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Religious Freedom: A Deep Dive

This ought to prove non-controversial: a piece on so-called religious freedom in 2019. Some caveats before we proceed. First, I will endeavour to keep this from turning into a rant, but I make no promises. Deconstructing propaganda from what it says into what it means can sometimes turn a piece from an analysis into a rant.

Second, I am likely to use ‘Christians’ as a blanket term in the piece to come; I bet I will say it. If I do, please be aware that the garden variety Christian who loves their neighbour, treats others as they would like to be treated and so on is not the target of my ire. These people of simple faith I may see as misguided, but they are ultimately harmless. I reserve my barbs for the political pseudo-Christians who either utterly ignore the tenets of their supposed faith or use them as a weapon against those they despise. These include recently re-installed (off a floppy disk) Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Vile (Lyle) Shelton, the leader of the Australian Christian Lobby. When these men and those close to them say ‘religious freedom’, it has a very precise meaning, which we will get to. But first some background.

The Age is reporting on the apparent new agenda item for the recently installed Conservative government: religious freedom. When the planet is dying, poverty is on the rise and wages are largely stagnant, this is precisely what the government should be doing. An enquiry into religious freedom is an utter waste of money and serves only to enshrine religious privilege into law. Allow me to explain.

Religious Freedom? More Like Christian Privilege

Quoting from the Age piece referenced above

Attorney-General Christian Porter is expected to present a Religious Discrimination Act to the Parliament as soon as July, acting on a pre-election commitment to boost protections for people of faith against discrimination and vilification.

This appears to be a direct response to the Israel Folau situation, wherein a rugby union player who quoted a new testament passage about fornicators, homosexuals etc going to hell had his contract terminated. It should be noted from the outset that the termination of his contract was in no way related to the fact that he is a Christian. It is fair to say that anyone who behaved in this way would have been subject to similar punishments. Even if his Christianity motivated his bigoted and hateful post, his termination had nothing to do with that fact. He breached the terms of the contract and that is all that matters.

It takes a great deal of nerve for the political Christians to turn around and propose what the Age headline called ‘Falou’s Law’. Falou quoted a religious text, the clear implication being that he agrees with the message it contains. This should grant him some sort of exemption from the laws the rest of us have to follow? Different standards for vilification (which that verse contains) because he happens to hold a particular ‘faith’ position? Alternative scenario for you: what do you think these people would say if the grand mufti were to quote the verses from the Qur’an which say ‘kill the non-believers wherever you find them’? He would be fired out of a cannon from Sydney to Perth and you know it! This is not about religious freedom, it is about Christian privilege: different standards for Christians precisely because they are Christians.

Making it Clear: Senator Fierravanti-Wells

As if to remove all subtlety and ambiguity from the issue, the Age discusses New South Wales Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ view on the topic:

She called for a standalone Religious Freedom Act that would give greater legal heft to the demands set out by church leaders, Christian schools and other faith-based institutions. [She] also said the government need not await the findings of a review being undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission into exemptions to anti-discrimination laws currently enjoyed by religious schools.

Religious Freedom Act, because the Christians’ Right to be A Dick Act did not have quite the same ring to it. What, specifically, does it mean, Senator, to give ‘greater legal heft to the demands set out by church leaders, Christian schools and other faith-based institutions’? Why should these elements of the community have ‘greater legal heft’ given to their demands?

For all its charity work, the church contributes actually very little to society beyond teaching (in certain cases) factually wrong and openly bigoted views to their congregants. While some have adapted, and credit to them, many churches continue to teach creation, the 6000-year-old earth and extreme social conservatism. Why should these people have ‘greater legal heft’ given to their views? Hell, ignore what they say. Why should any institution have greater legal heft given to its opinion? What other rationalisation is there for this other than Christian privilege? To justify this claim, read her comment again, carefully. Church leaders, Christian schools and, as a throwaway line at the end, other faith=based institutions. Guess you remembered at the end that you do not merely represent Christians, huh, Senator?

