As Attorney-General Christian Porter aims to bring his Religious Discrimination Bill before Parliament in the first week of December, critics already have the proposed legislation in their sights.
Prominent amongst them is former High Court Justice Michael Kirby who worries that the bill will actually result in a spike in religious intolerance and anti-religious hostility.
The secular status of our society must always be preserved, but the draft bill is intended to help secure a fundamental freedom to allow citizens of a successful multicultural society to live together, rather than grant a licence to pursue (socially unacceptable) fabrications such as the alleged expulsion of gay school students.
Critics hostile to religion pounce on the 30 per cent of people who claimed no religious affiliation in the 2016 census; they fail to see that over 60 per cent of Australians retain a religious affiliation.
Religion is an important part of Australian society. And Kirby is right to warn of the dangers of losing what he describes as “the more relaxed [live and let live] tradition of modern Australia.”
But the bill would have been unnecessary had it not been for the intolerant actions of the secular left determined to silence and shame religious believers who dared to voice their beliefs in public.
Most would understand if an environmentalist group chose not to employ a confessing advocate of coal or petroleum. Few would deny the importance of sympathy for the group’s ethos and purpose.
Yet the prospect of a religious school asking its staff to be sympathetic to the creeds and doctrines of the religion in question leads to arms being thrown up in horror.
Not that the right to religious freedom is absolute; it must always be balanced against the rights of other citizens. Nor can religious practice ever be justified simply because it is motivated by faith — Australian law, for example, rightly prohibits the female genital mutilation and child marriage allowed under religious law in other countries.
However, the unrelenting onslaught of progressive secularism is making it ever harder for religious Australians to practice their faith openly and in public.
The tyrants of tolerance have only themselves to blame for having so taunted their religious neighbours that a government came to office pledged to act.
Peter Kurti is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies and also Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
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