Christian group slammed for proposal to ban disabled priest from church leadership

A Christian group based in Adelaide, Australia, has been criticized for proposing a religious exemption to the Disability Discrimination Act so that it can ban disabled or mentally ill priests and ministers with "disturbing behavior" from holding leadership positions in the church.

(REUTERS / Nir Elias)Israel's Moran Samuel's (seen at rear) wheelchair is seen as she returns to the platform at the end of a training session at the Yarkon stream in Tel Aviv May 21, 2012.

National Christian group FamilyVoice suggested via a submission to a parliamentary inquiry that behaviors linked with disability or mental illness could be a disturbance to church services. The organization added that religious leaders provide counseling to members, so church leaders must be respected, the Daily Mail relayed.

"Priests and ministers exercise important positions of authority within a Church. For very good reasons a religion may not wish to engage a person who has a mental illness and displays disturbed behaviour," FamilyVoice said in its proposal. "Such behaviour would adversely affect a Church service, which is sacred in nature."

FamilyVoice national director Ashley Saunders also explained to Daily Mail Australia that they are not excluding people with disability or mental illness from the church. He said the submission talks about protecting congregants from "disturbed behavior" which includes shouting or swearing.

Despite the explanation, Dignity Party MLC Kelly Vincent slammed FamilyVoice's submission and told Adelaide Advertiser that the Christian group's proposal is "cruel and hypocritical." She added that with the right support, people can still lead peaceful lives even if they have mental illness.

Tory Shepherd of The Advertiser also slammed FamilyVoice over the proposal for religious exemption from the Act and said the move only aimed to discriminate against "queers of all kinds." She suggested that the Christian group just wants to be exempted from the Act in cases when there is a job applicant with Tourette syndrome or coprolalia tic, which involved involuntary swearing or inappropriate comments.

For Shepherd, FamilyVoice's submission is an offensive way to ensure that that they do not have to hire people with conditions like Tourette syndrome. She also accused conservative groups of putting up barricades at a time when moderate churches are making changes to promote diversity in their congregations.