As freedom of religion is a basic human right protected by international law, it is important that Australian law similarly protects religious freedom. It is important to protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of assembly in relation to religion. Most cultures, including Indigenous cultures, value this freedom.
Christians are increasingly being criticized, even persecuted, in the public square. As Christians, we are taught to turn the other cheek (Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5:39) i.e. not to retaliate or take revenge. However, in the Sermon on the Mount, we are also called to be the salt of the earth and not lose our flavour or witness and to be the light of the world and not hide our light under a bushel. We are not to retreat from the public square; not to hide in the shadows; but to shine the light of the gospel into situations. And to shine the light of our lives into the life of our nation.
We would like to make a number of points:
- RELIGIOUS FREEDOM NOT PROTECTED ENOUGH IN SSM LEGISLATION
Of the 48% of eligible Australian voters who supported same-sex marriage (SSM), many did so in the belief that religious freedoms would be protected.
However, even the most basic religious protection amendments were defeated. They included:
- Religious and conscientious protections for celebrants;
- Freedom of expression and recognition of legitimate beliefs;
- Protections for charities;
- Non-discrimination in Government funding;
- Protection of religious bodies and schools; and
- Parents to have the right to withdraw children from certain classes.
- MINISTERS OF RELIGION AND CHRISTIAN BUSINESSES
We would urge that these protections be provided as soon as possible in legislation that comes from recommendations of the Religious Freedom Review. While ministers of religion are currently able to decline to perform SSM marriages, we need protection that this will not change in the future. For instance, gay marriages were legalised in Sweden in 2009, with exemptions for ministers, but in June 2018, Sweden’s Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, said priests should be forced to perform gay weddings.
Freedom of conscience means citizens should have the right not to be compelled by the State to participate in things they believe are morally wrong. Same sex marriage is not an internationally recognized human right. Under recent SSM legislation, Christian business people would be forced to participate in gay weddings, with threat of legal action. There are dozens of examples from countries where gay marriage has been legalised of anti-discrimination laws being used to fine, fire or bankrupt Christian business people for doing no more than politely declining to participate in a gay wedding.
- TEACHING TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Teaching traditional marriage should not constitute hate speech. Consider the case of Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous who, in 2015, had to appear before Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission for teaching the Christian view of marriage. If this can occur when you consider that Archbishop Porteous was taken to court for upholding the legal view of marriage, what protections are there now for churches and Christian schools teaching this now the traditional view of marriage has been changed by law. This attacks freedom of belief and conscience of Christians including ordinary citizens who are Christians expressing a view over coffee.
- PARENTAL CONCERNS
Many Australian parents are very concerned by the Safe Schools program which encourages primary school students to imagine they are homosexuals and instructs students on anal sex and “penis tucking”. This is inappropriate sexualizing of children at a young age. Such lessons should not be insisted upon for all schools. Christian schools that refuse to teach LGBTIQ lifestyles should not be threatened with closure as is already happening in Western countries that have legalised gay marriage.
In June 2016, Vishnitz Orthodox girls’ school in North London was one of seven faith-based schools threatened with closure for refusing to teach gay and transgendered lifestyles to students as it had failed its duty to give students “a full understanding of fundamental British values” because they had not taught children LGBT lifestyles. This is despite the Education Department acknowledging that the school’s academic results were outstanding and that the school taught respect for all people.
- EMPLOYMENT OF CHRISTIANS THREATENED
In 2012 Victoria’s Deputy Chief Psychiatrist, Kuruvilla George, was forced to resign from his job when it became known he believed children needed a mother and a father. Prominent politicians, including members of the Greens, argued that such views precluded him from being able to care for gay people in the community. Earlier this year LGBTI activists campaigned on social media for IBM to sack their Sydney-based managing partner, Mark Allaby. Allaby’s crime was to work for a Christian organisation that holds a Biblical view of marriage. Activists argued that since IBM was a supporter of gay marriage, they should not employ someone who wasn’t. Christians should not be pressured to disassociate themselves with churches or face losing their jobs.
To their credit, the Rudd Government changed more than 80 pieces of legislation to remove discrimination under the law against gay people. We do not support discrimination against people based on their sexuality. If you value freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of association and the freedom to educate children according to Christian values, as most Australians do, you need to stand up and be counted.