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Protection of Religious Freedom

Freedom of religion should be acknowledged as a fundamental civil right and enjoyed by all. This right should prevent the government from restricting the free expression and practice of religious beliefs. No one should be forced to act contrary to their conscience on religious matters.

This civil freedom should allow individuals to express their religious beliefs in the society in which they live. Government has no legitimate role in preventing, for instance, the public preaching of the faith in situations of worship or teaching organised by the faith community. A person of faith should be able to offer the insights of their faith in public discourse where there is a sincere desire to advance the common good.

Of course, the right to religious freedom is not absolute and can be circumscribed by legitimate authority for the sake of good public order and the avoidance of inciting hatred against any other group.

From the foundation of our modern nation of Australia with the arrival of the British, the government actually fostered the role of clergy chaplains to help improve the moral life of all in the colony, especially those of convict origin.

When our constitution as a federated commonwealth was written it included the words in the Preamble, “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. Religious belief – at that time more specifically Christian belief – was understood as a foundational element in the social order.

Section 116 of the Constitution declared, “the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or imposing any religious observance”. It expressed the view that all people have the right to live their life according to their particular religious beliefs, where this was done peacefully.

While the framers of the constitution were intent on not having one official religion in Australia, this was not a rejection of religion. They were not seeking to establish a secular society devoid of religion. They recognised that religions had a rightful role to play not only in the lives of the individual adherents but also within the society as a whole.

It was understood that religion was good for the wellbeing of the society.

However, we are now witnessing in Australia a growing antagonism towards religion, in particular, Christianity. The public expression of Christian views on some matters is now not tolerated. It can be the subject of complaints under anti-discrimination laws, as I experienced. A Christian can find him or herself subject to dismissal from their employment, and there have been a number of instances of this in recent years. Increasing pressure is being placed on Christian organisations, like schools and hospitals, to deny their religious mission and identity where there is conflict with government legislation.

In the broader society Christian beliefs on certain moral questions, especially in the area of marriage, sexuality and gender, are labelled as hateful, bigoted or offensive. Such beliefs which have guided our culture for centuries are now accused of being non-inclusive and discriminatory. The public expression of such views can quickly attract vicious attacks on social media.

Christians base their beliefs on the revelation given by God in the sacred text of the Holy Bible. Catholics look also to the apostolic tradition and the magisterium, summarised in the Catholic Catechism. The Christian believes that these provide the wisdom of God about human life. They are a fundamental source of unchanging truth about the nature of the human person and the purpose of human life.

They are not just antiquated rules to be followed but rather provide a blueprint for human flourishing here and offer the guide for a person to inherit eternal life. They have universal application and provide a pattern for a healthy human culture. They are good for society.

Christians now have to keep their faith and their moral views to themselves for fear of reprisals. The current laws do not provide them with any protection.

More generally we are not just seeing the attempt to silence Christians but also efforts to silence a range of views, particularly medical and scientific, which go against the dominant ‘woke’ ideology. In Australia the expression of opinion is increasingly being stifled. Attitudes and standards of behaviour based in Christianity are particularly targeted. This is very unhealthy for any society and closely resembles what has historically occurred under dictatorships.

The current proposal for a bill addressing misleading information in the media is a matter of real concern for Christians. It can easily be used to shut down content flowing from a Christian perspective. It is easy for someone of a particular ideological bent to determine that the expression of Christian beliefs on a particular matter comes under the category of “false, misleading or deceptive”.

We are now learning of the extent to which online content was being censored or supressed during our recent experience of the pandemic, whether it was medical or scientific concerns being raised about vaccines or individuals and groups expressing legitimate concerns about the detrimental health impacts of lockdowns. We should be very concerned that the proposed laws could be used to silence the truth simply because it does not fit with the dominant cultural narrative. These kinds of laws, despite their grand aspirations, can easily become vehicles which deny freedom of speech in general.

In a free society there is a trust that people have the capacity to discern what is sound and right and good.

A free society trusts its citizens while a totalitarian society does not trust its citizens and seeks to muzzle their rights.

What is now occurring is contrary to the ideals of the framers of our constitution who did not want the imposition of one religion on Australian society, but rather sought to respect all religions. Ironically it is now the case that there is the imposition, not of a faith-based religion, but of a secular ideology, which threatens not just religious freedom but the freedom to express basic biological and scientific truths.  There is an evident need for stronger protections of freedom of religion in our society and to protect freedom of speech.


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