The Repression of Religious Freedom in Australia

Ten years ago I published a book titled Politics and Universal Ethics. It began with a chapter on the rising spectre of an ideology pitted against traditional faith with its compass of universal values, which have been the foundation of civilisation. The new ideology was not simply secular, but secularising: it wanted to “remove” the great G-d from the universe and the “small” G-d—the human soul with its resonance with the divine moral compass—from the human being. It was a materialistic ideology, opposed to the spiritual. But its materialism was also deeply hedonistic, that is to say, oriented to physical and psychological gratification. It pursued the quest for pleasure and the flight from pain, uninhibited by the review of conscience, anchored in traditional faith, that decides what pleasures may legitimately be indulged and what pain may legitimately be escaped.

I called this new ideology “hedonistic materialism” and shortened it to “Hedonomat” alluding to another variant of a materialistic worldview. That was “Diamat”, short for “dialectical materialism”, the official doctrine of the communist world, half of which vanished with the collapse of the USSR and its European satellites. Just as “Diamat” was the ideology of one form of tyranny, so too, in recent years, “Hedonomat”, the dominant ideology of the “liberal” West, has been culturally and legislatively installed with tyrannous features. The tyranny is experienced particularly by its identified enemy, traditional faith, which, contrary to it, upholds the human spirit and enduring ethical principles of an eternal Creator. Hedonistic materialism, primarily through legislation and policy, has acted to crush religious freedom. It does this globally. The focus of this article is how it does so in Australia, and what might be done to restore religious freedom.

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This article seeks to document (a) the dimensions of religious freedom, (b) the legislative and policy measures that have been directed against them, (c) the social and political culture—of unfiltered and corrupted emotions, disabled critical intellect and removal of freedoms—which support this program, and finally (d) what must be legislated in a federal Religious Freedom Bill to restore and guarantee religious freedom in Australia.

The dimensions of religious freedom

Religious freedom pertains to the rights granted (1) to the faith community to preserve its own existence, and to do so (a) inwardly, in its freedom to teach and model its beliefs and so educate successive generations of the faith community and (b) outwardly, through its free participation in the life and politics of the wider society, in order to safeguard its existence within society and to advocate, like any other group, for its values. Religious freedom then pertains to rights granted (2) to the religious individual to live in accordance with conscience, whether in respect of (a) one’s own private life or (b) in public interactions with the rest of society. Religious freedom pertains finally (3) to the right to preserve the integrity of the family, whereby the bonds and educative role of parents with their children are not infringed. These five headings are now discussed in turn.

Religious freedom of the faith community in its inner life. Faith communities are traditions with long lineages. From the making known of the one Creator by Abraham came Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The message of a supreme deity came also to the great Eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. The adherents of these five faiths constitute some three quarters of the world’s population. Even before Abraham, there was a common ancestor and earlier root of the world faiths in the biblical figure of Noah.

Associated with Noah, the ancestor of humanity after the biblical Flood, are seven divinely communicated “Noahide Laws”. They form a common core and root of the world faiths, a universal moral compass. These ethical laws or principles consist of belief in and respect for the Creator, sexual morality, justice, the prohibitions of theft and killing, and the teaching of a proper regard for animal and non-animal nature. The different world faiths may have developed differently, but this common ethical teaching at their root constitutes the universal moral compass they have imparted to civilisation. Not only does this universal moral compass arise from a historical tradition; so also the aware human soul resonates with it.

The belief in an eternal Creator and in the eternal moral compass given by the Creator is sustained in the individual faith traditions by the experience of faith and the transmission of its teachings from generation to generation. This transmission occurs in the family, the prayer community and the educational institutions of the faith community. Without the freedom to maintain this educational transmission of faith and its ethical teaching, prayer and religious practice and the integral ethos of its institutions, the very existence of the faith community is threatened.

