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Religious Freedom: A Tale Of Two Interviews

Mr Ruddock’s report is out…

Um, when I say it’s out, I think I need to be clear here. It’s out in the sense that the government has had it for five months and they needed time to consider what it said before they discussed it as a party where the considered and thoughtful discussions may have been leaked to the media who would have spun these considerations to sound like there were deep divisions within the party on such things as how do we best ensure that people’s rights aren’t being trampled by two individuals they don’t know to marry each other and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The second discussion point has already been thrashed out and a compromise reached: none. Those who don’t believe in angels were happy with that, and those that do were content when it was pointed out that angels can’t dance because they have no feet and, anyway, it’s wicked and sinful.

Anyway, looking at some of the suggestions about employment, I’ve decided to give you two scenarios of how this may work in practice.

Scene 1: Religious school. A job interview is taking place. Raymond has applied for a job.

Brother Tony: Yes, your qualifications and experience seem to be perfect. Are you a Christian?

Raymond: Yes, I actually went to this school in the 90s.

Brother Tony: Ah, you’ll probably find some of your old teachers are still here.

Raymond: Not all of them. Brother Thaddeus is in jail, isn’t he?

Brother Kevin: Let’s move on. There’s just one more thing.

Raymond: Yes?

Brother Kevin: Your shirt. It’s… ah… rainbow coloured.

Raymond: Yes.

Brother Tony: So we were just wondering…

Raymond: Yes?

Brother Kevin: Are you gay?

Raymond: Why? Are you?

Brother Kevin: I’ve taken a vow of celibacy.

Raymond: So am I allowed to be gay if I take a vow of celibacy?

Brother Tony: We don’t employ gay people.

Raymond: Isn’t that a bit discriminatory?

Brother Kevin: We have an exemption under the act. We don’t have to employ people whose lifestyle clashes with our beliefs.

Raymond: I see. And what about Brother Thaddeus?

Brother Tony: He wasn’t gay!

Raymond: No, but he was caught with an underage girl? Isn’t that a sin too? So have you sacked him?

Brother Tony: No… It’s not really relevant. The point is you may be gay and…

Raymond: But I haven’t said I am.

Brother Kevin: Yes, but that rainbow shirt. I mean, you’ve clearly got a political agenda here, haven’t you?

Brother Tony: Anyway, thanks for your time. We’ll let you know.


Scene 2: Government school. A job interview is taking place. Eric has applied for a job.

Principal: Thanks. Now I notice that you left your previous school mid-way through a term. Why was that?

Eric: Yes, When they announced that gay marriage thing, I felt I had to do something about the break-down of civilisation and the family unit, so I volunteered to work for one of the organisations trying to stop it.

Principal: I see. Um, you are aware that this school has a strong policy of inclusion and social justice?

Eric: Yes, I felt it was a call from God that I come to work here. When I read about your “Respectful Relations” initiatives, I just knew this was the place for me.

Principal: So you support our Respectful Relations?

Eric: No, I think it’s just Safe Schools by another name.

Principal: You don’t support Safe Schools?

Eric: There’s nothing safe about inviting Satan in. Safe Schools is just a Marxist plot to try and make everyone the same. If God had meant us to be equal he wouldn’t have created rich people.

Principal: I don’t think God created rich people.

Eric: God created everything.

Principal: Then he created LGBTI people too.

Eric: I don’t think you should say that. It’s blasphemous.

Principal: Look, I don’t think you’re really the right fit for this job.

Eric: Are you discriminating against me because of my religious beliefs? That’s illegal you know.

Principal: No, I’m not concerned about your religion. It’s just that you don’t seem to be supportive of the school policy.

Eric: That’s because the school policy is against my beliefs and if you don’t let me work here, then how am I going to save all those poor sinners?

Principal: You can’t push your religion on other people.

Eric: But my religion demands that I do, so if you try to stop me I’ll have you up before the courts for inhibiting my religious freedom.

Ok, it mightn’t quite go like that. I guess the whole question of religious freedom is really the same problem that we always have when we talk about rights. To what extent should society police me exercising my rights when they interfere with your rights? For example, does my playing loud music interfere with your right to a quiet evening? To what extent does putting another Royal Wedding raise the blood pressure of staunch Republicans? With things like that, we have tried to have laws that find a sensible compromise.

However, when we attempt to find the sensible compromise in areas such as religion, logic and reason sometimes go out the window. It seems strange to me, for example, that some of the people arguing that we need protections for religious freedom were the same ones arguing to ban the burqa. Ok, I’m sure they’ll argue that the burqa is cultural rather than religious, but the same argument can be made for almost any religious practice.

Whatever happens, I’m sure of one thing: Scott Morrison won’t be trying to finalise any legislation on this before the Wentworth by-election.



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  1. pierre wilkinson

    thank you Rossleigh for continuing to see the amusement in our otherwise sadly serious world

  2. Geoff Andrews

    Did I hear the tongue pop out of the cheek just a tad just then or was it the logic of the argument hitting the target.

  3. helvityni

    Another excellent one, Rossleigh, it cheered me, I needed it because:

    I remember Scottie telling us: I’m on your side… Of course that’s kind of nice, but my problem is that I DON”T want to be on his side…

    The kids are still on Nauru, the Opera House was used for gambling purposes, I worry about the treatment of vulnerable gay youths, then there ‘s the huge issue of the CC, and Scottie’s inaction on that….etc. etc….

