It arguably took one presidential term in America for the nation to move from a modern nation with a loud Religious Right, to one where in 9 states a woman enduring a miscarriage will fear arrest for the charge that she caused it.
She is also likely to lack a swift end to her tragedy because doctors will be too frightened (or lack the training) to proceed with a D&C (dilation and curettage). This grieving woman will then be susceptible to septicaemia as the pregnancy ends, potentially over the course of weeks. Across 42 states, 536 pieces of legislation have limited access to abortion.
At the same time, LGBTQI Americans are suffering a concerted attack on their rights and safety. Idaho, for example, is threatening life sentence felony charges to parents or doctors who prescribe puberty delaying treatment, even if they leave the state.
It is hard to imagine Hillary Clinton allowing this Religious Right minority takeover without a monumental battle. Not least because up to 84% of Americans still support some access to abortion, and 67% of Democrats actively support trans rights.
Australia is a little further behind in the political power of our Religious Right, but it is growing. It is not regular religious faith that is troubling, but the political intentions of an immoderate faction. The philosophy underlying their agenda is “Christian Libertarianism,” even if many will not have heard the term. It explains this minority imposing its harsh definition of Christian morality on their nation at the same as the cruelty of Religious Right politicians’ policies towards the poor and vulnerable.
As our nation has embraced progressive positions, such as legislating to enable marriage equality, conservative religious groups are putting more pressure on the Coalition government to be their voice. With roughly 9 American-style Evangelicals (Pentecostal) and conservative Catholics in the federal cabinet, there is only limited resistance to the lobbying.
The trajectory looks likely to become entrenched as galvanized Christian groups branch-stack traditionally “conservative” seats. A recent article suggested that the Coalition might be willing to abandon progressive seats like Kooyong, hoping to hold power in the more conservative outer suburbs and rural areas. The National Party candidate for Richmond, Kimberly Hone, is such an Evangelical, with a social media history that echoes Katherine Deves’ controversial opinions.
A 2018 investigation exposed the Mormon and conservative Christian campaign shaping the Victorian Liberal Party. As the authors note, their impact outweighs their – as yet – minority numbers: “they are well-organised, they turn out to vote, and they are coalescing against rapid social change.” They compound that impact by targeting secular candidates such as the IPA’s James Paterson; his defence of his seat drives him to promote their religious agenda.
Deriving from the American Religious Right is the sense that conservative Christians are beleaguered. Progressives, they believe, have conquered education, entertainment and much of government. Rainbow flags on logos on social media suggest to this group that they have also lost commerce to the Left.
Perceiving themselves as embattled underdogs, rather than the fringe of the establishment with all the associated protections, they are fighting hard to keep their belief systems central to conservative government.
Rather than the conservative private religion of the Australian tradition, however, these new branch members and their selected candidates are introducing American religious Right tenets to the mainstream of Australian “conservatism.” With that pressure, it is becoming ever less conservative and more extreme.
The Religious Right in America has moved from the fringes of Republican thought after the Great Depression to being its driving force in 2022. Government programs were the province of communist Iron Curtain countries and welfare was socialism. Man should have the freedom to be poor. Vast sums from enthusiastic businessmen funded the Evangelical propaganda units tying freedom and God to American identity. It created the philosophy that has pervaded the Religious Right, Christian Libertarianism.
Libertarian political ideology demands freedom from government, tax, and regulation. It also asserts individuals’ right to determine their private morality provided they do not harm others. “Christian Libertarianism” by contrast, rejects the individual’s freedom of conscience and demands government impose their particular religious morality on the nation. This is partly because the dominant Evangelical majority in the Religious Right believe in Millennial prophecies where the nation must be moral under God’s law to ensure Christ’s return. Christian Nationalism – where the religious elect must control the nation – is a belief held by 20% of Americans.
This theocratic thinking is represented in Evangelicals here too. One example is National Party candidate Hone’s description of her mission: “I want to bring God’s kingdom to the political arena. And I want God’s kingdom to penetrate the political mountain.” David Hardaker, in his series investigating the growing religious impact on Australian politics, suggests part of Scott Morrison’s rejection of accountability might lie in his sense of himself as a divine agent “truly accountable only to God.”
Outgoing NSW Liberal MP Catherine Cusack has endorsed the federal Greens candidate for the region, in outright rejection of the “wrecking ball” these Religious Right candidates are “putting through the Liberal and National parties.” She despaired: “They destroy moderates who cross the floor, they destroy trans people, and they do it in the name of God. It’s so destructive. It’s not liberal values, but it’s also not Australian values.”
The seeping of Republican ideas and strategies into our own conservative politics means the underlying Christian Libertarian philosophy is increasingly powerful here. On one hand the ideology is utterly committed to the freedom of individuals and businesses to operate without interference, as well as the intrusive public programs that might limit the suffering of the poor. Scott Morrison’s prosperity theology faith where wealth is a sign of God’s blessing and poverty a sign of his condemnation is emblematic. Intervention for the poor is against God’s will, and the Morrison government’s harshness to the needy is obvious. Paradoxically though, this freedom stops at the bedroom. Morrison’s support for Katherine Deves in her attacks on trans rights bows to this strict morality. Dominic Perrottet may not claim the label Christian Libertarian, but it describes his expressed beliefs with precision.
Part of the strength of this small demographic is the forging of a broader “conservative” identity against the progressive ideas represented by the Greens and the teal indies which they label socialist and an existential threat. The Coalition faces competition for these votes from the United Australia Party and PHON. They share the “freedom” rally anti-vaxx sentiment, and opposition to Covid health measures; the online Qanon/conspiracy network responsible has been absorbed into the Evangelical worldview. The Religious Right is also deeply sceptical of climate science. Coalition politicians around Australia have worked to avoid alienating Clive Palmer’s ralliers. Labor is treading a cautious path aiming to continue supporting both their traditional centrist religious vote as well as the progressive social vote.
Australia is echoing the American attack on trans people with other campaigns yet to follow the predictable American models. Amanda Stoker, Assistant Minister for Women, has been beginning to mainstream anti-choice arguments, and George Christensen introduced an anti-abortion bill to parliament last year. The Australian Christian Lobby is not only attacking Liberal candidates who crossed the floor to demand amendments to the religious discrimination bill, but is also campaigning against candidates who support late-term abortions (which are basically an emergency medical procedure).
These are the steps towards the cliff over which the US is now, suddenly, tumbling. Australians need to approach this election with full understanding of what a Coalition under siege from religious extremism means for us. The American model should scare us.
Lucy Hamilton is a Melbourne writer with degrees from the University of Melbourne and Monash University.
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!
Your contribution to help with the running costs of this site will be gratefully accepted.
You can donate through PayPal or credit card via the button below, or donate via bank transfer: BSB: 062500; A/c no: 10495969
7,366 total views, 10 views today