Religious freedom of the faith community within society. Faith exists both “outside” and “inside” politics. It is “outside” politics as an encompassing framework—the living memory—of the enduring values, which establish civilised society. However, it is also “inside” politics as a participant in the political process, like any other group, protecting its existence and advocating for its values. This dual relationship of the faith community and politics is recognised in section 116 of the Australian Constitution:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

On the one hand, this provision decouples politics from faith: religion does not limit a free play of groups and interests in the society. Office holders do not have to belong to a faith group and certainly not to any particular faith group. On the other hand, it removes state control from faith, guaranteeing the “free exercise of any religion”, including its participation and manifestation of its values in politics and public life, which may not be fettered by the state. Religion deserves respect and protection as the historical background and foundation of our society, as the phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution, “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty G-d”, states. And it is certainly entitled, no less than any group in society, freely to participate in politics, stating and defending its values and needs.

Freedom of conscience in the private life of the individual. Fundamental to the faith tradition is the concept that the human being must live one’s own private life according to conscience. What does this mean? A person has a body, which is a source of impulses, needs and emotions; the person also has a mind, which is a source of varying perceptions. Standing above both bodily and mental dimensions, however, is the human conscience. The religious name for conscience is the soul. By virtue of conscience or soul the human being is capable of self-transcendence and self-examination. That means that the soul or conscience enables one to stand above, and distance oneself from, one’s own impulses and perceptions, and to judge whether or not, and with what modifications, to act upon them. The human being, in whom soul or conscience is active and sovereign, asks not “What do I want?” but ethically “What is wanted of me?”

It may seem strange to ask, What kind of a freedom has to be guaranteed by the state to allow the individual to lead one’s private life according to conscience? Yet it is not strange, and contemporary society and politics have brought to light an example of the need for the state to guarantee precisely this freedom. This is in the realm of the access to therapeutic help for a religious individual, whose psychological issues make it difficult to live according to one’s conscience. Thus, a person with a gambling addiction or kleptomania needs access to therapeutic help in order to live according to a conscience, the beliefs of which are against gambling and stealing. The same applies to a person with psychological impulses and perceptions which incline one to homosexuality or gender dysphoria, neither of which one’s own religious conscience may accept, and one seeks therapeutic help to overcome them. It is only the individual—and no political edict—that can determine whether one should change one’s own character and personality. This is a matter of freedom of conscience. The religious individual, not the state, will decide whether or not he or she is “broken” and in need of “repair”, with therapeutic assistance, in free private exercise of conscience.

Freedom of conscience in the public life of the individual. In order in daily life to manifest one’s faith, the individual must be permitted to carry out his or her social involvements with integrity of conscience. Thus, where, for example, an act of killing—be it in a routine “abortion on demand” or in an act of euthanasia or “physician assisted suicide”—violates the religious conscience of a doctor or paramedic, he or she must be free to stand aside. Moreover, freedom of conscience must be granted not only in relation to direct involvement in the repugnant act, but also in relation to indirect or complicitous involvement in the act such as in a doctor having to refer an individual to another doctor, known to have no objection to the act, such as an abortion, to which the first doctor objects.

Similarly, at a further remove, an individual should not be compelled to perform a service which facilitates an activity which his or her faith deems morally repugnant. There is a great difference between showing respect for a homosexual as a person, and having to cater a homosexual marriage, to which, as an act, one is religiously opposed; or between showing respect for a prostitute as a human being, and having to rent one’s property for a brothel, where one’s faith morally rejects the activity of prostitution.

The integrity of the family and the parent-child relationship. Central to the faith tradition is the integrity of the family and the parent-child relationship. The traditional family is a biological unit. A husband and wife find the expression of their union in their biological offspring; and the child finds in its parents its source. These bonds of biological identity also have a spiritual dimension and continuity: faith is transmitted from generation to generation, parents to children, through the family unit. Religious schooling is an agency of, and the prayer and religious community a vital adjunct to, the parents in this generational transmission of faith.

The protection of the bonds of the family is thus integral to religious freedom and religious existence. This is recognised in several treaties to which Australia is a signatory. In Article 7(1) of the United Nations Covenant on the Rights of the Child there is affirmed the right of the child “to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Article 23 (6) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”. Article 18 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires “respect for the liberty of parents … to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions”.

