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Christian MPs want ‘cultural war’ over religious freedom

The PM is holding 20 Ruddock Review recommendations to advance religious
while giving Christian lobbyists private briefings ahead of their public release in June.

Malcolm Turnbull faces a political gamble by swinging the religious pendulum too far to the right. Does he risk a backlash by further weakening our secular constitution — giving ‘faith’ extraordinary new powers — simply to ease religious angst over the legalisation of same-sex marriage?

Conservative MPs won’t let it go; and “religious freedom” is their battle cry. Assistant Home Affairs Minister, Alex Hawke, is already on record as saying that Australia is “absolutely” in a “new cultural war” against secular social policy.

There’s an almost postmodernist feel about this Christian campaign for more “freedom”. It’s an “identity politics” strategy of presenting Christianity as an “oppressed minority”, despite their 52 per cent showing at the 2016 Census.

There were 16,500 submissions to the Ruddock Review — almost 10 times the number to the Banking Royal Commission. It is estimated that 95 per cent of these are from aggrieved congregations filling out pro-forma letters against gay marriage, orchestrated by religious lobbies.

Media commentators are not asking the basic questions. What, precisely, do the Churches mean by “freedom” — and what freedoms are they currently denied? Legal experts say “none!” The handful of ‘secular’ organisations that lodged Ruddock submissions went to great lengths listing dozens of freedoms, privileges and entitlements, already enjoyed exclusively by all religious institutions.

They include the existing right to ‘hire and fire’ LGBTI staff and students from their schools. But it extends to “religious belief” under exemptions from some anti-discrimination laws — and this can include thousands of “secular” positions in church hospitals, schools, aged cared, charities and for-profit businesses. They include teachers, nurses and welfare workers who may fall foul of religious exemptions. A recent poll showed 80 percent of the public thought this was unacceptable.

We must be careful not to give additional powers to corporatised religious institutions. Every person currently has the constitutional right to believe whatever they wish — but religions should not be above state and national laws that apply to all other citizens. The trials of Cardinal Pell and Arch Bishop Philip Wilson attest to that.

Australia is already regarded as a ‘soft theocracy’, with considerable religious influence in politics. A recent academic journal showed that our federal parliament is one of the most Christianised in the Western world, with 30 per cent of MPs “actively” attending regular parliamentary Prayer Breakfasts — a rate which is twice the religiosity of the general public.

And religious groups are now lobbying MPs for greater powers.

The religious publication ‘Eternity’ reports Freedom For Faith (FFF) being given privileged briefings on the Ruddock Review by the Prime Minister’s Officer. At the recent FFF conference in Sydney, Professor Patrick Parkinson — who wrote the Ruddock Review submission for Freedom For Faith — told the audience:

“I have been kept closely in touch with the Ruddock Inquiry. I have been kept informed by the Prime Minister’s office and we have been making progress.”

This lends credibility to the claim that Christian churches wish to codify and extend many of their religious entitlements — specifically articulated in many submissions from leading religious institutions, and published on the Ruddock Review website.

Professor Parkinson went on to say that ‘secularists’ fail to understand the need for religious schools to have all staff bound by FFF principles, and including Christian maths teachers.

“My wife is a maths teacher and she brings God into her classroom all the time, saying that an equation relates to the order of creation.”

In Australia’s secular democracy religious organisations cannot claim they are discriminated against. Currently, 40 per cent of secondary students are taught in private religious schools. Promoting God — including within STEM subjects — seems to be accepted practice. Extend these freedoms to the variety of other religious businesses — all funded to some degree by taxpayers — and it’s difficult not to conclude that the federal government and religion are perhaps too closely joined at the hip.

It seems almost certain that 78 per cent of the public who believe religion and politics should be separated (IPSOS Poll 2016), would also support the separation of religion from STEM subjects in schools. Does this contribute to the perennial conflict between religion and science?

We have yet to learn the content and effect of Philip Ruddock’s 20 recommendations for religious freedom — and the lobbyists are already working on sympathetic MPs in the corridors of power. But the PM must finally take the gamble of formalising one or more of the recommendations into law. That may be more problematic, once it hits the floor of parliament.

At that point, many MPs might think more seriously about a public backlash if religion — already heavily bankrolled by taxpayers — is given new powers. To codify the hiring and firing of their vast workforce — based on a belief in God — might be swinging the religious pendulum way too far.


