When Attorney-General Christian Porter proposed to prioritise freedom of religion above all other human rights which are necessary for a fair, just and humane society, he gave an orange light to the most wicked entitlement and privilege. The Australian Government’s proposed Religious Freedom Bills are out for public consultation and if passed, create a plethora of unequal rights, where those who subscribe to religious beliefs are benefited above and beyond the rest of the community. The bills weaken existing protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disabilities, and those from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, and potentially legalise hate speech.
However it’s Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous’s statement on 12 September 2019 which provides one of the most compelling arguments as to why the concept of the proposed laws is so repugnant. Archbishop Porteous, when publicly declaring that priests will not obey the new Tasmanian law mandating that priests report child sex abuse, reportedly stated that the law is ‘at odds with the Australian Government’s religious freedom push’.
Translated into layman’s terms, Archbishop Porteous’s position is that ‘religious freedom’ means ‘mates keeping vile secrets for mates’, while children suffer. Archbishop Porteous’s stance that reporting paedophiles violates his religious freedom is an unconscionable response to the Church being exposed as a repugnant organisation responsible for immeasurable human suffering.
Given its past behaviour, it’s no surprise that the Catholic Church, at its highest levels, prioritises the ‘sanctity’ of the church and it’s religious beliefs over the safety of the most vulnerable in the community. The Catholic Church, at its highest levels, has repeatedly demonstrated a propensity to prioritise privilege and entitlement for its clergy, a culture of secrecy, and the institutionalised protection of paedophiles, above the right for children to be safe and free from abuse, despite the scathing report from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The church still performs exorcisms on LGBT members despite its documented harm.
Along with other religious organisations, the Catholic Church’s fierce advocacy for religious freedom to the detriment of other rights, goes against the universally accepted balance of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), proclaimed in Paris on 10 December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly, provides the key principles for a free, just, and peaceful society and sets out the proper balance between the freedom of religion and other human rights.
Article 18, which provides for the right of freedom of religion, is just one of 30 rights and principles in the UDHR; the other 29 Articles are conveniently ignored by the proponents of religious freedom. The right for a person to practice their beliefs must be balanced against the rights of others in the community not to be harmed. This is repeatedly supported when rights are considered in the full context of the UDHR.
The push for greater religious freedom at the expense of the rights of others is a manipulative response to the weakening power of religious organisations in the community. Churches cannot reconcile that it is no longer acceptable to forcefully impose their moral tenets on those who do not subscribe to restrictive and unreasonable codes.
Those of faith argue for religious freedom on the basis it is a human right, yet they fail to recognise that all human rights must be balanced. Where the exercise of one person’s human rights violates another, the line has been crossed. Where one person, in practicing their religion, denies another the ability to participate fully in community life and cultural practices, the line has been crossed.
The religious freedom laws will allow those of faith to treat people as second class citizens essentially on a whim, provided they can somehow tie it in with their religious beliefs.
Allowing greater religious freedom to the detriment of other fundamental human rights violates Article 30: “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.”
When practicing one’s religion causes harm to other people, it is unacceptable.
If by practising their religion, a person imposes their beliefs on another person and prevents that other person from freely participating in a secular society, it is unacceptable.
Religious freedom is, and must be, subject to the law and balanced with other human rights. Those of faith are free to attend their services, drink the symbolic blood of their prophets or engage in other religious rituals if those participating have freely, voluntarily and willingly consented. They can refuse blood transfusions or medical procedures for themselves, but they must not be allowed to deny them to others. They can prosthelytize and evangelise to their hearts’ content, provided they are not offending, humiliating, intimidating, insulting, ridiculing others or otherwise harming others in the community. They can pray or reflect or honour their gods in whichever way they choose, but must not be permitted to deny others the opportunity to participate fully in public life because of personal religious beliefs.
Attorney-General Porter’s proposed laws recognise that those of faith should not have unfettered freedom to disobey all laws. However he does propose overriding the Tasmanian anti-discrimination law for people of faith, and the proposed laws broaden the opportunities for people of faith to actively discriminate against members of the community in the name of religion.
It is evident from Archbishop Porteous’s public commentary how much ‘freedom’ he wishes the church to be given.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse outed the abhorrent practices of religious organisations in harbouring abusers, the resounding ‘YES’ result in the marriage equality plebiscite stunned opponents after the dedicated, religious-right-led, hate-filled rhetoric of the ‘NO’ campaign, George Pell’s conviction astonished believers after decades of institutionalised protection from prosecution, rugby player Israel Folau’s sacking frightened the proponents of ‘hate speech promoted as free speech’, abortion reform, transgender rights and voluntary euthanesia laws terrified the self-appointed ‘moral superiors’ who believe ‘God’s Law’ takes precedence. And now, with the state’s successively enacting laws mandating priests out their fellow paedophiles, the churches power is shriveling. Their response is to fight back and demand superiority, entitlement and privilege is enshrined in law.
The majority of Australians believe all people are deserving of equal rights and to be treated equally before the law. It is unconscionable to provide people of faith with greater ‘freedoms’, to the detriment of others in the community. Attorney-General Porter must not give the green light to bigotry, social division, exclusion and segregation under the guise of religious freedom.
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