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Do Atheists Deserve Religious Freedom Too?

Throughout my life I’ve always tried to see if there are general principles that one can adopt. For example, while a work colleague may be causing me stress and I feel that it would make my life a lot better if I were to “accidentally” knock him or her down the stairs, can I justify the use of violence simply to improve my working life? And once one puts it in those terms, then the answer is no for a variety of reasons, but one of the most obvious ones is that, from time to time, I use the stairs myself and I’m sure that there would be people who, for some inexplicable reason, find me irritating and would happily apply the same method of improving their lot in life.

So I find myself rather confused by many of the positions held by some people in the whole marriage equality debate. I don’t see the point in being abusive to the other side. It doesn’t mean that I’m telling people that they can’t do it. Neither am I saying that I definitely won’t do it myself. I’m simply saying that I don’t see the point of doing it. It won’t change the mind of the person who you decide to call a “homophobe” or a “nutter” any more than it will change the mind of someone when you tell them that they’re opening the floodgates and they’ll be responsible when someone wants to marry a plate of vegetables. If you’re resorting to abuse, you’re simply doing it to make yourself feel better, in much the same way swearing at the televison when Malcolm Turnbull appears makes Tony Abbott feel a little bit less like his whole life has led up to one gigantic stuff-up at the point when he should have been best able to implement his plan to take Australia back to the 50s. Anyway, what are the principles about abuse that I should be applying here, and am I being hypocritical if I object to one side calling the other nasty things, while finding no problem when the side with which I agree does the same?

Actually I have been wondering if the “Yes” campaign should take a leaf out of the “No” campaign’s playbook and use the hypothetical argument against them. A large chunk of the latter’s arguments have been to suggest that if the “Yes” vote wins the day then all sorts of things will happen. Howard says we’ll lose religious freedoms; Margaret Court says we’ll lose Christmas; Abetz says someone will marry the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Maybe the “Yes” campaign should adopt the same level of hysteria and suggest if the “No” campaign wins then women will lose the right to vote, pre-marital sex will be punished by stoning and the Amish will have the power of veto over the government’s plans for the NBN… actually that last one may have already happened.

So, I’ve been a bit intrigued about the whole notion of religous freedom and freedom of speech over the past few months. Let’s leave aside the question as to where were all those supporters of free speech when Scott McIntyre, the SBS broadcaster, was sacked over his comments about ANZAC day a couple of years back. And let’s forget all about Yassmin and the calls to have her deported, sacked and hung, drawn and quartered. No, let’s just look at the recent controversy about the contractor who was “sacked” over her Facebook comments where she suggested that a “No” vote was the way to go.

Now we could get all technical here and point out that a “contractor” is contracted for jobs and a simple decision not to use them any more isn’t a “sacking”, but that would raise a whole series of questions about the ways in which workers are being exploited in our lucky country. Let’s just take it as a sacking.

And let’s compare this to Steven North, the Ballarat minister who refused to allow a couple to marry because the bride posted support for the “Yes” campaign on Facebook. Would those supporting the contractor’s right to free speech, similarly argue that the bride had the same right without being denied the right to use that church?

Of course there’s a obvious difference. In the case of the church, it’s a religious institution and therefore exempt from anti-discrimination laws. The argument that some are running is that there’s a difference between what Steven North did, in that the contractor had her employment terminated. People, it’s being argued, should be allowed to express their opinions freely on social media without losing their job.

And this sounds convincing. Until you remember that public servants aren’t allowed to do this. And, if an employee of a religious organisation were to express a view on marriage equality which was contrary to the views of his or her employer, would this by all ok, or would the “religious freedom” of the church trump the “free speech” rights of the employee?

Like I said before, are there principles which we can apply to everyone, or are these fluid depending on whether we agree with the view being expressed?

And, given that Andrew Bolt consistently refers to the environment movement as a religion, could they take advantage of this and register themselves as one and exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws and ensure that they pay no taxes?

Mm, speaking of the environment, I seem to getting a bit distracted by this whole marriage equality thing. I meant to write about the Liddell coal-fired power station and draw an analogy between it and the HR Holden. They both came into existence about the same time, and it seems to me that the Coalition’s position is akin to arguing that we need to extend the life of the HR Holden we’re driving because new cars are more expensive and they’re not as reliable because they sometimes run out of petrol and one broke down in South Australia last year. My HR Holden is much more reliable even if it does need a new battery, and the compression isn’t quite powerful enough to push the car forward when I have more than two passengers or luggage in the boot. But if I just spend about forty thousand or so, I should be able to keep it running well into 2027.

But that’s a silly analogy. I’d rather leave the silly analogies – like comparing Labor’s policies to East Germany – for the Liberal Party.

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  1. Jai Ritter

    I was listening to both sides of that sacking issue and I’m behind the employer 100 percent. If I had a business I’d want the right people representing me and being a strong advocate for human rights, equality and so on, I’d want the same people who share the same values on a moral and ethical level. As soon as the employee brought up Christianity, I’m like nup sorry, that excuse is out.

    Also as a disability worker I’ll pull up people who discriminate against people with disabilities and at least try and educate them a little on disability in genral by sharing some facts on the struggles they face daily.

    Ive deleted people off my Facebook who I know have voted no and have been sharing misinformation supporting the no campaign. Why? Because I first message my gay friends and asked if this hurts and offends them, and how it really makes them feel. And they were extremely disgusted and hurt by it all.