Brian Morris is Media Director of the National Secular Lobby. He is a former journalist and managing director of The Publicity Agency. He is the author of ‘Sacred to Secular’. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.





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    challengeable under the Constitution

    Section 116 states:

    The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

  2. babyjewels10

    He’ll bow to the religious right. Always has. They haven’t finished taking our country off track, doing a U turn and back to the dark ages.

  3. helvityni

    “My wife is a maths teacher and she brings God into her classroom all the time……..”

    I learned at my Sunday school that God lived in the heaven, and that he was busy answering peoples prayers….

    She did not obviously know that God was spending a lot of time in Australian classrooms.
    Maybe that was the reason he did not have time to answer my prayers…

  4. Miriam English

    Religion is dying. If this government tries too hard to give it an artificial boost then they badly damage their chances at future elections and risk introducing further division and polarisation into Australian society.

    Religion is associated with many things in society: violent crime, sickness (especially sexually transmitted disease), ignorance, teen pregnancies, abortions, divorces, poverty, and unhappiness. All these are things religion purports to decrease, yet research shows they actually increase all those things. Religion also promotes delusional magical thinking and hate against marginalised groups, and it rationalises dangerously immoral actions.

    If our politicians wanted to do the best by Australia they would speed the demise of religion. It mystifies me that they still cuddle up to the religious crooks and con-men who would take us back to the strife of the Dark Ages, while rejecting and blocking scientists and technologists that our modern world depends upon.

  5. diannaart

    Not dissimilar to the men (not ALL men FFS) who claim they are losing power because of female emancipation, Australia’s religious right claim Christians are being persecuted because of such changes as the right to Equal Marriage

    Well, to be honest, some Christians are persecuted – but not here. Christianity holds a lot of power in our democracy – still.

    Let us be clear: Christians in Australia are not being persecuted. They have the freedom to gather and worship freely, to meet in public places, to join the army, to teach, to vote, and to be prime minister. Christians own and run vast institutions. They are still the largest religious affiliation in the country (at 52% in the 2016 census). These are hardly the signs of a persecuted group.

    To claim persecution is not just historically inaccurate, it is offensive on at least two levels in the current context.

    First, there are Christians (and people of all religions) actually being persecuted for their religious beliefs in other parts of the world.

    As recently as last Christmas, nine Coptic Christians were gunned down in Egypt while at church. Their lives contribute to a death tally of almost 100 Christians killed in Egypt throughout 2017, many while simply attending church for religious festivals.

    Being discovered a Christian in North Korea is considered hostile to the state and often results in time in a forced labour camp. It is equally life-threatening to be a Christian in Afghanistan, Somalia, parts of Sudan, Libya and Pakistan, to name only a few countries where such threats exist. Simply owning a Bible in some parts of the world is a liability to one’s life.

    In Australia, it is Muslims and Jews who suffer the most discrimination or persecution on religious grounds.


    If Ruddock and his ilk were working towards ending discrimination against other religions – well, I’m dreaming, expecting Christians to behave like, er, Christians, is a big ask.

  6. guest

    There has been some talk around a rugby player saying that gays will go to hell if they do not repent. Is this kind of statement the kind which constitutes “religious freedom”?

    Is anyone else then free to ask where “hell” is, or is that an unfair attack on religion? And how does a gay person “repent” for gayness? There seems to be a failure to understand what gayness is.

    Of course faith people can believe whatever the want to believe, but they should also understand that some people will ask questions which might be hard to answer.

  7. jimhaz

    I did secondary school at a Catholic Brothers College in the 70’s.To be honest I do not recall religion forming any part of any STEM subject – however memories of my youth are very, very limited. I had started to reject religion by about Form 2 or 3.

    Back then the Pope was the word of God. Funny how we now see religious moderates ignoring and undermining the current progressive Pope.

    What I think is occurring is that the American evangelical system is having an effect on the levels of propaganda here in Australia. The evangelicals have long known that regressive propaganda works best when supported by true believing politicians and are very actively promoting and sponsoring good communicators into politics. There is some form of religious DEEP STATE in play, one that is far more real in power than Trump’s vastly exaggerated intelligence agency one.

    I sense part of the leaning towards backward or insane American political, media, industrial relations ways here in Australia by many of our politicians – whom would otherwise be MODERATE – is also being generated in part by evangelicals as a flow on effect. The loudest and most energised group wins and that is what evangelicals do – loud, energised sermons of bullshit that sounds positive and decent.