Finally, of course, there is the standard Liberal approach to ‘reviews’, such as that underway by the Law Reform Commission. The Senator says the government ‘need not wait’ for the results. And why not? After all, what kind of government waits for the facts to come in when there’s a predetermined agenda to implement? The review could well say that no further legislation is necessary. But why wait for that? You already know what you want to do.

Conclusion: Religious Freedom Already Exists

My message to the political Christians of this nation is as follows: religious freedom already exists. You are free to practice whatever religion you choose with impunity. That is the definition of religious freedom. Having your self-appointed ability to discriminate against others removed because it violates secular law (which, I would remind you, is the law of the land) is not discrimination against you. Contrary to your own self-appointed privileged position, you are on the same level as the rest of us. Discriminatory, I know.

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  1. John McLennan

    Religious Freedom is so absolutely essential. It is necessary for Christians to promulgate all their beliefs. This is claimed to be religious freedom yet how free would a Muslim be if s/he demanded a similar right?

  2. Aortic

    Considering the millions of lives that have been sacrificed to the myriad of gods over the millenia, it’s freedom from religion we need not freedom of religion. Just as many good works and charity deeds are performed by those who do not profess a faith as those who do. Still it has been this since time immemorial and continues today between the USA and allies and the Middle East. I still have to have an answer to my query of William Hagee an American evangelist and believer in the proposition that when the Jews all return to Israel, Jesus will return. After ten enquirees I have given up. My question was simply if the Jews are the chosen people of God, why did he allow millions of them to die in the Holocaust. Asleep, didn’t care? I am not holding my breath waiting for a response.

  3. Kaye Lee

    “The policy difference between the two major parties on religious freedom was very clear, on everything from freedom for faith-based schools, to parents’ rights to raise their kids free of gender theory, ” said ACL managing director, Martyn Iles.

    ACL’s field campaigns across the nation highlighted both policy issues to voters.

    “Hundreds of thousands of leaflets, countless phone calls, and an extensive digital campaign went into seats like McMahon, Canning, Bass, Chisholm, Boothby and Petrie. ”

    “The results in McMahon speak for themselves, with an extraordinary swing against incumbent Labor MP Chris Bowen, but our other target seats also showed strong results, with Labor losing Bass. ”

    “Should the Coalition be able to form government, they will have a clear mandate to legislate for religious freedom, and to stand against radical social policies. They can also know that there is an activated constituency willing to back them on these issues.”


  4. Matters Not

    How long before we have the equivalent of:

    Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals.

    Perhaps Morrison is in search of a Brass Medal of the Fourth Class ?

    Is there a mandate for Intelligent Design to becomes part of the Science curriculum? And so it’s likely to go.

  5. Khaled Elomar

    Hate has no place in religion. In fact Hate has no place in Society.

    Allah says in the Quran 2:256 “there is no compulsion in religion”

    As a Muslim with Jewish lineage, I am ordered by my faith to show respect and love to whoever irrespective of gender, race, faith, culture, sexual inclination etc.

    My beliefs are different to non-Muslims but one of the common factors is Humanity.

    Allah says in the Quran 21:107 “O Muhammad, We have sent you not but a mercy for Mankind”. Note that Allah did not say Mercy for Muslims only. He said Mankind.

    I am sure you too have grandmother that said “if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all”. Well my father always said “if you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all for you have just as many faults as the person you’re talking to if not more”.

    Freedom of Religion is only to allow you to practice your faith without any external influences and interventions. It is neither a Green Card nor a Permission Slip to spit out resentful and derogatory comments. Doing so only places you in the same basket as the fascist and xenophobes Hanson and Anning who falsely flag their Hate Speech as Freedom of Speech.

    Judgement is for Allah and Allah alone. Not your job and certainly not mine.

    Love and Respect are the Only Way to Coexist.

  6. Phil

    Religion what a load of utter bollox. The quicker the human race separates itself from this nonsense the better off the world will be. Sometimes the proselytisers of this nonsense knock on my door on a Sunday looking for new happy clappers and with a straight face and with a hangover I tell them, ‘ Can you wait here for a bit I have just got to finish making love to my German Sheppard. Or a good religious joke usually does the trick. I usually tell them the one about Jesus walking into a hotel and throwing three nail on the desk and saying ‘ Can you put me up for the night ‘. Christopher Hitchens had this nonsense sussed. It should be against the law.

