The Adelaide Advertiser: Opinion column published 25.9.15.
Religious transparency in parliament
It’s striking that many of Malcolm Turnbull’s new ministers were sworn in using personal Bibles — presumably to reinforce their commitment, before God, to service in a secular government. That irony will be lost on many.
A God-quoting Tony Abbott has been replaced by another Catholic convert, and Prime Minister Turnbull is well known, too, for quoting the G-word. Religion within the political class remains endemic.
Scott Morrison railed against 2GB’s Ray Hadley over religion and Canning’s new Liberal member, Andrew Hastie, declared “off limits” all questions about his family links with Creationism.
The central issue here is not simply about one’s belief in God, it’s about transparency — being honest with the electorate about how one’s belief in a religious doctrine impacts on the entire socio-political agenda.
Federal and state parliaments are over-represented by pro-active religious politicians and they’re out of step with a public that is now more than 50% non-Christian. Another Nielsen poll shows 84% of respondents want religion separated from politics.
Religion in politics has flown under the media radar for decades and it’s played a blocking role on a broad swathe of social policy — from climate change and science to abortion and voluntary euthanasia.
Same-sex marriage is another example of religious influence, where two thirds of the Liberal party room torpedoed their conscience vote. And Labor’s record is no better.
It’s political Christianity at its worst.
In truth, the electorate has no idea what religious beliefs our politicians hold, and how their adherence to Biblical teachings affect their decisions in a constitutionally secular parliament.
But the solution is quite easy.
At each federal or state election candidates would merely include — within their political biographies — the religious beliefs they hold and the social policies they oppose, based on those beliefs. It would apply equally to non-religious candidates.
In no way does this call for transparency compromise their constitutional right to faith. And while such obligations might initially be voluntary there would be a public expectation to be open and honest.
Why the need for religious secrecy?
The Australian public is becoming increasingly secular and the 2016 Census with show the most dramatic shift since federation. On the question of Religious Affiliation, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has moved the ‘No Religion’ option to the top of the form — up from last place in every previous Census!
The No Religion figure is expected to double to around 50% in 2016 — up from an understated 22.3% in 2011. Equally, the Catholic figure is likely to fall from 25.3% to below 20%.
If the disproportion of religious politicians continues — on all sides of politics — it becomes essential that their beliefs are publicly known so that voters can make rational choices at each election.
In this evidence-based era we need reason and critical thinking to determine social issues, not religious doctrine. It’s a central theme of a new book, Sacred to Secular.
To be fully secular, Australia must remove the 1950s taboo; “don’t question religion!” The public requires transparency to prevent politicised religion from covertly obstructing progressive social policy.
Brian Morris, Director of Plain Reason and author of the new book ‘Sacred to Secular’.
Plain Reason: promoting science, reason and critical thinking