Australia

‘Pushed out’: Anglican bishop calls for religious freedom bill to be implemented after Essendon CEO’s exit

A Sydney Anglican bishop has called on the Albanese government to implement a proposed religious discrimination bill following the resignation of Essendon Football Club’s new CEO after his links to a controversial church surfaced.
The Bombers amid backlash over his role as chairman of the Melbourne-based City on a Hill church.
In sermons from 2013 – a year before Mr Thorburn became chairman – the church described practising homosexuality as a sin and likened abortion to the murder of people in concentration camps.
Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead claimed that despite widespread criticism, those sermons were “not extreme”, and reflected beliefs held by various faiths.

In a statement for the Freedom of Faith legal think tank, he said Australians should be shocked by Mr Thorburn’s treatment and called on the federal government to urgently implement a promised religious discrimination bill.

Andrew Thorburn is chairman of City on a Hill, a church that condemns homosexuality. Source: AAP / Dan Peled

“He has been pushed out of his new role solely because of the moral and religious views expressed on a church website with which he is associated,” Bishop Stead said.

“This action shows there is no commitment by the Essendon board to embrace a diversity of moral or religious views.”
The Albanese government has promised laws to guarantee religious freedom but has .
to block then-prime minister Scott Morrison’s religious discrimination laws over insufficient protections for LGBTIQ+ people.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton said the church’s comments on homosexuality and abortion were abominable but did not reflect Mr Thorburn’s views.
“The fact that an individual can be sacked from a position because of his religious belief doesn’t have any place in our country,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
“Whether it’s Christianity, whether it’s Judaism, whether you’re part of a mosque, or a temple – it doesn’t matter. We don’t tolerate discrimination against anybody on that basis.”
Mr Thorburn’s resignation was , which advocates for Essendon’s LGBTIQ+ supporters and players.

‘True tolerance includes people of faith’

Mr Thorburn released a statement on Wednesday in which he said he had received hundreds of messages of support, and declared it a “dangerous idea” that someone’s faith could result in them being deemed unsuited to a role.
“It is troubling that faith or association with a church, mosque, synagogue or temple could render a person immediately unsuited to holding a particular role,” the former NAB boss said.
“That is a dangerous idea, one that will only reduce tolerance for others and diversity of thought and participation in our community and workplaces.
“True tolerance, inclusion and diversity also includes people of faith.”
Former Essendon chairman Paul Little criticised the club’s current leadership for a lack of professionalism around the process that led to Mr Thorburn’s appointment.
Mr Little said the club’s due diligence should have uncovered Mr Thorburn’s links to City on a Hill before he was appointed to the role.
Mr Thorburn was originally part of the panel put in place to select Essendon’s new CEO, before being invited to apply for the role himself.

At a press conference on Tuesday evening, Essendon president Dave Barham said he “reference checked (Mr Thorburn) thoroughly” and “had no reason to think anything other than he was a suitable candidate”.

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