  7. Terence Mills

    I find all this talk about religious freedoms to be quite confusing, surely religions already have very privileged positions and freedoms : they can discriminate against people in employment, they insist that they have the right to door-knock and promote their views without prior appointment, they don’t pay any tax etc.

    As noted, there is already an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) enquiry under way :


    The ALRC website says this :

    The ALRC is planning to release a Discussion Paper on 2 September 2019 which will set out proposed reforms and ask questions to assist the ALRC to prepare formal recommendations. Submissions on the Discussion Paper will be due by 15 October 2019.

    Why would Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells want to pass legislation for religious freedoms before the ALRC have even issued a discussion paper ?

    I know this government don’t have much of an agenda but none of this makes any sense.

  8. whatever

    TalkBack radio, and I imagine also a fair few Facebook urgers, were pushing this ‘Freedom to Bash Poofters’ in the name of Israel Folau before the election.
    A rallying point for some kind of Fightback Against GayMarriage impulse. Well how is voting for the Party that initiated the GayMarriage plebiscite a ‘Fightback’ ?, you may well ask.
    Apparently they believe that Turnbull, who started the process, is part of the Green/Labor/UnitedNations forces of darkness and that voting for Scotty will bring back their medieval morality.

  9. Phil

    Dear oh dreary it didn’t take long for the the Muslims to turn up. Like they reckon they don’t care if you believe in Allah or not but, let’s just hang you up by the ankles and beat on your feet for a while to see if we can get you, to change your mind. It also applies to homosexuals who believe in Allah, according to the religious police AKA known as the Mullahs the are just a little confused, a few rounds of a good whipping and you are instantly cured. Female mutilation and arranged marriages lots of fun for everyone.

  10. Keitha Granville

    What we need is legislation totally divorcing church and state, it is creeping inexorably back in.

    I am a humanist I think, sometimes a communist, although raised as an Anglican.

    Actually I do believe that Jesus the historical figure probably existed, and I think he would be just as horrified at the promulgation of ideology in his name these days.

    I do love to tell happy clappers ” you are aware that Jesus was a Jew ?” when they are shouting any kind of hate or bile in the name of Christianity. Most are horrified.

    I have no issue with those who choose to follow a faith, as long as they keep it to themselves and don’t frighten children or animals.

  11. guest

    One of the freedoms of religion is freedom from tax. Is it to do with charity? Plenty of people do charitable work and pay tax as well. Did Jesus not say that citizens render unto Caesar AND also render unto god – no special concessions?

    The idea of the return of Jesus is always interesting. My question to the person of faith is: Where will Jesus be coming from?

    “Gender theory” is something which seems to rile some people of faith. Usually, when it is talked about, they are referring to the Safe Schools program, which was more actually about the bullying of people who are lgbtiq in sexuality, The purpose of the program was not to make people into lgbtiq people. Yet there are those who think sexuality is merely a matter of choice and that lgbtiq people can be converted to heterosexuality with a bit of strong ideology. We had that same kind of thinking about left handedness.

    Psychological understanding of human sexuality has advanced a great deal over the past several millennia, as has our scientific understanding of the origins of the Earth.

    The special privilege of Christianity somehow becomes discriminatory when it does not allow other religions any privilege. In fact, Christianity is an evangelical religion set on converting the world to its faith. So children and converts arecaught up in what can be seen as a “cargo cult” of rewards flowing to the believer. None is more fanatical than the converted.

    This idea of a special class of privilege appears in cult faiths, especially of the American kind. As faith members they work hard to be chosen with special privilege because they are told that only 144,000 will be chosen to go to heaven, whether up in the sky or on a New Earthly Paradise.

    Questions can be asked about the beliefs espoused by these faiths and so they should be. Religion is often all too ready to declare non-believers as “sinners” and in danger of burning in hell. But they are indignant that non-believers question the elements of the faith they espouse.

