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Opinion: Daily Telegraph: Bernardi, Trump and Religious Freedom

Published: Daily Telegraph online 14.2.17
Published: Australian Independent Media Network 15.2.17

Dangerous time for the division of Church and State:

Religious institutions will feel a pressing need to regain the initiative following damning revelations from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. With renewed calls for a parliamentary conscience vote on marriage equality — and foreshadowed legislation on voluntary euthanasia in three states — one may assume the churches will resume their demands for greater ‘Religious Freedom’ to speak out on these ‘moral issues’.

Christian lobbyists might understandably see a glimmer of salvation in Cory Bernardi’s new Australian Conservative Party. Bernardi is a Donald Trump devotee and it is likely that the South Australian senator will embrace the US President’s program to outlaw abortion, repeal marriage equality laws and provide greater Religious Liberty for Christian organisations.

Clerics here can be expected to embrace similar “family values”, if and when they are adopted as policy by Bernadi’s new Party. Historically, Australia has tended to follow America in adopting a raft of ideas  and social trends — including the importation of US Christian evangelism — so Donald Trump’s radical plans for sweeping changed to ‘Religious Liberty’ will likely find fertile ground here too.

The Nation has published a leaked draft Executive Order for President Trump to give new religious rights across education, health, social services, job seeking, and commerce. The draft determines marriage to be only between a man and woman, that “life” begins a conception, and it will effectively legalise discrimination by any person or organisation against gays, trans identity, premarital sex and all women seeking an abortion.

While it’s easy to dismiss such draconian provisions as more aberrant policy from a ‘popularist’ US president, the implications are far-reaching. Australia has a strongly Christianised government and there’s no shortage of religious and conservative MPs — across all parties — who would embrace Donald Trump’s policy.  We need to remember that 66% of Tony Abbott’s party room voted down the LNP conscience vote on marriage equality in 2015. It remains dormant under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership.

The track record of Christian lobbyists and MPs blocking progressive social policy is extensive. Issues that are consistently opposed include; voluntary euthanasia, improved funding for public education, replacing religious instruction in schools with ethics classes, cutting the Chaplaincy program, halting prayers in all parliaments, reducing the annual $12b subsidy to private religious schools, and of course marriage equality.

Secular principles embedded in Section 116 of the Constitution have been actively undermined by politicised religion over many decades — despite 78% of Australians who want religion to be kept out of politics. And ‘Freedom of Religion‘ has become distorted — it was never intended to create a Christian theocracy.

Under Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — to which Australia is signatory — the correct term has always been “Freedom of Religion and Belief“, which includes equal protection for the non-religious and secular who cite material evidence that expose the fabrications and myths of religion.

In 2017 we still pretend the supernatural origins of all three Abrahamic faiths are “true” — and we teach schoolchildren across the nation that science is subservient to the bible, based on mythical stories from Genesis.  It’s little wonder that science, maths, and general education standards are failing our kids.

While ICCPR gives the right of all people to believe whatever they wish it is counterproductive to impose on society outdated religious dogma, behind the facade of ‘Religious Freedom’. Australia is now a society that predominantly religion neutral — while many of our parliaments are not — and we have far more in common with the progressive secular countries of Europe and Scandinavia than we do with Christianised America.

We need more science and less religion in schools — to counter religious fables and the flawed provenance of Christianity. We live in an evidence-based globalised world and the last thing we need is the fundamentalist rhetoric from Donald Trump and Cory Bernadi to drag us back into the dark ages.

Plain Reason: promoting science, reason and critical thinking.