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Radio Interviews 6PR Perth 19.10.15 – Why an HRC “Religious Freedom” Roundtable? Commissioner Tim Wilson + Brian Morris

Adam Shand, 6PR, 19th October.  Two conflicting views on HRC Roundtable.

(1)  Brian Morris talks on “why the need?  Religious freedoms are already enshrined – and the forum has a heavy Christian lobby bias”.

(2)  HRC’s Tim Wilson “rubbishes” our figures and argues with Shand.  HRC invited 200 faith organisations to submit ideas, with only 4 going to non-religious groups.

Media Release:  Human Rights “Roundtable”: Is Australia a Soft Theocracy? (1)

“It’s curious that the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called a ‘Religious Freedom Roundtable‘ on 5th November for leaders of ‘different faiths‘ — as all such ‘freedoms’ currently exist,” says Brian Morris, Director of Plain Reason.

“This is not about ‘freedom’; Churches are campaigning for new exemptions to anti-discrimination lawsOne example is to allow Christians in the lucrative wedding industry to refuse services to gays, once same-sex marriage is legalised.”

“The current outcry centres on wedding service providers — caterers, photographers, outfitters, et al. But Churches want greater ‘religious liberty’ as a bulwark to all secular policy, not just gay marriage, and HRC has provided a forum.”

“It’s been brewing since the HRC’s Tim Wilson took office in 2014, and while he is also “defacto” Commissioner for LGBTI issues there are legitimate questions about his agenda, relative to Church anger at the very idea of marriage equality.”

“Human Rights are central to secular politics, but so too is the separation of Church and State. ‘Freedom of religion’ does not mean a ‘right’ to Christian privilege, or to use faith as the pretext for exemptions from the law,” Morris says.

The ABC recently reported comments by Anglican Bishop, Robert Forsyth, who argues that wedding service providers should have the ‘religious freedom‘ to refuse to cater for gay couples.” 

Included in the report were references to other countries where same-sex marriage is legal, but none have experienced the type of religious backlash predicted in this new wave of Christian opposition.

Bishop Forsyth heads up the conservative Religious Freedom Reference Group and is expected to attend the HRC forum. Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, goes further; calling for “religious Liberty” to nullify secular policy.

Morris says this is just another step to *Soft Theocracy; “a symbiotic bond between Church and State — mirrored by billion-dollar tax breaks to Churches, exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, and scripture and chaplains in schools.”

He says the HRC forum on November 5th has all the hallmarks of another talkfest — seemingly destined to enshrine additional Church privilege; to further erode Secular Democracy; and edge increasingly towards a soft theocracy.

As a result, says Morris, invitations for submissions to the HRC’s freedom Roundtable were sent primarily to faith-based organisations. Secular and rationalist groups, who have much to say on this issue, seem to have been an afterthought.

“Of 200 invitations, I’m aware of only four secular organisations asked to submit on policy relevant to new ‘religious privilege’. If invited to attend, they’ll be joined by forty reps from Australian Churches and faith-based organisations.

“It’s too slick for the HRC to claim ‘only national groups’ need submit comment. The Australian Bureau of Statistics invited ‘all comments’ after the 2011 Census; and that included 440 submissions on the ‘Religious Affiliation’ question.”

“So the HRC forum will be heavily dominated by those associated with religious faiths, at the expense of secular representatives who have equal rights to ‘freedom of expression’ under international conventions.”

“And this is occurring at a time when the Australian population is reported to be more than 50 percent non-Christian.”

“HRC’s Wilson loses sight of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) which protects both ‘Religions and Beliefs’ — a mandate that includes rights of expression for non-religious and atheist beliefs.”

“The HRC must focus wholly on the freedom of ‘Belief’, not ‘Religion’, in line with the UNDHR charter — but it seems in Australia ‘religious freedom’ has been usurped to mean Christian freedom to circumvent anti-discrimination laws.

Morris said that giving religion legal privileges which infringe on the rights of others is well outside all UN conventions ratified by Australia. He said the Roundtable’s bias towards faith was in danger of further disadvantaging minorities.

“What are we seeing here? Surely not a religious Trojan Horse to lobby for new anti-discrimination exemptions when gay marriage is finally legalised — adding to Church exemptions already enjoyed in education, health, and aged care?”

“Bishop Forsyth and Archbishop Fisher are just two who seek exclusive power to discriminate against those who offend their beliefs. Religion is not superior to secular values, and human rights does not mean religious privilege…!”

Morris said that elements of concern also surround the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, and his agenda.

When Mr Wilson was appointed he was dubbed the “Freedom Commissioner”. Prior to that he was a policy director with the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

Shortly after assuming his new role he gave a speech at the Australian Catholic University. It was titled ‘The forgotten freedom of worship’ and in it he said, In short, religion is about everyone’s relationship to their creator.”

“That sentiment is not shared by a public majority — and in matters that may lead to people of faith having a superior privilege we need to exercise extreme care; and this HRC Roundtable is no exception,” Morris said.

“From the outset there has been a drive for a religious forum, and points of contention include; ignoring the UNDHR definition of ‘religion and belief’; inviting predominately faith-based groups to make submissions; allowing only token secular inclusion at the Roundtable; permitting the forum to appear heavily biased towards a Christian view of ‘Religious Rights’ under the law; and aiming to frame policy from what seems a predicable outcome.”

Morris also points to the HRC wording of its “Guiding Principles” for the Roundtable — particularly items 3 and 10 — which give an unmistakable Christian perspective on morality and the supernatural.

Statements refer to religion as, “the moral and spiritual guidance of our nation” and with an objective to, “uphold the law and improve Australia’s moral and spiritual guidance.”

“It is unacceptable, in a supposed secular democracy, to suggest that religion has some moral superiority — over and above the broad philosophical ethics and humanitarian values shared by most non-religious Australians,” Morris said.

“One can only trust that the Human Rights Commission will not allow this religious Roundtable to be just another gateway for politicised Christianity to win new legal exemptions — and harden Australia’s image as a Soft Theocracy.”

Brian Morris
Director, Plain Reason and author of ‘Sacred to Secular’
Author’s Bio:

(1) Soft Theocracy:  “A state where church and government purposes coincide to garnishee taxpayers’ money and resources, structurally through tax exemptions and functionally through grants and privileges.”
Realising Secularism: Australia and New Zealand. 2010. Ed. Max Wallace.


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