    Now I’ve heard you can’t just delete people because of that, that’s their ” opinion” and their “views”. I say bullshit to that. I don’t have to tolerate any of that crap that is purposely being hateful, devisive and discriminatory to my gay friends, family and the lgbtqi community.

  2. Maeve Carney

    I know for a fact that the violent, intolerant, bullying and destructive behaviour of the ‘yes’ supporters has actually had the effect of making 4 people that I know vote ‘no’. When asked why, they said that to vote ‘yes’ under these circumstances was to condone the behaviour of those people and possibly set precedents for other political situations and even elections. They had a good point and I wonder how many other people feel the same way. Some people are even adding extra paper in the envelope because they fear the postal workers won’t send in an envelope with a ‘no’ vote in it. This is not democracy in action. I’m not homophobic, I have a gay cousin whom I love, but I am violence, bullying, intolerance phobic as are most decent people in this country. I got my ballot paper today and right now I am actually hesitating, never bought I would, but I never thought I’d live to see such intolerance in so-called liberal tolerant people.

  3. jimhaz

    Sounds just like the viewpoint of many Trump supporters. They hated Clinton so much that they were willing to give their vote to a clear cut hater as a form of spitefulness. The Clinton hate was very much exaggerated by lies and irrelevancies from the right wing press.

  4. Vikingduk

    I’m not a homophobe either, I saw a gay woman once, at least I think she was gay, though she may have just been very happy. Disgusting, really, all that happiness, think of the children. Jeez, Rossleigh, $40,000 sounds a good deal especially when you consider AGL’s near $300 million to get Liddell to 2022.

    Shirley you realise that freedom of speech is the right of those that gain sufficient support by having many agreeing with them, all those don’t agree are obviously trying to muzzle their right to express themselves.

    Yes, Sirius matters raised in this article, should only be open to Sirius comments, so I will take my foolishness elsewhere. May the Dog Star guide you.

  5. corvus boreus

    Maeve Carney,
    I am not about to join ‘Reclaim Australia’ or vote PHON simply because I think ‘Antifa’ are a bunch of extremist thugs.
    Similarly, I will not join the homophobes, religious zealots and overly-cautious/gullible social conservatives in endorsing the continuation of a prejudicially discriminatory legislative amendment (enacted by PM Howard, 2004) against LGBTG couples, simply out of reactive spite, just because a few ‘SSM’ activists have, online and on-campus, acted like belligerent phuq-knuckles .
    The substance of the question deserves an honest answer, not a knee-jerk reaction..

  6. roma guerin

    Rossleigh! I nearly did not read this because of that confounded man’s photo at the top. Can you put a kitten on next time? Please?

  7. Rossleigh

    I did, but apparently there’s this app that changes all photos of kittens into Tony Abbott!

    However, I believe that if you put a photo of Malcolm up, nothing happens even though he’s a pussy cat!

    Well, that’s what Peter Dutton tells us…

  8. Glenn Barry

    If I were an adherent of the Westboro baptist church, or a vociferous member of the KKK or a staunch believer in the white Australia policy – you sure as hell wouldn’t want me working for you…
    Yes I’ve illustrated by the use of hyperbole, however we’re witnessing discrimination just as destructive, just as insidious, just as loathsome as so many other social disruption we’ve witnessed.

    What amazes me is both the conflation with free speech, which it isn’t, when regardless of the origins of your beliefs if they are hateful or discriminatory, then that is the end of the matter.

    So many are both unaware of the hate and discrimination which motivates their opinions and are just unable to comprehend a functional definition of the term discrimination – OH you know equal but different, so no, you know you just can’t be in the same club as us unfortunately, because you’re just not that kind of equal

  9. Mary Mary

    corvus boreus, well said

  10. Aortic

    I was going to comment but the sight of that grinning buffoon in a cowboy hat, how appropriate, is putting me off my evening meal.

  11. Aortic

    Hold the phone I am going to comment. Tony Abbott was supposedly headbutted by a supporter of the yes campaign in Hobart. He said he wasn’t very good at it and he only has a very slightly swollen lip. Shame he didn’t get the old Glasgow Kiss which would have rendered him speechless until long after this farce is over. What a beat up, is there no end to the puerile machinations these people will indulge in to try and influence a growing tide of acceptance of SSM? King Canute indeed.

  12. Alan Luchetti

    Ironically it’s only among the religious where we get agreement that atheism is a religion.

    (and well said, corvus. Maeve, they were always wanting to say NO. They were just after an excuse that didn’t appear homophobic)

  13. Bruce

    The preface to Carmen Lawrences 2006 book “Fear and Politics” sums the whole situation up.

    Bigotry is a universal emotion, however it is rationalised, and we are all its potential targets … Dr Lawrence examines the role that fear plays in public life and in the arousal of bigotry – fear of the different, fear of crime, fear of harm, fear of disease. Such fears may lay dormant in good times but can be easily aroused and manipulated to serve political ends …


    for an employer to sack an employee on the basis of the employee’s political position is already unlawful. it would be an unfair dismissal under the Fair Work Act and a breach of the employment contract at common law. If the sacked person was a contractor rather than an employee ( which distinction is made by the High Court in the case of Stevens v Brodribb Sawmilling Company) the contractor would likely have remedies available in the law of equity and under common law contract law. i must say that some of the comments made here in support of the employer and relating to the influence of the headbutting incident on voting intentions, indicate to me just how spineless and conservative Australians have become or, in fact, really are.

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