Legislative and policy programs to repress religious freedom

We now identify legislative and policy programs in Australia which undermine each of these five domains of religious freedom.

Legislation to undermine the inner life of faith communities. One feature of the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 is its specification of beliefs which a faith community may not transmit and recommend to its members or children. Specifically, it prohibits—with the sanction of imprisonment (up to ten years) and fines—parents, schools and ministers of religion from teaching religious values and beliefs concerning sexuality. It makes the bizarre “concession” that one may mention such beliefs, provided one does not recommend to adherents or children that they live by those beliefs. It has an associated apparatus for reporting on, and punishing, families, schools and congregations in which the transmission and recommendation of these beliefs occur. This is the most egregiously anti-religious legislation in Australian history and is recognised internationally as setting a “benchmark” in the rigour of its pursuit to crush the transmission of those religious beliefs opposed by its architects.

At the time of writing, the Victorian government has signalled its intention to amend the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act to remove key religious exemptions to discrimination law in employment in religious schools or organisations. In short, it intends to force religious schools to hire or keep in their employment staff whose manifest lifestyle and values conflict with the religious values the institution seeks to teach and model to its students. This attempt to make religious schools contradict their own ethos coalesces with the Change or Suppression Act, which dictates what religious schools may not teach. Together, they seek to invade the inner sancta of the faith community. The result is the removal of the freedom of the faith community to maintain its existence by breaking the inner transmission of its beliefs and values.

Legislation to undermine the outer life of faith groups in society. The Victorian government has announced its intention to amend the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to (1) include, amongst the topics of punishable “vilification”, reference to sexual and gender orientation; (2) alter the threshold for punishment from the existing criterion of “inciting hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule” to being “likely to incite …”; and (3) set up a reporting and investigative apparatus to hunt out all such infringements. What this means simply is that public statements by faith groups in relation to their beliefs about sexual morality now come within the punishable category of “vilification”. An objection that an expressed belief or value would be “likely” to offend, even though no offence has occurred, nor was intended, is sufficient to punish the religious group which expressed it; and to intimidate it into silence before it opens its mouth. Its result is to limit the freedom of religious groups to participate in public political discussion.

The rights which protect the existence of a faith group in society go beyond their ability to participate in the political process. They extend to societal facilitation of fulfilment of its basic needs. Religious instruction is a basic need for the children of religious families. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 30, states that a child may not “be denied the right … to profess and practise his or her own religion”. This requires the allowance of a minimum of special religious education for the children of parents who cannot afford to send their children to a private religious school, whose children instead study in state schools. Yet, in Victoria, the one hour of optional special religious instruction that had been available to children in state schools was removed from classroom hours by a political decision. Instead, children were given the (effective) disincentive of coming before school or receiving the class during lunchtime. At the same time, the state government presented its “compensation” for this through a new core curriculum subject which relativised the world religions amongst one another and with secular humanism.

A more recent bill (Education and Training Reform Amendment (School Employment) Bill 2020) has been introduced into the Victorian Parliament to ensure that chaplains in state schools be employed on the basis of the Equal Opportunity Act. Thereby, chaplains are placed in a category of workers with children, for whom religious beliefs may not be a factor in terms of which to discriminate in their employment. The tragicomic result of this legislation is no chaplains, or “atheistic” chaplains, for religious students in government schools. This is not the expression of a secular state, but of a secularising state which seeks to the purge all provision for religious teaching, practice and expression from public institutions.

The Victorian government also resolved to remove the opening prayers from the parliamentary sittings. No one had been compelled to pray. It was an opportunity for those who wished to do so. But the existence of a religious symbol, from amongst all other symbols in the parliament, is eliminated.

