Published on The Big Smoke, 22.9.18:
The non-religious a second class under Morrison
Australia is a secular country, a nation that moves outside of religion. In Morrison’s Australia, the religious come first.
Our new prime minister, Scott Morrison, seems bent on convincing us that we need more religious freedoms. But the fact is, Australia already provides copious protections – not to mention privileges – for the religious among us.
In the past week, Morrison has spoken of shortfalls in the law. But when pressed by Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7:30 he was unable to specify one religious freedom that Australians are actually missing out on. Instead, he hopes to legislate for a future possible problem. Such a rare example of political forward-planning would be excellent if only it were founded in reality.
He went further during his interview with 2GB’s Alan Jones, attempting to convince us that we don’t have any protection of religious freedoms at all. “What I can guarantee all Australians is that their religious freedoms will be protected by law if necessary,” he stated.
Many backdoors are already built into our state and federal equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws, specifically for the religious to slip through. In addition, our Constitution and various state human rights laws provide specific protections for the holy.
In short, legal protection of religious freedom is not something Scott Morrison needs to enact because it already exists.
Want proof? In a 2015 submission from the Law Council of Australia to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Council noted that it “has not identified any laws imposing direct restrictions on the freedom of religion”.
Australia is also a signatory to the International Covenant of Civic and Political Rights, which states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
In fact, it’s Christianity that already carries an undue amount of privilege. Over $250 million of taxpayers’ money has been set aside over the next four years for religious chaplains in state schools, without any accountability criteria attached. Schools that still teach creationism, and hospitals that refuse women abortions, also receive taxpayer funding. Businesses owned by churches – even massively-profitable enterprises such as Sanitarium, owned by the Seventh Day Adventists – pay no tax on their earnings or land. The right to choose how we die is still denied to most of us, because the voluntary euthanasia debate has been corralled by the beliefs of one religious group. And let’s not forget that Christian prayers are spoken in federal and state parliaments every day, even though Christians make up only 52% of Australians and their numbers are falling fast.
Looking at those examples – and there are many more – the National Secular Lobby strongly maintains that it’s not the religious who are in need of greater protections!
Even more worrying, Scott Morrison told Sky News of his commitment to cementing a divided society, one in which the religious are granted legal superiority over others.
He stated that religious schools, such as the one his children attended, should maintain their right to hire and fire as they please and deliver education in line with Christian teachings. This allows such schools to discriminate against teachers and students with beliefs, sexual orientations, relationships or lifestyles inconsistent with its religious values.
And he said Australians should be free to join company boards or become partners in a firm regardless of whether a personal view expressed on their Facebook page conflicted with company policy. “So there’s nothing wrong with a bit of preventative regulation and legislation to ensure your religious freedom in this country. I mean, what’s more fundamental than that?” he stated.
“Fundamental” being the operative word.
Will the rapidly growing non-Christian community in Australia – including the non-religious (30% of Australians at the 2016 Census) – be forced to live as second-class citizens in Morrison’s theocracy? Will it be religious freedoms for all, or only for some?
Yes, religious freedoms should be protected – as they are already. Australia is at its heart a secular, fair and free nation but religion still has its place here. The last thing the National Secular Lobby – or anyone else – should want is for Australia to be split along religious lines, akin to segregation in the US, with superior protections and freedoms afforded to those judged by some irrational measure to be “worthy”.
Instead, let it be all religions, and no religion, equally. Let us ensure that one person’s gain in freedom does not come at the expense of another’s. If left unchecked, Scott Morrison’s crusade for “religious liberty” will have profound, negative implications for Australia’s free and egalitarian future.
But thankfully, Morrison’s views do not represent the majority. Hopefully at the next election, moderate Christians, those of other faiths, and those of no faith at all, will send a blistering reminder that this country was founded on secular values, where religious interference in politics was not tolerated, and that we hold those values dear.
National Secular Lobby Limited