laws won't foster respect or mutual tolerance.
"We will see this type of, I think, really vile and cruel behaviour possibly become commonplace, because it is allowed," she said,
"This legislation basically says that Australians should have the right to be bigots.
"I can't see any reason for this legislation except as a sop to various conservative groups because of the Marriage Equality Act."
She echoed the complaints of human rights advocates that the proposed legislation would override existing anti-discrimination laws, including those preventing sexism and racism.
Submissions on the draft religious freedom bills closed last Wednesday, but the Attorney General's Department is yet to publish them.
In general, while religious figures say the laws don't go far enough, secular groups say they override the rights of other marginalised parts of society.
The Morrison government hopes to put the legislation to a vote by the end of the year, but the practicalities of parliament make that unlikely.