Legislation against freedom of conscience in private life. The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act, which strikes at a number of domains of religious freedom, is directed primarily against conscience in the private life of an individual. This law, as noted, makes it a criminal offence for a therapist, when freely approached by a religious individual for help with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, to provide that therapy. It represents a direct attack on two tenets of religious belief: (1) it denies that a human being is inwardly free and capable of living in accordance with conscience; and (2) it negates and criminalises norms of the faith tradition. It enforces its view that the human is not free to live in accordance with conscience, and makes sure that the individual will not be free to do so. It imprisons the individual in his or her own psyche and imprisons the therapist, who answers that individual’s request for help, with an actual jail sentence.

Legislation against freedom of conscience in public life. The Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act of 2008 introduced abortion on demand for foetuses up to twenty-four weeks. In religious law, an abortion performed not to save the mother’s life, or on other extremely rare grounds, may be deemed murder. The Act provided that a doctor who on grounds of conscience did not want to perform such an abortion was exempt from doing so. However, it required such a doctor, on pain of professional discipline and implied possible disbarment from the profession, to refer the patient to another doctor who was known to have no objection to performing the abortion. In other words, it compelled the doctor with a religious objection to be complicit with, by facilitating, the religiously prohibited act of killing. In underworld terminology, this is the same as being forced to give the name and contact details of a “hitman” who will take out a “contract” to kill another. If not killing, it is forced complicity with it.

Similarly, though to lesser degree of severity but also a violation of religious freedom, there is the threat that the federal Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 may be used to force individuals to supply their services or venues for an activity which their religion prohibits. This is coercion to support an act which the individual on religious grounds finds repugnant. The refusal to support repugnant acts is different from discrimination against persons. One should not discriminate in the provision of goods and services to a homosexual person, but one may refuse to endorse an act, which religious belief forbids, such as the act of a same-sex wedding. One may not discriminate against a person who is a prostitute, though one should be free, on the basis of religious conscience, to refuse to rent a venue for the purposes of prostitution, which activity religious belief forbids. Now that the Victorian Parliament has legalised prostitution, this becomes an important issue.

Policy and legislation infringing the parent-child relationship. As noted in the first section, an essential religious freedom is that of parents to raise children in their own values. This too has been negated by government programs and legislation. The first of these violations is a sex-education program imposed on all children in state schools in Victoria, for example, by the so-called “Safe Schools” program. This program exposes children at a naturally impressionable age to a host of sexual lifestyles, many of which are contrary to religious belief and practice. In so doing it detaches children from the values of their parents and suggests to them sexual lifestyles contrary to parental and religious values. The teaching of “gender fluidity” under the “Safe Schools” program sexualises, and so exploits and manipulates, children at the most susceptible point of their development. Under the normal guidance of their parents, children grow overwhelmingly into their traditional roles. At the age of twelve, some 26 per cent of children have a naturally fluid sexual identity. In the general population some 2 to 3 per cent of the population have homosexual behaviours. What this program does is to prey upon the 24 per cent who, with normal socialisation and parental education, would grow into traditional roles. It draws children away from parental values.

Until recently, private and religious schools were exempt from the state-imposed “Safe Schools” program. Only the children of religious families who could not afford a private religious schooling for their children were vulnerable to this interference with parental guidance. Now, however, in Victoria with the Change or Suppression Act, the state interferes, with criminal sanctions to seek out and punish private religious schools (along with parents and ministers of religion) who seek to impart religious norms of sexual behaviour to their children and students. The state’s separation of children from parental values thus now operates in both Victorian state and private schools. It is proposed that parents who counsel their children in traditional sexual ethics will be guilty of “family violence”.

The child is not normally considered to be a free and responsible agent in society and is protected from itself by not being permitted to a drive a car, drink alcohol and so forth. Government policy in Victoria has made an exception to this. Under the Change or Suppression Act, the expressed desire of a child to “transition” from one sex to another may only be affirmed. Any therapeutic investigation of causes leading the child to this dysphoria is prohibited and punishable. Should the parents resist the administration of “puberty blockers”, as a step towards the transitioning, the child is granted through government policy a unique “mature minor” status to act wholly independently of its parents. The Change or Suppression Act, which punishes parents who obtain therapeutic counsel for their child with gender dysphoria, takes for its jurisdiction the whole world. Parents who take their child anywhere on earth for this psychological assistance await jail upon return to Victoria. The Royal Australian College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Medical Association have warned against the dangers of solely “affirmative” gender transitioning and the importance of psychological investigation, but this has not availed to impede the detachment of children from parents.

