AUSTRALIANS were facing an erosion of their freedom of speech and beliefs through new parliamentary legislation, a Warrnambool audience was told this week.
New laws on abortion, anti-vilification, employment equal opportunity and the push for same-sex marriage were cited at the forum organised by the Australian Family Association (AFA), an arm of the right wing National Civic Council.
Speaker Bill Muehlenberg said people who spoke out or made decisions based on conscience ran the risk of prosecution if others took offence to it.
“Australia is getting to the stage where we can be fined for speaking out on issues,” he said. “Up until recently we haven’t criminalised making people feel offended.
“We live in politically correct times, so to speak out can get you into hot water.
“There are issues going on around us we need to be aware of, politically and socially.”
Mr Muehlenberg is a Melbourne-based social researcher and lecturer in ethics and philosophy.
The AFA has a network of branches around Australia and has been involved in lobbying campaigns on recent issues including the same-sex marriage debate.
State president Terri Kelleher, who helped organise the Warrnambool forum, said freedom of speech and belief had implications for all belief systems.
“It’s the way bills are drafted and operate,” she said.
“They are said to be about tolerance, but they are eroding freedom of conscience.
“For example, in Victoria the new abortion law has implications for doctors with a conscientious objection.
“And if you speak out in support of traditional marriage you could be said to be indulging in hate speech.
“Christians seem to be first cab off the rank in being attacked, but it will affect Muslims and Jews also,” he said.
“It means religious views will be tolerated in a very restrictive mode.”
President of the Warrnambool AFA branch Jim Hanrahan said more than 100 people attended the forum which would be followed by another early next year with another guest speaker.