SYDNEY, Australia, March 16, 2011 ( – Discrimination, though cast in a negative light in modern society, can be an important quality, and even a virtue that reflects wisdom and prudence, argued Bishop Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, in a column Wednesday.

The bishop was responding to a call last month from the Green Party in New South Wales to scrap religious exemptions in the state’s anti-discrimination legislation, which is designed to protect faith-based schools and services.

Even with such exemptions, legislation of this nature has been used in Western countries to hinder, or even silence, people of faith and others espousing traditional views on issues like homosexuality and abortion.

Last month, the U.K.‘s high court barred a Christian family from acting as foster parents because of their opposition to the homosexual lifestyle.  In the high-profile case, the court ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation trumped the right to not be discriminated against on religious grounds.

But according to the bishop, society’s condemnation of discrimination, and legislation proposing to ban it, fail to distinguish between discrimination that is “just” and that which is “unjust.”

Discrimination used to be “considered a natural process to make decisions, judgements and distinctions on the basis of distinguishing between objective good and evil, between right and wrong,” he observes, in a column for The Record.  But he says there has been a “complete turn around” in how we view the notion of discrimination, turning it into a vice that affronts the prevailing “attitude of tolerance.”

“The change in outlook is fuelled by the view that all people, all ideologies and all behaviours have equal merit and, therefore, an equal right to exist,” he explains. “When there is no such thing as basic right and wrong, then any judgement of another becomes negative discrimination.”

In fact, he says, “the future of our society depends upon our ability to discriminate between good and evil, right and wrong and what is or is not acceptable behaviour for our society.”

The bishop suggests that the very notion of “anti-discrimination” legislation is based on a “faulty footing,” because it fails to specify that it’s targeting “unjust” discrimination.

“Clearly, the government’s concern is to address issues where there is unjust discrimination,” he writes.  “These days, the misuse of the word has led to the view that all discrimination is a social evil. When ‘anti-discrimination’ is proposed as a good in itself, then any group which pursues some form of discrimination is viewed as being opposed to the common good of the society.”

“It would seem wiser, then, to change the language and avoid the obvious danger of using this term in an inappropriate way, even if it has come into common parlance,” he adds.

Bishop Porteous says it is “ironic” that efforts to eliminate discrimination “run the risk of proposing an unjust discrimination against religion.”  Instead, he says such efforts should affirm fundamental rights such as freedom of religion and only then tackle unjust forms of discrimination.

He notes that the Catholic Church has often been accused of discrimination because of its stances on controversial issues.  Yet he insists that the Catholic Church “does not seek to impose but rather to propose its understanding of issues to the society,” in an effort to “assist in strengthening the quality of life within a society.”

The bishop condemned proposals to grant the Church an “exemption” from “anti-discrimination” legislation in certain cases, saying that is a “false position” because “it suggests that the Church is in the wrong, but this wrong will be tolerated by the State.”

“There is great value in the lost art of appropriate discrimination,” he writes.  “The right to discriminate on the basis of right and wrong, and in adherence to more fundamental beliefs, needs to be acknowledged and protected in Australian society.”

See Bishop Julian Porteous’ full column, ‘The virtue of discrimination’, here.