A further observation. We have noted the stipulation by the United Nations Covenant on the Rights of the Child of the right to identity, “to know and be cared for by his or her parents”. Legislation to provide artificial reproductive services for non-biological parents creates orphans: it brings children into the world not to be raised by their biological parents. This is, and has been experienced by many persons whose existence was “commissioned” through artificial and donor reproduction as, a profound loss of the right to identity.

The culture of the repression of religious freedom

Distorted emotions. The culture supporting the legislation and policy to repress religious freedom is opposed to the concept of the human soul with its compass of universal values. It is this self-transcending conscience with its objective moral compass that is nurtured by the faith tradition. It is the task of conscience to evaluate and measure emotions, perceptions and worldviews by reference to that moral compass. Accordingly, the emotions which spontaneously well up within oneself, or are borne through media or mass sentiment, need to be subjected to the review of conscience to examine whether they correspond to authentic norms. Conscience refines and rectifies feeling, thought and attitude. Without the standard of conscience, they are subject to corruption.

The word used in the last ten years and more to drive legislative changes, and to repress the religious views which critique them, is compassion. Over and over again, we have heard how all of these programs express “compassion” and how those who oppose them are “cruel”. Yet the “paradox”—and we shall see that it is really not a paradox—is that the movement borne along by this ostensible “compassion” has turned into a movement of unprecedented cruelty, harshness and repression. In return for being “likely” to offend with their beliefs, and for teaching them to their children, the religious are to be jailed and fined. Their homes, schools and institutions of prayer are to be invaded, monitored and subject to informer reporting. In the public square the expression of their values is to be gagged by “vilification” laws.

The cruelty of this “compassion” extends not only to their targeted enemies, individuals and communities of faith. It extends above all to the persons whom their “compassion” was meant to benefit. To reiterate one example, the inducement, without and against parental permission, of young children, who are regarded as non-responsible minors in all other respects, to undergo irreversible modifications and sterilisation of their bodies, is a cruelty which has now awoken the concern of medical and psychiatric associations in Australia. These “transitioning” children are being drawn by legislation and policy into a cohort with the highest incidence of suicide.

The reason why the “compassion” behind this legislation and policy has capsized into such cruelty and harshness is that it was from the outset a corrupted emotion of compassion—not compassion at all. It was based on the suppression of the moral compass which would have corrected it from the outset.

The mobbing of intellect. As noted, the moral compass of conscience, nurtured by faith, ensures not only that the emotions should be properly informed and honed. It ensures also that the mind functions as it is meant to, as a dispassionate, independent, self-examining and critical faculty. With the submergence of the spiritual in society has come the collapse of reasoned and balanced discussion and analysis. The major newspapers, once characterised by journalistic independence, balance and a quest for objectivity, are no longer interested in debate. They have become organs of propaganda for one-sided worldviews. The universities, which were meant to be the home of critical intellect, have “cancelled” free discussion, producing students who cannot think critically, but are marshalled by ideological teachers. Their graduates in turn reproduce the same “groupthink” in the professions they enter. Professional associations—of psychologists, doctors and lawyers to name some—are ideologically regimented, threatening independently thinking and dissenting members with professional deregistration or disbarment.

Nowhere was the mobbing of intellect and the cancellation of debate seen more than in the lead-up to the parliamentary decision to introduce and pass the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. The Act addressed the access to therapy by individuals, whether for themselves or their children, for unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. A document prepared by a radicalised university department and several activist organisations presented a series of ghoulish reports of bizarre therapies, which no one—including religious persons—would endorse. The intention was to stymie all therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria with the caricature label of “barbaric quackery”, which became a catchcry that brooked no examination.