    That does not mean we harry and harass believers, but when religion looms large in some aspects of political decisions, questions should be asked legitimately. The number of practising Christians is actually small, yet claim special consideration to override opposing views. They call this privilege “freedom of religion”.

  12. Grumpy Geezer

    There will be fun to be had watching these zealots try and craft laws to cover circumstances like Falau’s.

    What could the ARL do if big corporate sponsors objected to being associated with bigoted statements such as his?
    What could sponsors themselves do who objected to being associated with such nasty drivel?

    Bullet meet foot. It should be quite a spectacle. We’ve had 6 years of this clown show and we’ve got 3 more to go. Get angry by all means but you can still enjoy the show. Morons-R-Us coming to a High Court near you.

  13. TuffGuy

    Perhaps they should all be immediately dispatched to live permanently with their sky fairies?

  14. Aortic

    So apparently you need Allah to tell you to show respect and love to whoever irrespective of gender, race, faith, culture etc. Woe is me, a follower of none of the idiocy and I attempt to do similarly without the need for instruction from some ancient skymaster. Maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong, but it has stood me on good stead all my life so I think the chances of changing now are infinitesimal.

  15. corvus boreus

    As I look back over a few of the recent comments on this thread, including the implication that all muslims are violent homophobic extremists who endorse female mutilation and underage marriage, and the suggestion that all religious people should be sent to meet their maker (ie murdered) I am starting to view the spiels of hateful bigotry for which Israel Folau was sacked as rational and reasonable social commentary by comparison.

  16. silkworm

    I have yet to hear any of these religious freedom fighters be upfront about their homophobia.

  17. Phil

    corvus boreusMay 31, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    Bollox. 1. I didn’t say all but since you want statistics lets us just say, a few more than one or two or, quite a few. 2. It is not bigotry to point out the faults of religion. 3. It was only a small percentage of Germans that tried to commit total genocide on the Jews. But…..Don’t mention the war.

  18. Kaye Lee


    I have always found you a reasonable man but using quotes from ancient texts is fraught with danger because that is also what the zealots do. The bible has many wonderful quotes which I also use, but it likewise has a whole host of terrible stuff in there.

    How do you feel about this one …

    “As in all the congregations of the saints, women are to be silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they wish to inquire about something, they are to ask their own husbands at home; for it is dishonorable for a woman to speak in the church.…”

  19. Miriam English

    I have no problem with religious moderates. They are our allies. I don’t mind them thinking it makes sense to believe in a god and that I’m silly not to believe in one. That’s perfectly okay. I think all religious beliefs are absurd, but I count many religious moderates as my friends, and while on rare occasions I’ll joke with them about their crazy beliefs, I still treat them as the good and decent human beings they are.

    I have little time for religious extremists, though I still treat them politely. When they come to try to convert me once in a while I like to greet them with, “It’s nice to meet another atheist” and when they object that they’re not an atheist, I say pleasantly, “Of course you are. It’s just that of the thousand or more gods you don’t believe in, I disbelieve in just one more.” I don’t say this to annoy them. I try to be as open and cordial as possible, so they know I don’t mean them ill. I want them to think about what I said.

    Many of my friends are atheists like me; many others are Christian moderates; a few are Hindu moderates, a few are Muslim moderates; a few are Buddhists (most Buddhists are moderates). Almost all people mean well and just want to do the right thing by other people.

    Extremists of any flavor tend to be pretty awful people, though even they actually want to be good… it’s just they’re so often really, really bad at it. I’d feel sorry for them if they weren’t trying so hard to hurt other people… especially people like me.

  20. Kaye Lee

    I get told a lot “You always think you are right”. My response is to ask them if they deliberately believe things they know to be wrong. We all always think we are right. That’s why we think it. Some of us, however, are more open to being shown we are wrong and, in fact, welcome correction when we are.

