How many arm-chair commentators consider the magnitude of religious freedom cases that have actually graced our courtrooms in the past 40 years? Indeed, the “law-fare” of religious freedom à la the Israel Folau case is not unique and corporate virtue signalling has frequently persecuted Christians in universities and the workplace for some time now. It’s glaringly obvious that our love of sports has shed light on this moral and legal dilemma that Australia must now find a solution to. By terminating contracts and actively denouncing the actions of Mr and Mrs Folau, notable corporate virtue signallers: ANZ, Qantas and Rugby Australia have essentially said ‘think like us – or you’ll pay the price’.
Virtue signallers or meritocratic elites are, if you haven’t already heard, social ‘highbrow’ groups of individuals whose sole existence is to tell you how much more superior their views are than yours. That they are the morally righteous, whilst never actually lifting a finger for the cause, for the purpose of power, perceived prestige and financial gain. They build their own meritocracy based on their own (defective) standards – they are the arrogance of the modern in the era of hubris.
However, a small team of die-hard freedom-fighting Christians in the legal community have rejected this mantra. Just recently, notable Baptist tertiary education provider Sheridan College in Perth hosted the Religious Freedom at the Crossroads Conference: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West’, with impeccable timing for the topic de jour of Israel Folau and his battle with Rugby Australia hitting the headlines.
Huddled in the backroom in a small library at Sheridan College, 100 plus attendees who were a mixture of the religious, conservative and the libertarian from the legal community, who took their seats at the sold-out conference. These attendees were not so much law-makers, but rather those who fight on the battlefield of our courtroom to defend the freedom of our citizens.
Amongst others who spoke at the conference: The Hon. John Gilmor QC, a renowned barrister and former Australian federal judge, esteemed legal academic Dr Augusto Zimmermann, and prominent American constitutional lawyer – the Distinguished Professor Emeritus William Wagner of Western Michigan University, (Thomas Cooley Law School). The patron of the conference was former Prime Minister John Howard, OM, AC.
“This is the time for all Australians who believe in the fundamental right of religious freedom to speak out in favour of steps being taken to ensure the freedoms we have always taken for granted are preserved.” Mr Howard said via video.
Sitting across from me was one of Australia’s most active legal minds in religious freedom, Robert Balzola, a Western Sydney lawyer who has been instrumental in multiple high risk and high social impact development applications including places of worship, specializing in migration and litigation. Mr Balzola, a member of the lay Knights of the Southern Cross and mastermind behind the Religious Freedom Institute lobby group, spoke at the conference, listing his legal wins (including the exceedingly controversial Gaynor v Chief of the Defence Force) defending religious freedom like a war-cry to the wounded.
“I’m in the business of making the bad guys lose in this war.” Mr Balzola said with conviction. “It’s not warfare, it’s law-fare.”
Leftist detractors will wrongfully call it Islamophobia, but Mr Balzola is a legal representative, acting for an array of groups that are justifiably concerned about social and economic impact as well as risk analysis on the use of land as a mosque. These places of worship have repeatedly and demonstrably proven to be high-risk land usage both from the inside and outside perspectives.
But sometimes, the Christians don’t win. Such was the case in 2014, when the Court of Appeal ruled Christian Youth Camps (CYC) breached Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2007, Cobaw Community Health attempted to book CYC’s Philip Island camp to run a weekend suicide prevention workshop for homosexual youth. However, the camp’s manager refused the request because the secular organisation opposed his Christian values.
Essentially, this case exemplified our legal system’s preference to the secular community, in effect discriminating against the Christian church. Surely, this youth camp could have chosen a different venue. This is an example of why Australia must preserve environments where Christian people may share their Gospel free from persecution and oppression.