  4. Kaye Lee

    I am assuming the AFP will be raiding Promo’s office and Phillip Ruddock’s house to find out who leaked the recommendations.

  5. New England Cocky

    Fundamentalist anything is dangerous and intolerant.

  6. Terence Mills

    This Ruddock Report is a bit of an enigma, nobody seems to be able to find it and nobody in the government has had time to read it : even Chrissy Pyne said on Friday I haven’t read it even though it was delivered to government five months ago.

    Morrison is going to move an urgent change to discrimination laws next week so that religious schools cannot expel students on the basis of their sexuality. But he seems to have missed the point when it comes to the existing right of religious schools to sack teachers based on their sexuality.

  7. Kaye Lee

    I do find it strange that schools want the right to sack gay teachers and they are asking Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Julian Hill, Tim Wilson, Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Dean Smith, and Janet Rice to make the laws that support that. Lawmakers can be gay, but teachers can’t?

    I would also point out that our Constitution says “no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”. If the Church is paying these teachers’ wages with government money, then they should have no right to discriminate.

  8. Zathras

    Anti-gay marriage campaigner SloMo went from “It’s the existing law…I have to plans to change the existing law” to “It was brought in by Labor six years ago” to “We will legislate amendments to make clear no student at a private or religious school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality” – all in a matter of days.

    For someone who has “no opinion at all” about the matter of gay conversion therapy he moved quickly to appear like he’s suddenly found some kind of tolerance.

    Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that the electorate of Wentworth had a very high pro-gay-marriage stance and that a Principal in one of Wentworth’s schools happens to be gay.

    Let’s see what unravels first after the bi-election, his opinion or his government.

  9. Diannaart

    Kaye Lee, your logic is impeccable, the same cannot be said of religious conservatives.

    At the very least public funding of religious schools needs to cease, permanently. Religious freedom does not confer a right to bigotry.

    Also have these particular Christians considered that “religious freedom” applies to all other faiths? From Buddhism to Islam and all the variants and offshoots based loosely around a particular religion, for example, Exclusive Brethren whose name tells everything needed to know how they apply “freedom”.

    Freedom is perceived as an unfettered right by too many whose goal is control and power without consequences, without accountability.

  10. Kaye Lee


    They shouldn’t be able to have it both ways – either fund your own sect and make your own rules or accept government money and the laws of the land.

  11. Terence Mills

    This morning I heard a representative of a group called Just Equal applauding Morrison’s rushed commitment to introduce legislation into our parliament new week with the objective we are told of outlawing nationally the ability of religious institutions to to refuse enrollment of students or their expulsion from religious institutions, based on their sexual orientation.

    Now, I have checked to see whether this practice could be permitted in Queensland (where I live) but I can’t find any such provision BUT I can see that in various pieces of state and federal legislation that teachers can be sacked based on their sexual orientation : we had the classic case of the teacher in a WA Baptist school who had attended the school as a student, still was a practicing Baptist but when it was revealed that he was in a same sex relationship when a teacher, he was sacked.

    It seems that Just Equal and others may have been mislead by Morrison because from what I’m hearing, he has no intention of changing the employment rights of people in religious institutions . Be they teachers, gardeners or other employees, the institution will still have the right to sack them based on their sexual orientation.

    Federal Legislation including the Fair Work Act refers to ‘a body established for religious purposes’
    that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a
    particular religion’ and allows for discrimination and termination if done ‘in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of the religion’ or being ‘necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion’.

    I don’t see Scott Morrison changing these exemptions no matter how much he wants to retain his new job.

    Does anybody have any information on exactly what Scomo is up to ?

  12. Matters Not

    Terence Mills it’s worth noting that:

    Under section 109 of the Australian Constitution, if a state parliament and the federal Parliament pass conflicting laws on the same subject, then the federal law overrides the state law. Section 122 of the Constitution allows the federal Parliament to override a territory law at any time.

    So he can pass new legislation or at least amend existing legislation so as to get his way.

    As for what Morrison is up to? Winning the upcoming election by any means is the slick answer. But he seems to be in a hole and yet he keeps digging. Hopefully the outcome in Wentworth might cause him to adopt a more nuanced view, given he could lose a vote of no confidence in the HoR. Of that possibility, he seems well aware.

  13. Terence Mills

    Matters Not

    Yes, I was aware of section 109 but what I was getting at was whether Morrison is planning to outlaw the practice of discriminating in employment by religious organisations in their schools, hospitals, nursing homes etc.

    The school teacher in WA was sacked using the exemption provisions under section 73(3) of the WA Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

    This section allows for discrimination other than for race, impairment or age so the teacher could be sacked and in theory a student could be expelled based on other attributes including sexual orientation. Morrison may well legislate to ensure that the student cannot in the future be expelled based on sexual orientation , but what about teachers ?

    This is section 73 (3) as it now stands :

    73 (3) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to
    discriminate against another person on any one or more of the
    grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the
    grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the
    provision of education or training by an educational institution
    that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets,
    beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the
    first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour
    of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a
    manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of
    persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.

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