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.