While the commonwealth government is yet to table the revised version of its Freedom of Religion Bill there’s no doubt religions are under attack across Australia and the Victorian government, in particular, no longer supports freedom of religion and the right religious bodies have to manage their own affairs.
The recent decision by the Victorian government to mandate only fully vaccinated worshipers can attend religious services is a direct attack on people of faith not wanting to be vaccinated. Unlike the New South Wales government that is willing to remove restrictions by early December, there is no such commitment from Daniel Andrews.
The Victorian Government’s decision to legislate to deny religious schools control over who they employ further illustrates how religious freedom is being undermined. Such a law will force faith-based schools to employ staff whose beliefs and actions are inimical to the religious tenets such schools embody.
Banning religious priests, imams and rabbis from counselling against gay conversions involving puberty blockers and radical surgery represents yet another example of how Andrews seeks to impose extreme secular ideology on people of faith.
And the Victorian government is not alone given the decision by the NSW Property Minister, Melinda Pavey, to renege on a previous agreement stopping the government from taking control of cemetery trusts managed by the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, who was involved in the previous negotiations carried out by the NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, describes the government’s actions as “betrayal of our trust in your good faith”.
Employment and the ability to publicly express one’s beliefs is another area where religion is under attack. While Israel Folau being banished from the Wallabies is the most obvious example of someone suffering because of their beliefs, such discrimination is increasingly common.
In his chapter in Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March John Steenhof details how a number of other Christian rugby players felt intimidated because of what happened to Folau. Such was the unease in the rugby camp Sekope Kepu describes how the prayer meetings he was involved in came to an end.
Such is the extent to which religious views are being stifled and the risk of losing employment or being publicly vilified Steenhof concludes “Australian laws are being weaponised to silence religious voices and to cancel religious Australians who express ideas”.
At a time, according to a survey commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby, when 64% of those surveyed agreed it was wrong to discriminate against religion it’s time governments respected and supported religious freedom. Especially when international agreements enshrine freedom of religious belief and freedom to worship free of government coercion and control.
The International Covenant on Political and Legal Rights, along with race, sex, colour, language, states governments do not have the right to discriminate based on religion. Article 18 specifically mandates “freedom of religion” and Australia ratified the International Covenant in 1980.
Australia has also ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief that states freedom of religion is “one of the fundamental elements” of a person’s “conception of life and that freedom of religion or belief should be fully respected and guaranteed”.
While it’s obvious more needs to be done to protect religious freedom even more concerning is the growing opposition to the commonwealth’s Religious Freedom Bill currently being finalised by Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. Unlike the American Constitution’s First Amendment that protects religious freedom, the Australian Constitution does not make such a commitment.
To address this shortcoming the Religious Freedom Bill “prohibits discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life”. The bill’s explanatory notes state “All people are entitled not to be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief or activities in public life and are entitled to the equal and effective protection of the law”.
Such is the antipathy towards religion that even those who should protect freedom of speech and equality before the law, like the LINO politicians Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma and Tim Wilson, want the bill watered down so religious organisations like schools will not be protected.
It’s ironic that at the very time cultural-left activists argue against discrimination and governments advocate the rights of disadvantaged groups like gays those of religious faith are targeted and their freedoms restricted.
Western liberal democracies like Australia are based on political and legal rights where religious organisations and individuals must be respected and treated fairly and justly. When governments, for whatever reason, abridge and deny such rights we are on the road to serfdom where the state reigns supreme.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University. His latest book is Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March. This is an extended version of a piece recently published in The Australian.
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