    When religious traitors like Howard are followed up by true believers like Rudd and opportunists like Abbott and Turnbull it makes it hard to force our politicians to not actively support religious organisations with crap like the CES employment contracts, chaplains and now unconstitutional religious powers and “unbalanced” air time.

  8. Yvonne Robertson

    This is great. Turnbull is hanging himself higher as every day goes by.

    Personally I wouldn’t care if the God Botherers insisted on only hiring their own. They get way too many talented secular staff in their hospitals and schools as the situation currently stands. I’d loved to see them as little isolated islands of their own making.

  9. Kaye Lee

    They seem to forget that there are a whole lot of new voters signed up because of the marriage equality plebiscite who are not enamoured with religious beliefs being thrust upon them.

    The trouble is, Bill Shorten seems to be courting the Catholic/religious vote too as Gillard did before him with the school chaplaincy program.

  10. Phil

    “My wife is a maths teacher and she brings God into her classroom all the time, saying that an equation relates to the order of creation.”

    Wow – ‘God’ in person – in the maths classroom – how good is that – I’d love to visit her classroom to see her ‘God’ for myself. Can it be true?

    Ok, ok, I know this is taking the piss and that means I am persecuting the little Christian dears but for Pete’s sake lets grow up and stop playing make believe – I’m speaking to the Christians squealing about freedom for them and bugger everyone else of course.

    If the figures are to believed as to the proportion of devout ones in our parliament, then I have to conclude that we are ruled by infant minds – pretty much proves why we are going nowhere fast in Australia as these Christian fantasists in the main political parties bend their weak little knees as supplicants to myth.

    Far too much wailing and gnashing of teeth in this Christianity freedom bullshit for me. Code for discrimination.

  11. susan

    From my life experience, the more a person spouts their religion, the lower they are on the IQ scale. We do not want the leaders of our country to be incapable of critical thinking.

  12. Andrew J. Smith

    US journalist and theologian Chris Hedges has written and discussed the (lack of) ethics etc. displayed by WASP Evangelicals and related God botherers; he draws a clear line of influence and tactics of 1930s Christianity in Germany.

    Catholics beware of moral hazard, as it also includes (behind eg. pro life vs pro choice) a strong strain of eugenics…

  13. Glenn Barry

    Well do we really want the very same group of religious acolytes that concealed child sexual abuse for decades having MORE influence – they are still struggling with accountability for their past crimes for chris’sakes.

    Will Turnbull let it run, dollars to doughnuts his complete lack of judgment sees that come to pass

  14. Ricardo29

    I am not against religious people of all faiths being able to get on with their lives in their own way. It is when religious beliefs are held by politicians to the point where they affect legislation, or when religious groups seek to impose their views on others ( as those protesting outside abortion clinics) that I believe religion goes too far. In that particular case exclusion zones are not enough. These people should be prosecuted for causing a public nuisance. Their freedom of speech should not be a issue, abortion is a matter for a woman to decide. I believe it is already a painful enough decision without having to run a gauntlet of self-deluding bigots.

  15. Wam

    Why don’t women realise religion is by men for men and their male god organised life to make sure women were subservient breeders(made easier by the instinct of survival of the species). They will create a new god. Until then the weird anti-women practices of the jews, christians and muslims will continue to be taught in the home, schools, churches and parliament. Ironically mostly by women.
    Can believers reason free from doctrine??

  16. Kaye Lee

    Male Jews start each day with a prayer which says “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.”

  17. Miriam English

    The whole thing is amazingly obsessive and can be read at https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/920169/jewish/Tefilah-and-Birkat-Kohanim-Chapter-Seven.htm

    The part you’re thinking about though consists of 3 final blessings out of eighteen (though they’re not required to have any order):

    …every day, a person should recite:
    Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a non-Jew.
    Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a woman.
    Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a servant.

    It’s all kinda insane. Though there is one aspect to it that is good. It has been shown that being grateful for things makes you happier. So misogyny and racism aside, it has some method in its madness.

  18. Ken

    I agree the current federal government is joined at the hip with the christian religion.

  19. Matters Not

    KL and ME, it may all seem insane and the like, – let’s not forget it’s the reality they accept (and even contribute to create). It’s what guides/determines their every-day living.

