Catholic Voices Malta today submitted its position paper on the Equality Bill being discussed in Parliament to the Hon Dr. Edward Zammit Lewis BA, LLD, MP as Minister for Justice, Equality and Governance, and the Chairman and Members of the Adjunct Committee for the Consideration of Bills.
While welcoming those measures that the Government and society take to ensure equality for all, it needs to be emphasized that equality is not homogeneity, and measures taken need to respect diversity if we strive to be equal. Equality means that although we may be different in race, colour, creed, sexuality, opinions, we are equal.
As Catholics, we believe that “Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin.” We all therefore enjoy an equal dignity. Therefore, “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The proposed Bill raises several concerns when dealing with Catholic Education. Catholic Schools cannot be limited to transmitting Catholic values and ethos only during religion lessons. The Constitution already obliges every school, be it a Public, Private or Church school, to teach the Catholic faith in religion lessons. The purpose of a Catholic School goes beyond scholastic excellence and the mere catechisms in a religion lesson. It must be an agent of that inner change that should be typical of the life of all Christians, so that they are empowered to live their Christian faith in society to improve conditions for the poor, the needy and those unjustly treated.
Parents have a fundamental right to make a choice for the education which is closest to their convictions and to the values they hold dear in raising their children, and the freedom to found educational establishments with due respect for democratic principles.
The Bill is also of concern in the way it seeks to restrict the public display of religious symbols, the role of teachers in Catholic Schools, the right to manifest one’s faith publicly, aspects of advertising and the issue of conscientious objection.
Also, the Bill’s vague definitions of ‘harassment’ and ‘victim’ create a situation for expansive subjective interpretations that will become a tool in the hands of those who want to hassle people who do not agree with their thinking. This defeats the scope of the Bill which is that of seeking to attain and preserve equality. While a balance needs to be sought between freedom of speech and respect for others, silencing people with legal uncertainty goes against the basic principles of freedom of speech.