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On religious freedom

Yes, I know, this might at first blush seem an odd choice of topic given our current circumstances but really, what can one usefully say about the political shenanigans that currently overwhelm any possibility of good governance?

One can only cling to the words of the late George Harrison: all things must pass, all things must pass away, and hope to dog they don’t take too damn long in their passing.

The erudite and decent Father Frank Brennan published this piece in The Guardian yesterday on the necessity to protect religious freedom as well as to support marriage equality. As far as I can tell from the piece, Brennan is arguing that while he hopes for the prevailing influence of good will all round, there must be room made for the religious to discriminate against same sex couples. He does not quite frame his argument in those terms, of course, however it seems to me that in this instance religious freedom equals the unchallengeable right to discriminate, on the sole grounds that the sexuality of some humans offends your religious sensibility.

If the religious are to be granted a legal right to discriminate against same-sex couples, they better provide some sound evidence of the need for that discrimination. Otherwise, discrimination on the basis of sexuality becomes normalised as “religious freedom” with no justification other than “it’s against my religion.” I’m going to stick out my neck and declare that this isn’t good enough.

Why should your religious belief trump another’s human rights? On what basis does your religion condemn same-sex couples as humans you are entitled to discriminate against and therefore inevitably less fully human than you, be it in baking them a wedding cake or employing them in your schools?

And why should the secular state support you in your deliberate creation of a lesser class of beings?

It isn’t religious freedom to discriminate against others who don’t fit your vision of how humans ought to live. It’s religious exceptionalism. The language of religious freedom serves to obfuscate the reality: it is unjustified and unjustifiable dehumanisation of those whom it excludes.

Freedom of religion ought to mean, and in my opinion does mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

If your religious beliefs demand that you must, through discrimination, oppress and persecute a particular group of your fellow humans, perhaps you need to seriously consider the worth of that religion.

Religious freedom in this instance sounds an awful lot like justification for homophobia. And as long as the religious can’t offer sound reasons for needing this discrimination based on sexuality, it will continue to sound and look like homophobia. If it quacks like a duck …

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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  1. wam

    sorry for my trolling in error, jennifer. I am so fired up about the senate reaction to the bigot approving brandis that I assumed from your heading that you were ‘hansoning’ (which has performed the coup de grace on marriage equality) of religion which clearly is reflected on religious intolerance being legislated to allow religion the freedom to discriminate.

  2. Glenn Barry

    Oppression masquerading as religious belief utilised the citation of the mark of Cain to discriminate against people based upon the colour of their skin and justify slavery – this is the very same veiled genre of hatred being used to discriminate and oppress yet again, just against a different specific target.

    Any semblance of moral authority of the church has long vanished with their criminal behaviour.

    Marriages are not uniquely religious in nature therefore religious institutions have no business dictating terms for what is a government recognised procedure and legal status.

  3. pierre wilkinson

    If your religion requires you to hate others, then you really need a new religion.
    laissez faire

  4. paul walter

    Basically, it seems to be about Xtianity versus a very conservative mystical brand of Catholicism.

    I think priests or social workers, teachers and others will act on their consciences law or no law, but I think a priest would have to have a better reason than something nebulous like “damage to the Church’s reputation” as regards instances of obvious abuse.

    The argument about people not talking to police or social workers if their confidences are disregarded does have some merit.

  5. diannaart

    I am not sure if it was Father Frank Brennan I heard on the radio recently, but when asked why he would not contact the police, no matter what he heard at the confessional, he replied, “I answer to a higher power”.

    Yup, the god of Abraham trumps secular law and the well being of children or others who have been assaulted by clergy.

    … and what PW said – the confidence of the confessional would be breached.

    Well, Catholic Church, you are the only ones who insist on this confess-your-sins business, therefore I do not give a toss about religious confidentiality being more important than the abuse of children – I’m just funny that way.

    As for “higher power” – a truly higher power would surely hold higher morals and, therefore, care more for the abused than the abusers.

  6. Matters not

    Yes it wasn’t Brennan’s finest moment. Somewhat hampered by a belief in a higher authority. A great pity!

    Apart from that (significant) handicap, he has much to offer. Refugees being a good example.

  7. paul walter

    Just back again on the epiphany that this is also about equal marriage celebrants, from Brennan’s scribblings.

    I am not sure if you punish a celebrant for not marrying certain categories of people- but such people could be pursued should they hold forth with homophobic or racist rubbish in justifying their choice. You could tell a black couple you will be unable to perform a ceremony, say and likely you could be quite despicable enough, for that. You would be within your rights not to have to justify your decision, but if you issued forth with stuff like “I won’t marry you because you are black and I despise black people”, then a case would exist for withholding a service for unreasonable reasons”.

    Can the law force a celebrant to disclose to a couple a reason for not conducting a ceremony?

    If a person is such a pig as deny a reason or with hold a service, would you want to married by such an individual anyway?

    Such a person is actually a bit sick and possibly in need of counselling, of course.

