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The politics of religious freedom

By 2353NM

The dictum is not to talk about religion and politics in polite company. If you share that belief, read no further.

Religious freedom is an interesting concept. A quick search came up with no current law in Australia that makes a belief in any faith tradition illegal, and anti-discrimination legislation that makes it illegal to harm others physically or mentally based on a whole lot of factors including race, beliefs or actions.

The campaign around religious freedom has been part of the discussion in Australia for some time. Then Prime Minister Turnbull promised a review of the concept as a part of the same-sex marriage discussion that occurred leading up to the Parliamentary vote in December 2017. It is history now that the enabling legislation for same-sex marriage passed both houses of Parliament by a substantial margin following a plebiscite when voters got a chance to tell their members of Parliament how to do their job in a process wasting millions of dollars. Turnbull did ask former Liberal Party Minister Philip Ruddock to review ‘religious freedom’ as promised. Ruddock reported back to the government late in 2018.

It was recently reported on ABC’s website that Baptist Minister and senior fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity, Tim Costello believes

Some of the most prominent voices in religion in Australia are driven by fear, and Christians in particular have an unfounded anxiety about being persecuted, Baptist minister and social justice advocate Tim Costello has said.

The senior fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity said a “toxic” debate around asylum seekers in the past decade had “damaged the Australian soul” and contributed to a paralysing fear of others that had crept into public discourse.

“It worries me that some of the loudest voices in terms of faith seem to have the most fear,” he told the ABC.

Costello also suggests that the government allow for ‘fair discrimination’.

Mr Costello said he did not think religious freedom was under threat in Australia, but he did believe there should be some measures to allow religions to practise “fair discrimination”.

“I certainly believe that Christian schools, Jewish, Muslim schools, should be able to hire teachers who actually share their vision of flourishing and their belief system,” he said.

“Just like you don’t ask the IPA [Institute of Public Affairs] to employ the left-of-centre people or the Greens to hire coal miners.

“I think those things need to be tidied up.”

He argued current discrimination laws did not offer enough protection and used the hypothetical example of a modelling agency rejecting his request for a contract.

“And if they rejected me on my physical appearance … that modelling agency has to claim an exemption from discrimination,” he said.

“So we do need exemptions.”

According to the ABC’s Laura Tingle the draft legislation, recently released by Attorney General Porter

grounded itself in anti-discrimination law, rather than in religious rights philosophy.

As he has repeatedly said, the Government has sought the shield, rather than sword, approach to the issue, arguing the alternative would leave too many questions for the courts to have to determine.

The interesting parts of the draft are that, while it seeks to protect against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or activity, it prescriptively defines neither.

The draft legislation also doesn’t discriminate over different faith traditions, so discrimination of those following a Taoist or Buddhist faith tradition would be as illegal as those following a Christian tradition – which will probably offend a lot of conservative ‘Christians’ who have the innate fear of persecution that Costello speaks about.

The proposed legislation gives an individual some right to object if an employment condition is contrary to the individual’s beliefs (a courtesy not extended to public servants) but doesn’t extend to prescriptively banning behaviours some would find objectionable, which puts Morrison between a rock and a hard place. As suggested by Laura Tingle

Here is an issue on which [Morrison] has led the running from the start and, without doubt, is seen in the public mind through the prism of his own strong religious commitment.

But his Cabinet has produced a well-thought-through structure for dealing with this thorny issue and a structure which does provide the capacity for people to be able to speak out in terms of their faith without facing prosecution.

But if conservatives push on the issue, Mr Morrison will have to advocate for policies which may offend the very conservative base to which he appealed when he pushed for this review in the first place.

As with freedom of speech, there is an implied religious freedom in Australia due to a lack of legislation to the contrary. It’s interesting that the political party that is usually promoting small government, and reductions in rules, ‘red tape’ and regulation is now apparently going to ‘die in a ditch’ introducing legislation and regulation that won’t satisfy most who have strong views in this area. It’s a pity the same rigor and concern isn’t being applied to climate change, humane treatment of refugees and inequality – to name just a few.

What do you think?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. Aortic

    The last sentence says it all really. They seem to waffle around the “fluff” whilst critical issues such as those mentioned amongst many others are subject either to prevarication or outright neglect. Watching Question Time for my sins the government, particularly in the shape of the PM and Treasurer, really just ramble on about the supposed past sins of the Labor Party whilst extolling the so called virtues of the tax relief disregarding still the tax avoidance of large corporations and high flyers who are of course the major sponsors. Am still waiting for Albanese to come up with sensible alternatives. Time to shape up Albo or ship out, we have no time to waste particularly in the vital area of climate change.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Religious superstitious rubbish is killing progress, democracy, decency, social life. It was once normal to speculate on existence, to imagine a cause, and our ancestors must have imagined interlocking fantasy and imagery with fatherhood, motherhood, creation from (as if) nowhere, trying to put existence into imagination and dreams. It’s over. We have a sense of honesty, science, reason, observation, accumulated knowledge. Education is now stunted, crippled, by old and ridiculous fantasy and superstition. let us enjoy the old myths, legends, sagas. But until a god comes before a tribunal, like the UNO or even just Australian High Court, a living witness, with evidence of DNA, facing charges and accusations, with finger and footprints, with photos, interviews, confessions, it’s OVER. But there are unscrupulous turds, from the P M down, living off fantasies of faith, of confession, of forgiveness, of deliverance, of supremacy, of hate for heathens and unbelievers, of supercharged saved egos, of delirious dickheaded domineering, of righteousness. Rubbish.

