By Brian Morris
Politics and religion have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship since Christianity became the Church of Rome in the 4th century. The legacy continues with impending legislation.
Power does have a tendency to corrupt and – in the hands of many political and religious leaders (over many centuries) – all evidence points to the fact that too much power can indeed corrupt absolutely!
Throughout 2021 there will be an increasing sense of irony as politics and religion come under greater scrutiny. Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, has begun her inquiry into the toxic workplace culture in federal parliament. Allegations of rape and sexual harassment have finally come to a head, together with a side issue of historical rape alleged against Attorney General Christian Porter.
Central to this political quagmire is the “elite privilege” enjoyed by parliamentarians, especially ministers, to “hire and fire” at will – with no questions asked, or answered – according to ABC’s March 7th Insiders program.
It’s therefore ironic that Christian Porter is the architect of a Bill – soon to be introduced into parliament – that will provide bonus “privileges” to all religious institutions. The new law will give more power to hire and fire any employee, based on their religion and compliance with the religious “ethos” of that institution.
While Canberra is dragged kicking and screaming to confront its chauvinistic internal culture, it also appears that religious institutions have learnt little from recommendations of the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. Their hubris comes from centuries of enshrined power to control believers and influence social policy.
Christian Porter’s ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’ is a prescriptive devise which panders to a religious culture that is socially divisive. It is based on a logical fallacy that all religions have been deprived of their “religious freedom” – a claim roundly repudiated by Phillip Ruddock’s original Religious Freedom Review. Attorney General Porter has cherry-picked that review to concoct a ‘Religious Discrimination’ law that is blatantly anti-secular.
What is the imperative for Catholic schools to only hire a maths teacher steeped in the ethos of Catholicism? Equally, why is it essential that an Islamic institution hires only a Muslim gardener, or a Jewish chemist is able to discriminate against female customers, based on his own narrow religious beliefs?
Our federal government administers a workplace culture that remains gender divisive, with a predominance of cabinet ministers who are strongly religious – and a number who openly proclaim their faith; most notably Scott Morrison who flaunts his Pentecostalism. But a growing concern is with Christian lobbies who now actively recruit candidates to stack federal and state parliaments with more Christian MPs.
Religion in Australia does not require additional privileges to exert greater religious power. The national census in August this year will again show a substantial increase in the ‘No Religion’ demographic – historically kept low in comparison with our cousins in New Zealand, UK and Scandinavia, due to our strongly Christianised parliaments and a misleading census question on ‘Religious Affiliation’.
Our constitution was originally framed as a ‘secular’ document but successive conservative governments, and a number of unfortunate High Court decisions, have led Church authorities to repeatedly claim (incorrectly) that Australia is a “Christian nation.” It is not.
Christianisation of education has steadily increased since Prime Minister Robert Menzies began eroding secular public schools in favour of government funding for Catholic education. Today, with clever marketing, 40 per cent of children attend taxpayer funded private religious schools – close to the highest rate among all OECD nations.
Christian Porter’s Religious Freedom Bill seeks to escalate religious privilege within the highly labour-intensive sectors of education, health and aged care. It is ironic that the toxic culture of parliament is about to pass more divisive legislation that will make religious-based health and education a “closed shop” for the faithful.
Brian Morris is a former Journalist and Public Relations professional and the author of Sacred to Secular, a critically acclaimed analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm that it does. You can read more about him here.
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