The parliament refused to consider copious evidence of successful and non-coercive therapies which individuals had sought and with which they were happy. The warnings of harm to individuals and children in prohibition of all therapeutic investigation of trauma and other factors in patients seeking this help for themselves and their children were disregarded. Major mainstream media ran campaigns, deliberately repressing conflicting evidence. In short, the legislation was based on a falsehood and a libel. This mobbing of intellect and negation of its faculty of critical review has resulted in the most punitively ramifying and repressive law against religious freedom in Australian history and in the contemporary Western world.

The disregard for freedom and the culture of control. Religious freedom and freedom in general are related. This is because freedom is measured and created not by the ability to choose which interests, tastes or desires to pursue. I do not manifest my freedom in being able to decide whether I will eat a strawberry or a chocolate ice-cream, whether I will follow this “want” or that “want”, whether I shall allow this idea or that idea to appeal to me. In all of these cases I am deciding about which “want” I shall allow to drive me.

The real meaning of freedom, as the great psychologist Viktor Frankl would say, is to stand above “drivenness”. That means, in contraposition to my sense of my wishes, desires, interests, angles on life, I can transcend to a vantage point where I ask not “What do I want?” but rather, “What is wanted of me?” In other words, it is that I have the possibility of saying “no”—to the impulses and perceptions and catchcry ideologies which attempt to drive me—because these conflict with a higher moral compass. This self-transcending higher purpose and truth are represented by conscience, and conscience is sustained by the faith tradition.

The secularising culture of hedonistic materialism, which has unravelled so many human institutions and basic societal values, is not interested in self-distancing or self-examination. Nothing stands in the way of its unmediated and unreflected impulse, perception and attitude. It is intrinsically unfree because it has repressed its own power of self-transcendence and self-reflection, which makes the human being free. And it reproduces its own unfreedom in society by repressing, cancelling and punishing all who argue with it. Nowhere does it act with greater aggression than against the faith tradition, which teaches the freedom that arises from the possession and invocation of conscience.

Societies which acknowledge religious freedom are free societies; those which repress religious freedom become comprehensively unfree. The longest and most restrictive “lockdown” under the coronavirus in the entire world occurred in the administrative region with the worst record of violation of religious freedom in the democratic West: Victoria. Freedom, and particularly freedom of prayer, was not a part of the concept of “life” which the Victorian government sought to preserve through the curfews and house-arrest of citizens for a series of lockdowns over some twenty-one months. For two years running, to give one example, Jewish people in Victoria were not allowed, under any conditions, to gather to pray on the holiest day of their year, Yom Kippur. This was the thinking of a deeply materialistic political culture which could not grasp prayer as a source of deliverance (in conjunction with practical measures) from the very crisis in which it found itself. The less it respects faith and prayer, the tighter its controls become as it struggles alone to “manage” life and nature. As a much reviled political leader, who does believe in a Creator, said: “These are times for more prayer, not less.”

The legislation required to protect religious freedoms

In the following, some basic requirements for a federal law to protect religious freedom are set out. They are organised according to the categories of religious freedom in the first section meeting the abuses of these aspects of religious freedom, which were set out in the second section.

The inner life of the faith community within society. There shall be no dictation (and certainly not with fines and punishments) of which religious beliefs families, religious schools and congregations may teach their members. This is to implement throughout Australian the guarantee of the Australian Constitution in section 116 of “the free exercise of any religion”.

Violated by the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021

There may be no restriction of the right of religious institutions to select any or all of their staff, with reference to criteria consistent with the beliefs, values and ethos of the institutions.

Threatened by an intended amendment to the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act

The outer life of the faith community within society. There shall be no curtailment or prohibition of the expression of religious beliefs and views in the political sphere. This is consistent with Article 18 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Threatened by a proposed amendment to the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to prohibit expression of certain beliefs as “vilification”

There may not be withheld the entitlement of students in state schools to opportunities for religious instruction and for chaplaincy. This is in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically in Article 14, “States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, and in Article 30, “In those States in which … religious … minorities exist, a child belonging to such a minority … shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group … to profess and practise his or her own religion …”

Violated by exclusion of Special Religious Instruction from Victorian state school classroom hours

Religious freedom of conscience in the private life of the individual. No individual may be denied access to medical or psychological care or procedure required by his or her religious beliefs and practice.

