Greens make religious liberty an issue
Anthony Fisher, The Australian, May 21, 2016.
“Bishop jailed for excluding gender ideology from classroom”; “Muslim parents required to enrol children in gay-friendly program”; “Hindu teacher who said marriage between man and woman fined for hate speech” — such might be the headlines if the new Greens policy on religious liberty and “heteronormative bigotry” were ever to become law.
Some Greens policies are very attractive to many religious believers and other idealists; for example, with respect to the environment or refugees. So they are all the more confused by recent moves to push our new groups of religious believers to the margins.
Religious liberty is set to become a major issue in the forthcoming election. Parents send their children off to school each day expecting their minds to be nourished and their safety guaranteed. But the Greens want $32 million spent on a so-called Safe Schools program that is neither nourishing nor safe, and want churches, schools and parents charged with discrimination if they fail to conform. They’ve challenged other parties to make similar announcements.
The Safe Schools program as originally published was controversial; it was somewhat amended after a review and may be defunded after the election. But some favour continuing to fund the revised version and the Greens want the unreformed version imposed on all. This proposes that children be taught that sex is about the outside body but gender about how you feel inside; that it’s up to you to choose your gender and how you express it; that children should play-act as if they were LGBTI adults; that they should feel free to dress in the school uniform of the opposite sex and use their bathrooms; and so on.
It also denounces examples of “heteronormativity”, such as people asking if a baby is a boy or a girl. And it’s all being badged as an anti-bullying program, needed to protect kids from the hateful bigots that occupy our schools.
Ironically, some of the loudest advocates of this “anti-bullying program” are set to engage in some big-time bullying themselves. They would rather force church schools to close than allow them to teach politically incorrect things. Name-calling and belief-shaming of those who disagree with us are textbook bullying — yet these advocates call anyone who disagrees with them a “bigot” or a “homophobe”.
Another classic bullying tactic is silencing victims, and that’s precisely what the Greens want the major parties to do by paring back the few religious liberty protections surviving in our law.
Greens senator and sexuality spokesman Robert Simms claims religious organisations have a “get out of jail free card” to discriminate against people based on their gender identity. He claims they can — and implies they do — sack people just for being gay and turn away needy people just for being transgender. But he gives no examples of this happening in real life.
The agencies of my Catholic Church and many other churches have a long and proud record of caring for the most vulnerable in our society. Our homeless shelters, hospitals, soup kitchens and other services would never turn people away on the basis of sexuality, and it is plainly defamatory to imply they would.
What anti-discrimination laws do still allow is for faith-based organisations to employ people who subscribe to their beliefs and live their ethos. But there’s nothing unjust or scandalous about that.
If a member of the Greens were a climate change sceptic I expect they’d be expelled; if one of the party’s candidates turned out to be anti-abortion and pro-traditional marriage, they’d probably lose preselection. That’s because the Greens are entitled to select people who represent their values. So should others be.
Different countries manage the church-state relationship differently. In some places it’s a cold war, with the two sides spitting at each other from a distance and competing for people’s hearts; the state would never dream of helping church schools or hospitals financially and the churches would never dream of helping the state. In other places it’s a hot war, with a faith or government trying to control the other or even trying to stamp the other out; again, church and state would never work together in such places.
In Australia, on the other hand, we have a generous view of church-state relations founded on mutual respect; each has its own areas of responsibility and methods of operating. Where these overlap, they often collaborate.
This serves the common good well and is, I believe, part of the Australian genius. It is, as I said, founded on mutual respect and that includes allowing a fair bit of latitude to each other. The latitude allowed to faith organisations is called religious liberty or freedom of (religious) belief, association, expression and practice.
Some would like to abolish it after the forthcoming election. I pray that Australian voters will see this for the danger that it is.
Anthony Fisher is the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney.