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Media Release: 23.5.16 – Pious Pollies vs Public Policy

“Social policy has become more religiously-politicised, with a stark imbalance between the public majority — who are now religion-neutral — and politicians of faith,” says Plain Reason director, Brian Morris.

“It’s been most evident with their verbal attacks on the Safe Schools Program, gay marriage and the issue of abortion — but the unspoken truth is that the hostility is based primarily on religious belief.

“This federal election is an ideal time to lift the taboo and to openly discuss religion in politics . . . voters and the media are free to ask candidates how religious beliefs determine their mindset on contemporary issues.

“In a secular democracy we need politicians to be transparent, honest and accountable for their decisions.

“Strongly Christianised governments — typified by Tony Abbott’s parliamentary Liberal Party, and continued under Malcolm Turnbull — have stalled on a raft of social policy that has majority public support.”

Mr Morris quotes two examples; in August last year two-thirds of the LNP party-room defeated their own ‘conscience vote’ on same-sex marriage, choosing instead a $160m non-binding plebiscite.

Remember, too, the Howard government that overturned a legitimate Voluntary Euthanasia (VE) law in the Northern Territory.  A current issue with ABC’s Vote Compass (of 200,000) supporting VE by 75 per cent.

“The actions of Abbott and Howard — together with a broad social agenda — show the heavy influence of religious faith, over a long period, rather than reasoned and rational secular consideration.”

He said contemporary issues opposed by government included; legalising same-sex marriage, abandoning the wasteful $160m plebiscite, legalising voluntary euthanasia, a national abortion law (illegal in some states), and curbing the expansion of private religious schools to allow full funding of public education (Gonski).

Mr Morris also added the need for ‘ethics’ classes rather than religious education in all schools, abandoning the Chaplaincy Program, support for a Safe Schools Program, and replacing ‘prayers in parliament’ with a secular pledge — to uphold all national and international covenants and to work for the benefit all members of society.

“Parliamentary ‘religionism’ is completely out of step with a public majority that is now religion-neutral.”

He said Morgan Research (2014) graphically showed the “No Religion” figure was 37 per cent — and at this August Census it will reach around 50 per cent.  This will be due to the No Religion option being moved to the top of the form — in line with other Western countries.

“And that figure will not include all the nominal ‘Cultural Christians’ who don’t practice the belief of their childhood but who continue to tick one of the Christian options, more by tradition than by faith.

“But Australia — like no other nation that is constitutionally ‘secular’ — still begins each session of parliament with the Lord’s Prayer, and where politicians openly display their religious predilections.

“Each new parliament repeats the Canberra Prayer Breakfast ritual, organised by the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship; and the legal fraternity gathers for their annual Red Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.”

Morris said that international covenants safeguard everyone’s right to hold religious and non-religious beliefs, but we live in a secular Australia where public policy is consistently denied on religious grounds.

“Why should politicians feel intimidated by inquiries about their supernatural beliefs?  They must declare their pecuniary interests — a subject also considered a ‘private’ matter, but required on the grounds of probity.

“There is no earthly reason why politicians should not include their religious affiliations within the biographies they are required to publish on the parliamentary website, or their more detailed profiles on Wikipedia.

“And it’s alarming that no politicians are prepared to state they have ‘no religion’ when the majority of Australians no longer feel the need for supernatural beliefs.”

Morris said the most telling statistic is that almost 8 in 10 Australians want religion OUT of politics.

“A national poll in January, by independent research group IPSOS, showed that 78 per cent of the population — across ten separate demographics — wanted religion and politics to be separated at the state and federal levels.

“This election is the time to start asking all politicians why their faith does not clash with public policy.

“And the new voting system makes it much easier for electors to reflect their secular choices,” Mr Morris said.

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