    I have mentioned it before, but it still flabbergasts me. I did a year of astronomy during my science degree – my lecturer confessed to me that he was a creationist. I still cannot make my head understand that sort of cognitive dissonance. But he was a nice man who taught me a lot. Each to his own I suppose….just as long as you don’t try to make me share your beliefs or insist on laws that impose your beliefs on others.

  21. Miriam English

    I know a guy who is a quite brilliant computer programmer, but who is a young-Earth creationist. He was really eager for me to try to argue the point with him, but I really couldn’t be bothered. He’s a nice enough guy. He’s very good at what he does. There’s zero chance I’ll be able to convince him of anything, as I’m sure his rationalisations are extremely well insulated from reality.

    It amazes me that an astronomer could be a creationist though. The inside of his mind must be a marvel of compartmentalisation.

  22. Matters Not

    Always concerned when people outsource what should be personal responsibility as evidenced by:

    blockquote> am ordered by my faith … Allah did not say … Judgement is for Allah and Allah alone <./blockquote>

    That humans can create X, Y or Z and then proceed to hide behind the supposed utterings of their own work is somewhat ironic.

    But wait, there’s more:

    … practice your faith without any external influences

    Sorry, it’s imagined external influences that are at the heart of the problem. Not that any religion is fundamentally better than the other. It’s magic al interpretations of the world that humanity has to combat.

  23. Matters Not


    I’m sure his rationalisations are extremely well insulated from reality

    While his rationalisations may be insulated from your (mental) constructions (of reality), clearly they are not insulated from his – because (mental) constructions of reality are what humans do. As you, yourself seem to recognise.

    The debate becomes whether you have it right (always) and those who differ and have different constructions have it wrong (always). Perhaps there’s a touch of arrogance in the air?

  24. Jack Russell

    A very significant number of people simply regard religion as inane and irrelevant (well, according to the ABS they do) but, if this government tries to embed religious privilege and exceptionalism in legislation, then that move could very well poke a sleeping bear. The Constitution has a bit to say about it too – not sure what, but something.

    The fact that it’s being demanded by the beneficiaries is a very large red flag. If the questions about why this is wanted, and what they fully intend to do with it – that requires legal immunity – aren’t answered clearly, truthfully, exhaustively, and openly, this government will, most likely, come to very deeply regret having touched it … even with one of their special sticks.

  25. Peter F

    @guest: ‘only 144,000 will be chosen to go to heaven’.

    I was once visited by a group of ‘Christrians’ , led by a woman. I told her that she was wasting her time, as she could never be among the chosen few. I then pointed out that, in the literature she had brought with her there were three dots in the middle of the quote about the 144,000. I asked her if she knew what those three dots indicated, and she did not. I told her that this means that part of the quotation had been left out, and that the only way to get the full quotation was to open her bible, which she did.

    She was surprised to learn that the full quote explained that the 144,000 would be ‘virgin men uncontaminated by women’.

    I told her I did not wish to discuss this, knowing that she believes that every word in the bible is true.

  26. Miriam English

    Peter F, nice catch. I’d heard of the 144,000 before, but not that it referred to only virgin men. I’ll be sure to point this out to future evangelising visitors. Thank you. 😀

    Matters Not, the word “reality” is a bit of a red flag for you, isn’t it. As I’ve said (countless times before) you are hung up on semantics (I hope), as I’m sure you understand that there is an external reality that is not influenced by what any of us delude ourselves into believing. Some people’s comprehension approaches reality more closely than others. There are aspects of reality that we can very precisely understand (for example, 2+2=4), and other aspects we will probably never be able to know with any certainty (for example, what I had for breakfast 20 years ago). We can, often fairly easily, verify that some people’s beliefs are dislocated from reality without needing to know the precise degree of derailment of a person’s beliefs. It is simple to show that prayer is ineffective. It is easy to show that a person can’t fly without mechanical aid. It is not difficult to show that the voices in a person’s head are manufactured by their own brain. It’s ludicrously easy to show that a perfect god can’t exist.

  27. Kaye Lee

    Revelation 14:3–5: “And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. For it is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.”

    I like the “defiled themselves with women” bit.