Violated by the Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 criminalising access to therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria

Religious freedom of conscience in the public life of the individual. No individual may be compelled to provide goods or services for an act which contravenes his or her religious conscience. This includes, for example, (a) doctors and medical staff, who may not be compelled to carry out a form of killing prohibited by their faith, such as abortion on demand, or any form of complicity with that act of killing (such as compulsion to produce referral to another doctor known to have no objection).

Violated by the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act 2008, which forces doctors to refer

(b) the provision of services for an act prohibited by an individual’s religious beliefs, for example, to rent a venue for prostitution, or to cater for a marriage prohibited by one’s religion.

This needs to be made clear in relation to the Federal Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013

The integrity of the parent-child relationship. The rights of parents to raise children in their own values shall be respected, in accordance with Article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” And so also Article 18 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

This will entail that there be

(a) no imposition upon children in schools of sex-education programs which violate the religious principles of their parents

Violated by “Safe Schools” programs

(b) no granting to minors of independence from their parents’ consent in undertaking psychological or medical treatment

Violated in Victoria by schools’ ability to accord “mature minor” status to children for undertaking sexual transitioning independent of their parents’ consent

(c) no interference with the counselling of children provided or organised by parents for their children

Violated by Victorian Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021

Shimon Cowen is the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilization and an Honorary Fellow of Campion College

7 thoughts on “The Repression of Religious Freedom in Australia

  • Stephen Due says:

    A masterpiece of exposition! Sadly, it is probably beyond the comprehension of the average Australian, let alone the typical politician or parliamentarian. There are, however, some to whose consciences it should speak. One of those is the present Prime Minister. If all else failed, this article should awaken his slumbering sense of duty. It should cause him to be alarmed. It should drive him to act.
    Strong leadership is desperately needed. Responsible people must organise to prevent an incoming tsunami of social destruction and moral collapse far worse than the passing effects of any virus. The Australian Christian Lobby is doing a great job and does have excellent leadership. But we must do more than just lobby politicians. This is war!
    I believe that organised civil disobedience on a massive scale is the only way out of this now. Monica Smit, of Reignite Democracy Australia, has proven herself to be a capable and determined Christian leader of civil disobedience during the pandemic. More like her are needed, and a new course must be charted that directly tackles the issues set out with such clarity in this article.

  • pgang says:

    I’m not so confident in this take, Stephen Due. In the first place, what is the definition of religion? From within Christianity as compared with humanism it is quite a different thing. In a secular world, how can a ‘religion’ ever be resolved to secular law unless it is a secular religion?
    Perhaps we should drop the somewhat confusing term ‘religion’ and be open about calling this a unique problem for Judeo Christianity.

  • Adam J says:

    Whenever I hear about religious freedom, I think about Islam.
    Religious freedom relies on religions sharing the same values and being more or less interchangeable at a social level.
    But [some] followers of Muhammad mutilate their daughters, engage in terrorism, rape non-Muslim women, cover their faces, segregate themselves, and in general are a nuisance. This is to say nothing about the Jew-hatred and general stupidity in this religion. Indeed, freedom of religion is not an Islamic concept because Islam is not a liberal religion.
    So why is the author talking about homosexuality in Victoria?
    Notwithstanding the fact that his diagnosis is completely correct, the fact is that freedom of religion as a liberal value has nothing to say about its opponents, like all liberal values. Where exactly should this freedom end and what is the solution to the wilful or violent abuse of it? Once these questions are unanswered, the issues fall away…

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Well put together Shimon in a carefully, properly constructed way, at an intellectual level that should resonate at the level which we would all hope our politicians can rise to, but can they, or do they want to. I certainly hope so. At the Federal level maybe…….. but at the State level ?
    I agree with it, as I agreed with your little book “Politics and Universal Ethics”, and it has to be said in any reasonable, civilised debate, but I’m afraid I’ve also had a bit to do with Islam, work wise, and read the Koran, and I have to agree with Adam J on it. It’s the big outlier from the religions you list….and I’m afraid just doesn’t and can’t fit in as it’s canons so stand………. and I resist going into any more detail in this space.