  3. wam

    The choice of red dick was inspired as there are few as dedicated and ruthless as this deathmask.lowlife.
    I don’t really care what happens in his report because it will protect the christian secret society.
    Many women will comtinue worship a male god who abrogates his responsibilities by allowing frocked men, who may be abusers, to absolve other men who rape and mentally destroy children. Many more worship a god who pimps virgins for men who kill women and children.
    There is a group of male Australian politicians have equally weird instructions.they use to make their decisions in life.
    My dream is religious freedom of worship, freedom of belief without secrecy. .
    If a politician believes the world is kept on the back of a giant tortoise, the politician should be asked if that is their belief

  4. Matters Not


    It’s a pity the same rigor and concern isn’t being applied …

    The implication being that intellectual rigor has been applied to the concept of religion. If so, then where does one find their definition of religion? Or has that problem been delayed until another time? Perhaps it’s not even seen as a problem at all? Just a matter of common sense?

    Will Muslims (for example), who are allowed to have four wives at any one time in some sects, be exempt from the bigamy … ? What about female genital mutilation? Will the legislation indicate whether that practice is ‘cultural’ or ‘religious’? And what type of court will make that determination and who will sit on same and who will make that selection …

    Perhaps this proposed, legislated, religious freedom pursuit is an intellectual and political tar-baby that was best left ignored?

  5. RosemaryJ36

    The churches want to continue to discriminate so they can maintain unfounded ‘beliefs’.
    Members of the LGBTIQ are normal human beings whose sexuality was determined before birth, so that they do not fit into the conventional dichotomy.
    Rather than accept this fact, the churches want to be allowed to continue their ignorant practices.
    Australia is a secular country. The amended Marriage Act recognises that Members of the LGBTIQ community must be treated as sharing the rights of straight males and females.
    We are watching the sun goes round the earth argument all over again!

    PS. As a former maths teacher, I cannot see in what way my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, if I am properly qualified, should be relevant to where I teach my speciality. I did actually teach in a Convent school in the UK for a year!

  6. Zathras

    Just as it happened in the USA, the religious freedom “debate” and legislation is essentially just “payback” for the public acceptance of same-sex marriage – an attempt to retain some sense of authority in a society that is drifting away from arcane and bigotted thinking.

    Most people are unaware that the origin of Political Correctness didn’t come from tree-hugging lefties but from the far right during the Reagan years. They feared that public morals were beginning to decline and wanted to assert some sort of control over how the public thought and acted.

  7. Kerri

    The notion that one does not discuss religion, politics or sex has alway been confusing to me! OK I get the sex bit, but while politics rules our lives and religion persists in interfering in all our lives I cannot understand the ostrich excuse of “I’m not interested in politics”. I resist saying well you bloodywell should be!
    Just about every Uber driver I have travelled with has openly discussed faith and/or politics despite their employers instructions.
    Tim Costello’s argument is, as usual for a Christian tunnel visioned. The difference between workers and teachers is one does the bidding of their boss and the other seeks to enlighten NOT indoctrinate their subjects, young impressionable children. One carries out tasks. The other opens young minds rather than closing them as religious indoctrination and permission to discriminate dictates. One shapes matter the other shapes hearts and minds quite the contrary to faith.
    How can a teacher truly educate if their mission is to deny science and renounce fact?
    I am, personally sick to death of being lectured about freedom of faith when freedom from faith remains a dream.
    @ PhilPryor
    Totally agree!
    No-one ever seems to mention that confession cannot exist without sin!
    Therefore religion encourages sin!

  8. Terence Mills


    Uber are fighting in the courts not to be deemed an employer as this would make their drivers employees and thus entitled to a regular wage, paid sick leave, paid holiday leave, superannuation etc.

    The last thing that Uber wants is to assume the role of an employer.

  9. Winifred Jeavons

    So Morrison has a strong religious commitment? I wonder if God has been told? The evidence in the public domain is distinctly lacking.

  10. Pete Petrass

    The whole thing is a distraction from the lack of anything else to legislate.

  11. Aortic

    Google or You Tube Kenneth Copeland and Jesse Du Plantis on their use of private jets. If anyone can still have any semblance of support for any form of religion after viewing this, it will only reinforce the bullshit it all is. And the Prime Ministers mentor is Brian Houston a multi millionaire snake oil salesman extraordinaire. As a wonderful antidote You Tube Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

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