  28. Miriam English

    I wonder if defiling themselves with children or other men counts…

    Hmmm… “firstfruits for God and the Lamb” and who doesn’t like a bit of fruit when eating lamb. As the old rather grim joke goes, “You know what a shepherd raises sheep for: to be shorn and to be eaten.”

  29. totaram

    “I like the “defiled themselves with women” bit.”
    Perhaps you could ask Folau if he likes it too? So much better to have defiled themselves only with other men, No?

  30. andy56

    simple solution to this religious freedom crap. Pass the laws , allow them to discriminate but also pass a law they get no tax relief or funding for their schools. That will test their mettle. We will quickly see who wants the money and who is genuine. I can guarantee, they will all take the money. hypocrites, all of them.

  31. Terence Mills

    The Israel Folau termination will go to the federal court and will, I understand, be fought on an interpretation of section 772 of the Fair Work Act, in particular the provision 772 (1) (f) and whether his termination by the ARU was lawful.

    772 Employment not to be terminated on certain grounds

    >(1) An employer must not terminate an employee’s employment for one or more of the following reasons, or for reasons including one or more of the following reasons:

    (f) race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin;

    This is then qualified as follows :

    >(2) However, subsection (1) does not prevent a matter referred to in paragraph (1)(f) from being a reason for terminating a person’s employment if:

    >(a) the reason is based on the inherent requirements of the particular position concerned; or

    >(b) if the person is a member of the staff of an institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed—the employment is terminated:

    >(i) in good faith; and

    >(ii) to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

    So, it would seem that if the ARU were a religious organisation they couls sack somebody who didn’t fit in with their view on life BUT as the ARU are not a religious organisation [despite the suggestion that Rugby is the game they play in heaven] AND if the ARU sacked him because of his religion, then the ARU are in breach of the Fair Work Act and will have to reinstate him &/or pay damages.

    Alternatively does his termination come under the rather vague (a) the reason is based on the inherent requirements of the particular position concerned

    It could be argued that as a prominent national identity among the inherent requirements of that position is the obligation to not bring the game into disrepute………….the fact that major sponsor QANTAS is threatening to withdraw support comes into this.

    Any thoughts from the AIMN astute observers or am I missing something in this debate ?

  32. Kaye Lee

    Folau reportedly rejected a $1 million settlement offered by Rugby Australia ahead of the hearing.

    From the Code of Conduct

    Treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination has no place in Rugby.

    Do not make any public comment that would likely be detrimental to the best interests, image and welfare of the Game, a team, a club, a competition or Union.

    Use Social Media appropriately. By all means share your positive experiences of Rugby but do not use Social Media as a means to breach any of the expectations and requirements of you as a player contained in this Code or in any Union, club or competition rules and regulations.

  33. John

    @grumpy geezer. That’s great but from your comments I assume that you are not one of the very unfortunate people who will be impacted by this. As an LGBTI person I am very concerned about the implications of this rot and the next three years.

  34. Zathras

    In Australia you are completely free to wear emblems of your religion openly on your clothing or around your neck , festoon your car with religious stickers, go the Church openly 24hours a day 7 days a week if required, harass people in shopping centres or proselityze on public footpaths or go door-to-door to sell your product, send your children to attend religious schools, decorate your house and yard in accordance with seasonal celebrations and sing hymns in public and have others pay tax on behalf of your institution, just to name a few “rights”.

    What more to they want? Where is the alleged persecution?

    Going by overseas experience the next phases will be the removal of abortion rights from women, gay conversion “therapy” and the teaching of creationism in schools as a valid subject.

    Conflating the Folau incident with the removal of religious freedom is yet another example of the persecution and martyrdom complex the religious have a permanent fetish for and just an early shot fired in what will be a never-ending PR battle.

    If they really believe in religious freedom as a universal concept and basic human right, why do many Christians campaign so vigorously against the building of Mosques in their neighbourhood?

    Thought so.

  35. Michael Taylor

    Great stuff, Miriam. I’ll certainly share it.

  36. Egalitarian

    It feels like this country heading back to the 1950s.

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