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Protection of, or Protection from Religion

By Terence Mills

The Prime Minister has called for a review of religious protections mainly, the cynical may say, to get the marriage equality legislation through without turning the Marriage Act into a version of War and Peace or more appropriately perhaps, the Ten Commandments. He outlined his reasons as being:

“Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully. There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion. The Government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations. This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms. Protection of the right to freedom of religion is a very important right. And how we manage that within the context of difficult human rights obligations, which can sometimes be formalised in a way which takes it beyond the power of the parliament, you need to get the balance right”.

Oddly, he then appointed Philip Ruddock to lead this “expert panel”, together with the recently appointed President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, former Federal Court judge the Hon Annabelle Bennett AO SC and priest and human rights lawyer, Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO. The expert panel have been asked to report back by 31 March 2018.

Philip Ruddock is an odd choice if you are looking for objectivity as it was he who in June 2004, introduced the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 into the House of Representatives in his former role as Attorney-General (and Yes it was passed by both major parties). The resulting Act formally added the definition of marriage in Australia as “as a union of a man and a woman”, and also ensured that same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another country would not be recognised in Australia. So, it was he who brought about the mayhem that we have finally brought to a conclusion by the legislative amendments passed in the House of Representatives last week: is Philip really the best man for the job?

But perhaps the PM is not looking for objectivity and he is just hand–feeding the conservative Right of his party as has been his practice since coming to office. Mr Ruddock said “the task would pose significant challenges, but that the group would endeavour to come up with an appropriate response for the Government.” To echo the thoughts of that well known political commentator of the 1960’s, Mandy Rice Davies – whose mate Christine Keeler passed away just last week: He would say that, wouldn’t he?

The questions that occur to me are more focused on protections from religion which seem, in this country well overdue. Should it, for example, be permissible for a religious school receiving over 80% of its funding from the public-purse to sack a teacher who makes it known or is revealed as being gay or lesbian and in a relationship with another man or woman?

Should the right to freedom of speech and communication permit religious proselytisers to knock on your door uninvited and attempt to convert you to their religious beliefs and doctrines or should your right to privacy out-trump their rights to religious freedom? Perhaps an opt-in approach would serve us better where we can call them, as we would a plumber, should we have need of their services? Philip will no doubt reflect on that.

Should we as a society allow baby boys to be genitally mutilated as part of a religious ritual with no clinical or medical imperative, without first having obtained the informed consent of the child when he reaches adulthood – we do after all have laws protecting young girls from such practices? Why is it that religious groups rejoice in the creations of their God and then, when fresh from the womb, they grab a razor-blade and try to improve on His works?

And, of course, the big question of the day: should a whole raft of businesses ranging from bakers to florists to dress hire people have the freedom to enquire into and discriminate against you in accordance with your gender preference when they are deciding whether to serve you or not?

I have no doubt that Mr Ruddock will take all these matters into account as he attempts to guide us into becoming a more enlightened, tolerant and wholesome society. What do you think?

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  1. Jack Russell

    My vote: Freedom FROM religion!

  2. AnnaMargaret

    religion and business should be separate from state – end of (…and must we have these often dubiously phrased click bait options at the end of all the aim pieces now?)

  3. Kaye Lee

    I am more than happy for religions to be private clubs with their own private rules for their members in their clubhouse. But the second they put their hand out to accept public money they should forfeit their right to ignore the laws of the land. If they choose to engage in profit-making commerce, they should pay taxes. If they claim charitable status, they should have to show exactly how the money they receive is spent and withdraw from any form of political advocacy.

    And they most definitely should NOT have any role in our public schools.

  4. Jack Russell

    I’d go one step further Kaye … and they most definitely should NOT have any role in … the lives of children, anywhere, ever.

  5. Max Gross

    When Mormans came knocking, my Dad invited them in and within an hour they were raring to leave because they couldn’t handle his constant questions!

  6. Freethinker

    Freedom from religion is what I would like the society to have.

  7. wam

    Surely, it is not hard to make a law requiring religions to produce documentation to justify exemptions from Australian laws???

    I have long been worried by the media confusing cultural and religious practices.
    The culture of some countries dictate:
    the wearing hijabs, niqabs, burqas, chadors
    male and female genital mutilation
    If these become religious practices then protection is afforded by law. Then moslem women’s acceptance of these garments will be mandated.
    Time to grow up!!!
    Religious men will have to re-interpret some practices to fit with modern practices.

  8. townsvilleblog

    Religion is a hangover from medieval times when people lacked in education. How an educated person can still believe is such nonsense defies logic and common sense. Perhaps those people who do still believe have personality short comings and have trouble taking personal responsibility.

    …and in answer to wam above, the head covering worn by Muslim some Muslim women is NOT part of their religion, merely a traditional garment worn by women in some countries. How do I know? I asked a Muslim women from Turkey who lives in Australia, and who has stopped wearing any head cover.

  9. Andrew

    We know he’s from the Dark Side… Emperor…

  10. Shutterbug

    The Lords Prayer at the beginning of Parliament is an abhorrence that should play no part in our governance and must be removed.
    Total separation of church and state is the only true way to govern for all.