    You can’t ban bigotry, because it is a state of mind or being. But you can’t valorise it either, which is a mistake Brandis made a couple of years ago with the subject and redeemed himself a little with in the Senate the other day with Hanson

  8. townsvilleblog

    Isn’t it time we bought a halt to this god hoax once and for all? In reality it is only a front for the best business on Earth selling hope and fear. We have never had an ounce of proof that such a being ever existed and now the clerics are telling us that we are living in the end times. It is well over time that all these churches and religious cults paid tax on their incomes and were charged rates for the properties they own, and business tax for the legitimate businesses they own such as Weet-Bix etc.If the gullible want to believe in the invisible man then so be it but not at our disadvantage.

  9. Jack Straw

    Anyone who believes in a religion is a fool and I am not an atheist.

  10. Roswell

    Anyone who believes in a religion is a fool …

    I’d probably change that to:

    “Anyone who believed in a religion has been fooled.”

  11. Jack Straw

    R Why pass tense? re believed or did you mean believes?

  12. Roswell

    It was a typo, Jack. I should have said “believes”.

  13. Harquebus

    Freedom to indoctrinate minors; another form of child abuse. This is the key to religion’s longevity.

    They still say the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ at the beginning of each parliament. I consider this as an insult.

  14. diannaart

    @ paul walter

    Your comment

    If a person is such a pig as deny a reason or with hold a service, would you want to married by such an individual anyway?

    Such people are far fewer than those who love conducting wedding ceremonies. Such people are on their way to extinction.

    @ townesvilleblog

    I have avoided buying anything from the Sanitarium brand for years now. Am a Vita-Brits gal. Sanitarium products are crap if one is having a period. 😉

    @ Harquebus

    I imagine an absence of Muslim, Buddhist, atheist politicians and so on, avoiding the ceremony every effin’ parliament. Or maybe they listen, take notes and carry a big stick. Whatever, it is a further indictment of the WASP mentality.

    Another habit of the WASP is, in recent years, including Judaism as part of their cultural background; the Judeo-Christian tradition – yet they ignore everything else about Jewish tradition.

    There is not a single religion that does not have blood on its hands for strictly enforcing their dogma or similar rubbish. I do not know whether humans would be more peaceful without religion, given how tribal so many of us are. However, at least we would not have to suffer the hypocrisy of such as “I answer to a high power”.

  15. Jack Straw

    I agree with Harquebin

  16. diannaart

    Jack Straw

    I rarely agree with Harquebus


  17. Roswell

    I agree with what the person who name starts with ‘H’ said. (I can’t bring myself to say his name).

  18. havanaliedown

    I look forward to the first gay wedding at the Lakemba mosque. I expect it will be held on the rooftop.

  19. Harquebus

    You agreeing with me is not as surprising as your admitting such. Very courageous.
    Jack Straw and diannaart as well. Hoowoodathunkit?

  20. Michael Taylor

    I agree with you too, Harquebus.

    Gosh, what’s the world coming to? ?

  21. Harquebus

    I’m on a roll.

    Michael Taylor
    While you are here; I got the NBN here the other day. It was the only way to change to a cheaper plan. After hearing yours and others problems, I was worried but, apart from a temporary inconvenience of laying a cable between two rooms, all is good. No problems. Faster and cheaper.

    Jus’ wanted to let you know.
    And this which, when I read, I thought of you. I am sure that you can relate.

    “The caliber of discourse has degenerated utterly at NC in the wake of Charlotteville. I am disabling comments on all live posts. I am sick, now up until 9 AM ruining my health. I do not need this bullshit. It is not worth the effort to clean up the disinformation and the upset and dishonest argumentation. I have really had it. I’m not getting any posts done and that is far more important than riding herd on out of control comments.
    I am also truly appalled by what some of you have said. This has brought out the worst in a lot of people. I have never had to blacklist and moderate so many people in such a short period of time.
    You guys managed to ruin a great comments section. Well done.”

    I Am Disabling Comments

    You can remove this off topic comment now.

  22. Jack Straw

    Harquebos is the New Messiah he walketh upon water. Harquebex leadith me from away from evil. Show me the way Harquemeister; you have all the answers!

  23. SurReal

    Reason and critical thinking, are deliberately being sabotaged by muddied waters. Valid points like the ones you express in this article Jennifer, are an anathema to the religious and political class. You can’t control the masses with reason. Emotions, preferably negative ones, all the way!

    I’ve cherry-picked two Biblical passages below, both from the book or Romans, which demonstrate apparent religious justification for discrimination and rank hypocrisy (I know there are many genuine Christians who take pride in living as if “love is the fulfillment of the law”, so I apologise if I offend with my point below):

    Justification for discrimination:
    Romans – Chapter 1 (NIV) ~ 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    …and lack of justification for other behaviours (e.g discrimination (@Jennifer), and tax minimisation and reporting misdeeds to police as per @townesvilleblog and @diannaart’s comments):
    Romans – Chapter 13 (NIV) ~ 1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honour.

    Worth a peruse, even if you’re not theologically minded (to fuel critical thinking) – http://www.biblestudytools.com/romans/

    @Havanaliedown I doubt you will be invited.

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