Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.
But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.
Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.
I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.
A Christian conference was censored by Facebook
A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.
This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.
When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.
Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.
Did you catch the irony?
A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal
In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.
She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.
On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.
In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:
“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”
There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.
Since when are trees worth more than babies?
A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online
The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Twitter:
“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
The post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.
Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse.
For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.
No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.
A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”
What about inclusion for Folau?
In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?
Your Freedom Might Be Next
Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.
Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.
Think what you like of Folau’s Twitter account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.
But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.
Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.
Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazis’ rise to power.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
And then pray for Australia.