    As for Shorten buying Catholic votes – the monies involved go far beyond the school chaplaincy program.

  20. Pete Petrass

    god botherers should not have any special treatment or laws or freedoms. religion and their sky fairies are all just a fantasy. the only things religion has brought to this world are wars and paedophiles.

  21. Matters Not

    Don’t think Brian Morris wrote the ‘headline’.

    Christian MP’s (sic) want …

    Perhaps a quick edit?

  22. diannaart

    @ Matters Not

    Dare I enter the rabbit hole?


    let’s not forget it’s the reality they create

    Two Points

    If “they” (Christians) create their own reality – where’s god?


    Are “they” deluded, easily threatened, using tradition, inherited power and nepotism to enforce their beliefs onto the rest of us?

  23. Matters Not

    diannaart re:

    If “they” (Christians) create their own reality – where’s god?

    God is (often) part of the reality they construct. You, like me, and everyone else have the choice to include (or not) a god in the reality constructed. (Yes having constructed a god, they are also quite willing to obey what they see as his commandments.) Those in the Abrahamic tradition feel that they can only choose one, while those (let’s say) more influenced by Hinduism, seem to think they can construct many more as part of their reality. And they do.

    Either way, they are constructing their own reality.

  24. diannaart

    Matters Not

    Religious “reality” does not stand up to evidential repeatable experience.

  25. Cynthia

    Much to my amazement I heard on Radio National about 8:30 am when they quoted from a USA release
    that ” Christianity is a mental illness”, I’m inclined to agree with them.

  26. Matters Not


    Religious “reality” does not stand up to evidential repeatable experience.

    While you and I may argue that line – we are in the great minority. Been to Russia, Middle East, Balkans, Asia etc where religious constructions of everyday life abound. And they are very different constructions – deeply held. We should appreciate that the way we construct reality is but one way among countless others. And if one really wants to dig deep, then we might find that one’s own construction of reality probably (certainly?) makes us unique. (Just a little scratch required for those who think otherwise.)

    While I may think that religion is a form of mental illness, I also recognise that I am very much in the vast minority.

  27. diannaart

    OK, Matters Not.

    We create our interpretations which may or may not be true, we do not create reality.

    The problem I have with your argument of “creating our own reality” is that it gives credence to religious and other unprovable dogma. Religion is a form of control just as much as authoritarianism is a tool used by others for manipulation. Consequently, I do not suffer fools any more than I accept religious mythology.

    We have countless interpretations of the world around us, however, I am not seeing anyone claim the sun rises in the west, yet, religion claims impossibilities all the time.

    Also, there are more people than we can locate who are not religious bigots – you wouldn’t claim to be an atheist in some parts of the Middle East or the USA. Many people simply tick the religious box to fit in.

    At least, in Australia, we are still free to declare ourselves atheists.

  28. Matters Not


    interpretations which may or may not be true

    Indeed! But true or not is not always relevant when it comes to reality constructions. Then there’s the problem of truth itself. And that’s one hell of a problem.


    gives credence to religious and other unprovable dogma.

    Yep! And while I don’t like it, (how could one) it’s the reality. In the words of the song: A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

    One could go on. But one more to finish.

    At least, in Australia, we are still free to declare ourselves atheists.

    Provided of course one doesn’t – at least in certain circumstances or under certain conditions. Try declaring your atheism as a teacher in a religious school or as a partner in which the other thinks is a religious marriage, or …

    Free? Always! But bugger the consequences? Not always? Perhaps one’s concept of ‘freedom’ might need to be unpacked as well? Your construction or mine?

  29. Pingback: Opinion: Christian MPs want "Cultural War" over Religious Freedom | Plain Reason

  30. Miriam English

    Yvonne Robertson May 30, 2018 at 5:06 pm, I love that way of looking at things. I hope you’re right. It just scares me how much damage they can do on the way down.

    Matters Not… more of your bullshit bait again.

    You dignify their delusion by calling it a reality. You are simply redefining reality to muddy the waters. You shouldn’t do it. It helps people with nutty beliefs think they are onto something.

    Tomorrow I go to help a dear friend with her computer problems. She is a sweetie, a truly lovely person, but she believes the most absurd crap you can imagine. Among the silliness she believes is that by thinking a particular way you can create that reality. It is the natural result of redefining terms like you’re doing. It helps con-artists break people’s minds.

