Friday, December 14, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Religious unfreedom
Discrimination is in the eye of the beholder

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Whatever the opposite of removing barnacles is, that’s what the Morrison government is doing. Every issue it tries to resolve before Christmas, it does so in a way that makes sure the issue will be revisited before the election. The encryption laws will have to be revisited to address the recommendations of the joint intelligence committee. A Senate bill to speed medical transfers from Manus Island and Nauru will come back to the House. The revised school-funding plan is unravelling. There has been an immediate backlash [$] against the government’s proposed integrity commission, for which it may lack the numbers. The watered-down “big stick” energy legislation has yet to, and may never, pass parliament. And the government’s belated response to Philip Ruddock’s Religious Freedom Review has ensured that the issue will be debated all the way to the next election. Left up in the air is the key question that most Australians are now concerned about: how to ensure that religious schools do not discriminate against LGBTQI kids.

Reaction has been tepid to yesterday’s announcement that the government would draft a new religious discrimination bill and appoint a religious discrimination commissioner. Labor has not rejected the idea. Ruddock himself squirmed his way through an interview on RN Breakfast this morning. The proposal could have unforeseen consequences, with the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas writing that it could make for an “ugly election”, and The Guardian reporting that it could lead to challenges against the school chaplains program, and pointing out that the federal government is one of the worst offenders when it comes to discrimination on religious grounds.

The Ruddock review received more than 21,000 submissions and noted that two-thirds expressed a view that freedom of religion was important or required stronger protection. A third were in the form of petitions or similar submissions, which the review broke down into 16 groups. The vast bulk of these were 5456 signatories to a petition arguing that “the idea of religious freedom has been twisted to mean ‘freedom’ to treat other people unfairly if that treatment is compelled by religious beliefs. It has come to mean religious privilege.” Five submissions strongly opposed the further discrimination against members of the LGBTQI community, arguing that LGBTQI young people are five times more likely to attempt suicide and that “discrimination and exclusion costs lives”.

The remaining grouped submissions give an idea where the Christian right is coming from. More than a thousand submissions expressed views that made a passing reference to “live and let live”, but also that “religious schools and organisations should be allowed to positively discriminate in employment for people who adhere to their beliefs on marriage.” Two hundred submissions were from Christians who expressed “deep concerns about the current lack of protected freedom to express [their] Christian understanding of marriage publicly”. These submissions expressed the view that “Christian hospitals, aged care, education institutions and care organisations may be inhibited by anti-discrimination laws”. Nine referenced Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to recognise and protect “the liberty of parents … to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”.

Many cited the case of Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, who was subject to an anti-discrimination complaint in 2015 over a church booklet titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage”. The complaint was brought by transgender rights advocate and former Greens political candidate for the federal seat of Franklin Martine Delaney. The booklet was distributed to all Catholic schools, implied that same-sex attracted people were not “whole people”, and included the statement that “Messing with marriage is, therefore, also messing with kids.” The complaint against Porteous became a cause célèbre for Catholics, and Delaney later dropped it, saying she did not think a drawn-out legal battle would benefit the people she believed the booklet harmed.

Some of the submissions come from a worrying place:

– 42 submissions wrote variations on the following statement: “the right to conscientious objection on religious grounds for health care professionals is seriously impacted by state abortion laws … The ACT, Victoria and Tasmania now have laws which even prohibit peaceful prayer, protest and the offering of financial and spiritual assistance outside abortion clinics in order to maximise the genuine choices for often desperate women.”

– 10 wrote variations that noted “the unprecedented success of the homosexual lobby over recent decades in not only passing legislation to legalise homosexual acts, but also to force acceptance of this sin on the rest of the population”. 

– Another 144 presented submissions that expressed a view complaining about the “misuse of state and territory anti-discrimination laws by homosexual activists to suppress the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs”. These submissions also argued that “homosexual ‘marriage’ legislation will only serve to increase the grounds for religious persecution already exercised by homosexual activists”, and warned the review to: “Please report on this danger and strive to recommend practical remedies before it is too late.”

– Six submissions wrote variations on the following: “I do not consent or support any changes that takes away personal religious beliefs regarding marriage & in particular vaccinations. I do not support the use of aborted foetuses cells injected into our babies or children. Or the use of any animal by product or cells. I don’t agree to the No Jab No School or No Jab No Play policies … Forced vaccinations and No Jab No Pay/Play laws violate my personal religious convictions.” 

– Five people submitted variations on the following statements: “Christians need to have preserved the freedom to possess and read a Bible”, and “Christian schools need to have the freedom to teach the scientific evidence for intelligent design, the biochemical evidence that evolution is impossible and the geological and other evidences the life on earth is recent in science classes alongside the theory of evolution.”

– Eight expressed variations on the fear that the “greatest danger to religious freedom in Australia now comes from the campaign to force acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism on society”.

– Four people wrote variations on statements that objected to gender fluidity and insisted that “human sexual identity is binary, biological”. 

As Shelley Argent asked, on behalf of the lobby group Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays+: “Who protects the LGBTIQ people from the people of religion?”

since this morning

The men who helped put one of Australia’s most corrupt politicians behind bars say Scott Morrison’s anti-corruption commission would not have the powers to expose a future Eddie Obeid.

The Federal Court of Australia has rejected an employer group’s attempt to break up the merged Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.

Palestinian leaders are lobbying Arab and other Muslim states to drop Australian exports and withdraw their ambassadors from Canberra in the event the Coalition moves Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Scott Morrison is expected to announce whether the embassy will be relocated in an address to the Sydney Institute tomorrow.

in case you missed it

Liberal National Party president Gary Spence – a key agitator for Malcolm Turnbull’s removal as prime minister – is tipped [$] to resign today following shock legal advice about how electoral laws could interact with Queensland’s controversial ban on developer donations.

About one-third of large Australian companies have failed to pay tax, even though they made a gross profit, the ABC reports.

Australia remains on track to miss its Paris climate targets as carbon emissions continue to soar, according to new data from NDEVR Environmental.

The Guardian has flagged that Victoria’s education minister said he “won’t be bullied” into signing a “dud” school-funding deal with the Commonwealth at today’s intergovernmental meeting.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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