When the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils made a submission to a government inquiry suggesting that Muslims should enjoy “legal pluralism” by allowing moderate forms of Sharia in divorce and family laws, all hell broke loose.
The organisation’s president, Ikebal Adam Patel, tried to reassure the community that they just wanted the right to practise their own beliefs.
“It is important for someone who is Muslim or a practising Jew that aspects of our religion which can be incorporated within the greater legal system are introduced. This is about personal issues about family, and won’t affect any other Australian. It’s about a system that does not impinge on the rights of any other Australian.”
The AFIC submission said criticisms of Sharia as being biased against women should be considered but so should the choices of Muslim women be respected.
“It is important for Muslims to seriously consider this criticism.
But it is also important for the Australian government to respect the rights of Muslim women who want to keep and maintain the way they dress, eat and interact with others, as long as such behaviour does not inflict harm to others.
Muslims in Australia should accept the Australian values, and Australia should provide a ‘public sphere’ for Muslims to practise their belief. It takes two to tango.
This approach demands a compromise from Islam, which should be open to other values, and also to make a similar demand of Australia.
It is not only Australian Muslims who should reconcile these identities, but all Australians.”
Andrew Bolt was appalled.
“Whoever wants to make their own private or religious arrangements about living together can do so, provided they do not conflict with Australian law. But for the law to specifically endorse verdicts of religious groups is to give them a power and legal standing that seems at odds with not just our notion of one law for all, but with our Constitution’s insistence on a separation of church and state.”
But now we see the anti-marriage equality campaigners asking for just that – they want special laws to accommodate their religious beliefs.
Matt Canavan has made it a crusade in a ridiculously overblown address to the NO camp.
“I’m trying to fight to ensure that we’re not a persecuted minority,” Senator Canavan said. “There is no other country to flee to in the world if we lose … there’s no other planet we can take ourselves to.”
Putting aside the irony of the man who wants the world to burn more coal suggesting there is no other planet to flee to, one wonders if he will fight as fiercely to have Muslim beliefs protected by law. Will he fight for the right of parents to refuse medical treatment for their children if it is against their religious beliefs? How far will this precedent extend?
In November 2003 the National Alliance of Christian Leaders (NACL) held a summit to “develop a strategic blueprint for a discipled Australia.” According to Helen Woodall, the editor of New Life Christian Newspaper, the goals agreed upon included:
“… unity in truth; recognition of Christ’s authority in the church, family, individual and government; … legislature to force Christian values; … the kingdom permeating the structures of society; biblical government.”
Some years ago, Chrys Stevenson wrote about the rise of Christian dominionism in Australia:
Dominionism goes beyond Christians exercising their democratic right to be politically active. Dominionists aim to dominate the political process – to exercise “a disproportionate effect on the culture.”
Lyle Shelton is the son of Ian Shelton, pastor of Toowoomba City Church, a “transformation” ministry which grew out of the now defunct Logos Foundation, a cultish group closely associated with dominionist and reconstructionist theology.
Apparently, Shelton Snr joined Logos in the early 1980s when Lyle was in his pre-teens. When the group folded in the wake of its leader’s sexual indiscretions, it was resurrected by Shelton in the guise of the Toowoomba City Church. Shelton Senior’s vision is for Toowoomba to become:
“a transformed city where all the spheres – sport/arts/leisure, welfare, health, media & information, law/police/judiciary, politics & government, business & commerce, education – … come under the lordship of Christ.”
Compare this with the words of the late American dominionist, D. James Kennedy, from the Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, and it becomes clear that Shelton and Kennedy sing from the same hymn book – although, perhaps, on different scales:
“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors – in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”
“From local parents and citizens associations to regional councils, from our previously secular state schools to state government departments and even within Parliament House, Canberra, this particular clique of evangelical Christian extremists is working quietly but assiduously to tear down the division between church and state, subvert secularism and reclaim this nation for Jesus.”
We have seen it in the hysterical and dishonest campaign against the Safe Schools program, in the voluntary euthanasia debate, in marriage equality, in the abortion debate and RU46 and Gardasil, in stem cell research, in assisted reproductive technology, in the school chaplains program, in the large increases in federal funding for religious schools, and in the increasing education focus on our “Judeo-Christian heritage” whatever the hell that means.
Political opportunists like Scott Morrison, Matt Canavan, Cory Bernardi and James Patterson along with ideologues like Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott are pursuing this goal to make Christian beliefs the laws that govern us all.
This is the slippery slope we are on and it is time to put on the brakes and remind our politicians that we are not, and never will be, a theocracy. We are a secular nation and our laws should be made on that basis to reflect and serve our modern society, not a book about the myths believed in a society thousands of years ago.