    You should NOT do it. It may feel like you’re merely playing with words, but it has genuine repercussions. I hate what it does to her and other easily deceived people.

    There is one reality. If there was not, then science and technology wouldn’t work and magical thinking would. As we learn more about it our understanding of it improves and we deceive ourselves less. People don’t create their own realities. I know you have a good brain, use it for goodness’ sake! Don’t play word games with people’s minds; it is a bad thing to do. It might seem fun to you, but it’s bullshit and harm comes of it.

  31. diannaart

    Matters Not, What Miriam said. Although I refute being baited – I just felt like having a go at this game of MN’s.

    Such as this Try declaring your atheism as a teacher in a religious school or as a partner in which the other thinks is a religious marriage, or …

    Try being a woman and get entry to the Melbourne Club. Or being black while doing anything. Or being Asian in appearance when there’s an campaign regarding China’s part in the game of money. Or being of Middle Eastern appearance in public – this is reality.

    Culture, religion, philosophy and so on, are systems of thought humans create – for good or for ill.

  32. Cathy67

    I WANT FREEDOM FROM RELIGION. When you come to realise just how much of the way we live as a society, and the laws that govern it, have come from christian ( I will not spell it with a capitol. BTW it won’t let you type god with a small g, but that’s easily ignored) from the christian religion, and what those laws have lead us to, and continues to lead us into a doomed future, I could go out and burn down churches out of disgust. HATE ALL RELIGION. WANT MY FREEDOM FROM RELIGION. Love Dawkins and Hitchens for keeping the bastards on their toes. NO POPE FOR OZ.

  33. Terence Mills

    God called the Pope and told him he had good news and bad news ;

    The good news was that there would be a second coming and he would send his son to earth for another go

    The Pope was ecstatic, whats the bad news ?

    The bad news for you is that I’m calling from salt Lake City !

  34. Miriam English

    Terence, I’ll see that joke and raise you with another:

    An atheist goes to heaven, and St Peter shows him around. They go past one room, and the atheist asks: “Who are all those people in there?”

    “They’re the Methodists,” says St Peter.

    They pass another room, and the atheist asks the same question. “They’re the Anglicans,” says St Peter.

    As they pass another room with the door closed, the atheist asks, “Who’s in there?”

    “The Catholics,” says St Peter. “They like to think they’re the only ones up here.”

  35. Miriam English

    Or here is another as told by the comedian Emo Philips. It really gets to the insanity of religion:

    Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

    He said, “Why not? Nobody loves me.”

    I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

    He said, “Yes.”

    I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

    He said, “A Christian.”

    I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

    He said, “Protestant.”

    I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

    He said, “Baptist.”

    I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

    He said, “Northern Baptist.”

    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

    I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

  36. DrakeN

    Interesting article and comments; especially the call for “Freedom form Religion.”
    Few people realise just how warped their thinking and behaviours are simply because of their early indoctrination into the status quo of their parents’ religious and social groups, and that their parents were influenced similarly.
    We are all products of our upbringings, but few of us have been sufficiently self aware to have scrutinised the veracity of our circumstantial learning.
    Some of us even recognise that there is so much that we do not know, and that there is even more to know than we can even imagine: Each new discovery in scientific research illustrates that most clearly; unimaginable facts and concepts being observed and recoginsed. Just a few years ago who would have imagined that our intestinal biosphere directly affects our mental health?!
    The failing in religious belief is the certainty of faith.
    “Your Faith has made you whole.”
    It is a certainty created by those who wish to gain and maintain their positions of wealth and power: Falsehoods and myths promulgated in their own self interests which have become de facto codes for social morés and “moral” behaviours.
    Reality on the other hand is far from the certainty to which so many aspire; it is something to be avoided, something to be shunned for fear of it.
    We are frightened to talk of death and dying even though we will all experience it sooner or later and, in our fear of it, deny those who wish to exit this life the means to do so in comfort and with dignity.
    Why? – Because we have been conditioned this way and are unable to see the lack of its validity.
    Well, not all of us, but the great majority.
    Religions are falsehoods, tools of power, and we need to recognise them as such.

  37. diannaart

    Terence & Miriam

    Boom! Boom!

    So much absurdity in religion – too little time.

    My all time favourite is from Rowan Atkinson as the Devil

    A contemporary update would have to include politicians.

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