Overseas, the US Supreme Court recently threw out a ruling against two Oregon bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The bakers, Melissa and Aaron Klein, who were represented by First Liberty, cited Christian beliefs as their reason for not providing cake making services for the gay wedding. This case is not isolated either. Recently, justices ruled in favour of a Colorado baker who was in a similar legal dispute, stating that a state body demonstrated improper hostility toward the baker’s religion in finding that he violated state anti-discrimination laws. A similar case involved a Washington state florist, Baronelle Stutzman, who the Supreme Court ruled against for declining to make a floral arrangement for the wedding of a gay couple. Now, the Stutzman case has been reviewed in light of the Colorado case, and the case is expected to go back before the Supreme Court once more. Surely, these gay couples could have chosen different bakers/florists to do business with?
“This is a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans,” said First Liberty president Kelly Shackelford. “The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government. The message from the Court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated.”
Although the damage to the religious community is catastrophic, individuals suffer tremendously. The Kleins had to pay US$135,000 in judgments to the homosexual couple for discriminating against them in violation of a state public accommodations statute. Sadly, the Kleins had to permanently close their bakery to meet the costs.
This shows that religious complaints don’t even have to be successful. In fact, this is a gravy train for secular political activists, as it will still financially ruin the defendants, even if they don’t win.
Indeed, ‘law-fare’ doesn’t come cheap. Bernard Gaynor has been embroiled in a legal battle with the Defence Force since his 2013 dismissal for a series of religious comments that he made on social media. Gaynor has been able to win three cases with the assistance of Mr Balzola, but he’s also been involved in over 70 similar cases defending his implied right to religious expression. Gaynor, a father of eight, has had to sell his family home which almost financially ruined him with a cost of over $250,000 in legal fees.
Unfortunately, there is an increasing demand from the secular Marxist left that religious expression/interpretation be confined to the private space and excluded from public debate. Thus, in other cases, we have noticed Christian schools not being allowed to exclusively hire Christian teachers (essentially misrepresenting their values to students) and Christians facing criminal charges under exclusion zone laws for handing out pro-life material. Yet, these are only a few examples of the ongoing persecutions of Australian Christians preventing them from practising their faith through forced secular thinking.
Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today with significant levels of persecution in 144 countries, according to 2016 data from the Pew Research Centre. Worldwide, an average of 345 Christians are murdered per month for religious reasons, and 105 churches, monuments and buildings violated. Indeed, one in every nine Christians experiences extremely high levels of persecution. This year, Sri Lanka’s deadly Easter Sunday bombing saw 253 Christians killed at the hands of organised terrorists.
In Australia, if an individual publicly expresses their Christian faith, they can expect to be laughed at and ridiculed by the community, including some of our political leaders. And if a Christian school upholds beliefs based on the bible, this school might be denied government funding and be accused of breaching anti-discrimination laws. This madness all goes on whilst radical Marxist social ideologies are shoved down the throats of kindergarten students via the Safe Schools Program, as it is otherwise known. All in the name of ‘tolerance’.
Corporate leaders, such as those at ANZ and Qantas, are under pressure as left-wing activist groups insist companies publicly shame and dissociate from the opposition of secular beliefs. The Australian government must now consider that identity politics, social fragmentation and corporate virtue signalling are threatening our implied rights to freedom of speech. The proper approach to legal interpretation can lead to good governance under the rule of law, with revisionist approaches leading to a non-politically accountable and tyrannical judiciary.
The ludicrously expensive debate over same-sex marriage in 2017 (thank you, Malcolm), and the ongoing discussion about the protection of religious freedoms are all key examples of ideological and divisive politics currently destroying our political climate. It’s unfair to force churches to reject their faith under the guidance of the law. Essentially weaponising the Human Rights Commission into undertaking a Maoist-style cultural revolution for ‘enlightenment’ of churches and people of faith to the notion of ‘inclusivity’.
Religious freedom is a basic right of the free individual. It recognises that everyone may pursue and transcendent their ends freely and without government coercion. This is set in stone in our Constitution, specifically section 116 outlining the fundamentals of our freedoms as a free nation.
As a liberty to be exercised by all, religious freedom commands and rationalises limited government and freedom of the citizen. As citizens of this great nation, we deserve freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of association.
It’s obvious that the Christian movement has had 40-odd years of bad PR and persecution, but this band of legal warriors is determined to do something about it.
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