  • lhackett01 says:

    Religion is general defined to include any faith or belief that involves a supernatural being and is connected to a ritual or practice. Section 116 of the Constitution was written at a time when ‘Australian’ religions were seen to be essentially compatible, albeit with differences. Today, there are religions that have incompatibilities. As Adam J indicates above, and merely for the sake of illustration, Islam has some beliefs and practices that are incompatible with Christian beliefs and values, some strongly so. Some are against Australian law. While these should be stoppe, usually they are not for fear of being seen to be discriminatory. Therefore, allowing the “free exercise of any religion” does not fit with the overall Constitutional intent of ensuring a compatible society.

    However, while Australians and the Constitution continue to allow citizens to believe in supernatural beings, and to practice rituals based on those beliefs, then believers must be allowed to spread and practise their faith by any means within the law. This is what is meant by the term ‘religious’ freedom. Consequently, believers must be allowed to establish ‘churches’ and faith-based schools, employ people based on their faith, etc, etc. The only constraints on freedoms must be to prevent threats, incitement to violence, and violence. Indeed, all speech should be free unless it threatens or incites violence against other people.

    Unfortunately, there is no right to free speech in Australia. Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) imposes unreasonable restrictions upon freedom of speech. These restrictions are not only unreasonable but also onerous and such as to severely affect the operation of Australian democracy.

    The issue is not merely the inclusion of the words “insult” or “offend” in the Racial Discrimination Act, Section 18C. The issue is the inclusion of any and all wording that limits free speech based on the subjective feelings of a person claiming discrimination. Each word in the Act, “offend, insult, humiliate, and intimidate” is wholly subjective. All rely on the claimed emotions of a recipient at the time. Australian law should not be based on such nebulous criteria.

    The only restrictions on free speech should be to prevent threats and incitement to violence. The Crimes Act Amendment (Incitement to Violence) Bill 2005 covers this. This Bill amended the Crimes Act 1914 to deal with threats and incitement of violence against people and property because of race, colour, religion or national or ethnic origin. This Act is sufficient.

  • Rebekah Meredith says:

    This article has many good points and much useful information. However, it could have been useful to more people had its subject been the repression of religious freedom in Australia (as indicated in the title), and not the repression of religious freedom in Victoria.

  • rosross says:

    This is an excellent article. I don’t think there is any doubt that the loss of faith in religions has led to the transfer of faith to systems like science and medicine, with dire outcomes which grow more dangerous by the day.

    There is no doubt that excessive and fanatical faith in any religion is problematic, but there is also no doubt that excessive and fanatical faith in science and medicine is even more problematic. Religion by comparison is the lesser of two evils, and that is because, religions are not just about the physical but also the mental, emotional and spiritual; the entirety of the human organism and experience. And they are sourced in a desire to be better as humans, individually and socially.

    Modern science is instead based on the delusional belief that all can be reduced to the material and the mechanical and its creation, allopathic, is little different. A purely material and mechanical world has no room for ethics, morals or integrity, let alone compassion for the individual.

    One reason why modern science and medicine have become new forms of religion and dangerously so is that the human need for meaning and purpose is hardwired and if religions are less available or encouraged, then that need will be invested elsewhere.

    Another factor is that modern science and its delusion of materialist reductionism are sourced in a centuries old desire, belief, obsession with replacing religion. But the religion to which the scientific system turned its mind and face is fundamentalist and the worst of religion, not the best. In that way of life and human nature, for all is created by human natures, the force which then became unleashed on modern science and its creations was the shadow thrown by the worst of religion, thereby unconsciously at work within the scientific system of enquiry.

    As the maxim has it: that which we condemn in others is that which we deny in ourselves.

    In an amoral, unethical, fear and greed-driven world, never have we so needed the best of real religions. And I say that as someone who has explored many religions and embraced none.

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