Flat White

What religious protections?

12 September 2018

5:38 PM

12 September 2018

5:38 PM

When Senator Matt Canavan addressed a conference hosted by the Australian Christian Lobby following the same-sex marriage plebiscite in 2017, he advised that would be better passed under a Liberal/National government. It was his view that this was the case because the nature of the Coalition Government is to stand for the protection of individual freedoms.

Currently, Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are in a state of flux. There is clear conflict between religious freedoms and anti-discrimination rights and, whilst we do have numerous federal anti-discrimination laws relating to sex, age, disability and race, why is it that we do not have the same legislation in relation to religion?

Fact Check: According to US Vice President Mike Pence, 83 per cent of the world’s population live in nations where religious freedom is either threatened or banned.

When discussing religious discrimination, there are two main points to make, which I feel necessary to elaborate upon:

  1. Religious protections in Australia are poor. Only New South Wales and South Australia have legislation that explicitly makes it unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of religious belief or activity; and
  2. Australia is a federation. Our Commonwealth laws prevail when there is inconsistency with state laws.

In New South Wales the situation is even worse. The Law Reform Commission’s 1999 report into religious exceptions recommended repealing the religious protection that allowed a religious body to perform any act established to propagate religion or do what is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.

The rationale behind these recommendations related to concerns that religious bodies would use this provision to hide behind the vilification or harassment of other groups. This fails to take into consideration the traditional beliefs or norms of religious bodies. For example, it is known that the Catholic Church holds a strong stance regarding appointing positions in the clergy, with a requirement to be male.

Due to the separation of powers, our Commonwealth laws prevail when there is inconsistency with our State laws.

In order to truly ‘Advance Australia Fair’, our religious protections must be uniform, clear and open-minded. Our constitution makes little mention of religion, with the exception of section 116.

So, where do we draw the line?

Many vocal conservatives have advocated to include religious protections in current anti-discrimination laws. However, recent history shows that there have been countless submissions and protests from both sides of the debate. This will only further the fundamental problem of religious freedom and this left-wing aggression, consequentially, will result in delays and manipulation.

An article by Robyn J. Whitaker, “Christians in Australia are not persecuted, and it is insulting to argue they are” sought to assert that because 52 per cent of the Australian population are Christian, they are not a persecuted group.

I disagree with this comment as, in the past four months, I can name three very public instances where Christians were subjected to hostility and ill-treatment based on their religious beliefs:

  • In April 2018, when Israel Folau was condemned and shamed for replying God’s plan for homosexuals is “HELL… unless they repent of their sins” when asked by an Instagram user;
  • In May 2018, members of the Sydney University Catholic Society were harassed and intimidated on campus with members of the Wom*n’s Collective shouting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Christian fascists go away” and “get your rosaries off our ovaries”; and
  • In June 2018, with the passing of the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018, which lacks an objective test to determine what constitutes as harassment and, as argued by Minister for Families and Community Services Pru Goward, “in its current form is a very powerful weapon of censorship”.

Just because a religious group is not a minority does not mean it cannot be exposed to discrimination and abuse. The suggestion that it can’t encourages division and fuels hate. The two powers that Labor/Greens thrive on.

This article is not an attempt to and is in no way angled to justify the choices of priests or religious individuals to discriminate against others. No doubt, Australian law is the law of the land. Instead, it is about the freedom to exercise, practice and enjoy religion by those with religious affiliations within Australian law.

The introduction of a religious discrimination act would, of course, need to have regard to existing laws and, would be required to take into consideration the views of all individuals and organisations with religious or non-religious affiliation.

The act would aim to:

  • Establish a national legislation that truly recognises and protects religious activities and worship;
  • Create legal safeguards for all Australians with religiously diverse views; and
  • Encourage more respectful discussions about religion or religiously-informed issues.

Today there is the very real threat where you are judged or promoted based on your sex and ethnicity in order to meet superficial diversity targets. It is political correctness and guilt gone mad. The freedom to express your thoughts is instantly shut down when you say something the loud Left disagree with, as seen with Australian tennis legend and Pastor Margaret Court. There were calls to boycott the Margaret Court Arena until the venue changed its name as a result of her open letter to The West Australian expressing her “[disappointment] that Qantas has become an active promoter for same-sex marriage”.

Education Minister Dan Tehan has argued in the past:

When the forces of political correctness continually marginalise and dismiss contributions to debate informed by a reasonable religious belief, it sends a very clear message: you are not welcome here, your views are not welcome here and your religion is not welcome here.

It is crucial that, where possible, people of faith are firmly defending their rights and freedoms by participating in meaningful debates. We must be resilient and brave, whilst being respectful. Good outcomes can be achieved without inciting hate.

As former Prime Minister John Howard said, “of all of the influences on Australian society, none has been more profound than that of the Judeo-Christian ethic”.

But in recent years Judaism and Christianity have been subjected to slander. Shouldn’t all religious views be respected, whether you agree with them or not?

The “love is love” messaging during the pro-same-sex marriage plebiscite campaign was based on this idea of equality and that love transcends and overlooks difference. In the name of true equality and tolerance, this same thought should also be applied to religious acceptance.

We have an international obligation as signatories to article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and, to date, the Coalition is the only Government to ensure that these obligations are upheld.

Australia is a secular society; however, it would be ignorant to ignore the influence and strong historical presence that religion has in forming our country’s values. Our laws must represent and protect all members of our society – both religious and secular.

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