  11. Glenn Barry

    Section 116 of the constitution already guarantees both freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

    It’s difficult to conceive anything worthwhile coming from any report by Ruddock – which has me wondering what sort of ridiculous conclusions or recommendations have already been decided

  12. Robert REYNOLDS

    I wholeheartedly agree with the general tenor of the posts here.

    I will always advocate for the smallest possible role for sorcery, witchcraft and the other assorted forms of hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo that passes for religious belief in our society. As far as I am concerned, the indoctrination and brainwashing of children with this nonsense is a egregious form of psychological/child abuse.

    Religious organizations should lose their tax-free status and certainly, their schools should receive no public funding.

    However, one must be careful not to be seen to be openly persecuting religious believers as in some perverse way they seem to love that. It only appears to strengthens their convictions.

    Often leaving these religions to their own devices is the most effective weapon against them. I doubt that any external attack on the Catholic Church could have done anything like the damage to it that they did to themselves with the exposure of their appalling record of child abuse. Likewise Islam has a poor public profile for many obvious reasons.

    I have always believed the best antidote to this form of mental illness is full employment, access to high quality education and medical care for all, as a basic human right, equal opportunity in society and certainly no gender discrimination at all is to be permitted. I think that any society that can offer these rights to its citizens minimizes the need for its citizens to embrace fantasies in order to cope with the realities of life.

  13. corvus boreus

    If we are to follow the word of the holy book from whence sprang the lords prayer, federal parliament shouldn’t really open without seeking divine appeasement through a ritual sacrifice followed by a burnt offering (steak from unblemished bull, veges optional).
    Such should be conducted using an altar and utensils made from acacia wood and bronze (see Exodus 27 for exact specs).
    Amongst all the slaying, flaying, quartering and splashing of blood on the sides of the altar, and amidst the rising smoke of the subsequent holocaust, the pagans within our parliament might even find chance to attempt an auger of the omens and auspices.

    Or, alternatively, they could dispense with the superstitious ritualistic crap and get down to the reality of governance.

  14. Mark Needham

    I too, am for removing the ‘charity’ status of religion. To treat all societies, as you would a ‘Stamp Club’.
    This then means, that I am in agreeance with you blokes here. Now, I stops and thinks….Why…Where is the ‘Bunny Rabbit’.
    Stopped, and Thinking.
    Mark Needham

  15. Kyran

    The part that has me curious is what are they going to protect? Religious beliefs or religious institutions?
    If you look at the statistics, less than 25% of marriages currently take place in front of a religious minister. From the 2016 Census, 30% of Australians stated they had no religion. This means that 70% of Australians identify with a religion (52% ‘Christian’ and 22.6% state ‘Catholic’). Why doesn’t this correlate to the marriage stats? Why don’t 70% of marriages take place in front of religious ministers? Or at least 50%?
    What is religion? The ABS definition is as follows;
    A precise definition of the concept of religion, or of what generally constitutes a ‘religion’, is difficult, because of the intangible and wide-ranging nature of the topic.
    Generally, a religion is regarded as a set of beliefs and practices, usually involving acknowledgment of a divine or higher being or power, by which people order the conduct of their lives both practically and in a moral sense.”

    ‘Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation’ broad group
    The classification structure also includes a broad group that covers ‘Secular Beliefs and Other Spiritual Beliefs and No Religious Affiliation’ which could be considered to be inconsistent with the basis of the classification as described above and outside the scope of the religion topic. This broad group has been included for practical reasons and to make the classification more useful. Many statistical and administrative applications need to accommodate the whole range of responses to a question on religion, including personal spiritual beliefs, secular beliefs and the response ‘No Religion’.

    When people say they are ‘religious’, it would be fair to assume they believe in a ‘divine or higher being’. To what extent does that ‘order the conduct of their lives’? Does that mean they strictly adhere to the teachings of their church and attend on a regular basis?
    There may well be a significant number of people who believe in a ‘higher being’ but do not adhere to the teachings of the religious institution with which they identify. This is borne out by church attendances.
    “National Church Life Survey (NCLS) data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36% (1972) to 15% currently.”

    That was in 2011. NCLS is a Christian group and whilst it conducts extensive surveys, it is only in Christian churches. Analysis of the stats was done on the ABC in 2012. Ironically, the group most ignored and penalised by churches, women, account for 60% of ‘the faithful’.

    We just had a very expensive and divisive survey on marriage equality. Apparently, our politicians had no idea what their constituents thought about equality. More than 60% of participants voted for equality. It was not about a minority of people compelling the rest of the population to adopt their practices. It was about a minority of people having their right to equality recognised.
    It was never about religion, or religious belief, or religious instruction, or religious institutions.
    Now, after this pathetic charade, our politicians want to talk about protecting the rights of the religious, or the religions, to discriminate.
    Ben Gilmour of the Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney is advocating that it should be incumbent on the churches to accommodate the law, not vice versa.
    “Yet before that can happen there is still another change that needs to take place.
    The Uniting Church needs to change its preamble to the marriage rites to say marriage is between two people, rather than just a man and a woman.”

    Here’s what I reckon the cadaver should do before he starts on his little crusade. Have a postal survey.
    “Should the law be changed to make religious institutions comply with it?”
    “Yes” or “No”.
    Now that would be a fun survey. Particularly after the RC interim reports are made public.
    Thank you Mr Mills and commenters. Take care

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