Religious freedom after 2019 Australian election
By Spencer Gear PhD
Why are religious freedom, free speech, freedom of conscience and association, and a free press so important to the Australian democracy? If these freedoms are restricted, democracy totters with the threat of collapsing.
Democracy means rule by the people. There are several guiding principles that act as the foundation of a democracy, such as rule of law, protected rights and freedoms, free and fair elections, and accountability and transparency of government officials. Citizens have a responsibility to uphold and support these principles.
Since Truth Challenge is an evangelical Christian website, I need to ask: Is democratic government supported by Scripture? I have not seen any recommendation of democracy being the ideal or biblical form of government. However, Christianity and democracy are compatible, as has been demonstrated by the world democracies such as the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and France. However, a Christian world view does not make democracy a requirement.
Two fundamentals have been succinctly stated by Jonathan Leeman:
Broadly speaking, two basic kinds of government show up in the Bible: those who knew they were under God and those who thought they were God or were equal to God. The first kind protected God’s people. The second kind attacked them. The first knew they were servants (Rom. 13). The second didn’t and so acted like divine impostors and beasts (Ps. 2; Rev. 13, 17:1–6).
While the Bible does not command, ‘Thou shalt support democracy and oppose any government that is a dictatorship’, it does provide guiding principles for the Judeo-Christian world view and government.
For the Old Testament Jews, the government was theocratic, where God himself directed the government through his servants the prophets who were submissive to the heavenly King until the Jews cried out for a human king to govern them (see 1 Samuel 8:6-9 NLT).
The theocracy began with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12-13.
Christians are to collaborate with governments, no matter what the variety, as God raises governments and causes them to fall (Romans 13:1-7 NLT).
However, if the laws of human government conflict with Scripture (see Acts 5:29 NLT), Christians must obey God rather than human laws. So there is a division between human government and a person’s spiritual beliefs.
I recommend this short article, Is democracy a Christian form of government? (Got Questions).
This article focusses on religious freedom as it seems to be the one under most attack by the left-wing ideologues in Australia.
A. What is freedom of religion?
I found this to be a concise description:
Religious freedom protects people’s right to live, speak, and act according to their beliefs peacefully and publicly. It protects their ability to be themselves at work, in class, and at social activities. Religious freedom is more than the “freedom to worship” at a synagogue, church, or mosque. It makes sure they don’t have to go against their core values and beliefs in order to conform to culture or government (What you need to know about religious freedom).
As I write, these freedoms are under threat in Australia as we have seen in,
The professional rugby union player, Israel Folau’s, Christian comments on his personal Instagram account that saw his $4 million contract terminated. See my assessment: Israel Folau: When diversity means censorship.
See the ABC News, Brisbane, Qld article, Anti-abortion activists lose High Court challenge to laws banning protests outside [abortion] clinics. ‘The case involved Kathleen Clubb, who was convicted after trying to hand a pamphlet to a couple outside an east Melbourne clinic in 2016 and Graham Preston, who faced three charges for his protests in Hobart in 2014 and 2015’.
Voice for unborn: Graham Preston (photograph courtesy Catholic Leader).
Graham, not known to me personally, would be one of the bravest and overt defenders of the life of the unborn.
Campbell Markham is pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Hobart, Tasmania. In an Opinion piece for The Mercury (Hobart), he wrote:
LAST month [July 2017], the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner accepted a complaint made against my church.
The allegations included things that I wrote on my blog in 2011 in defence of marriage.
I bear no hard feelings whatsoever towards the complainant or the Commissioner.
The problem is the Act itself, which prohibits “any conduct which offends” another person on the basis of thirteen attributes.
There’s no doubt that the Commission would have to call Jesus Christ himself to account, if he taught in our streets today.
Jesus did not hold back when it came to exposing human evil, and statements like the following would have exposed him to prosecution:
“From within, out of the heart of human beings, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Are Jesus’ words provocative, are they upsetting?
Deliberately so. Are Jesus’ words unkind?
Quite the opposite.
His tender love for lost and suffering humanity motivated every word.
“Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
A complaint was made that Tasmanian Roman Catholic ‘Archbishop Julian Porteous and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference be investigated over the booklet, Don’t Mess With Marriage, which was distributed in June to about 12,000 Tasmanian families whose children attend Catholic schools’. Martine Delaney, a Greens’candidate for the federal seat of Franklin and homosexual marriage advocate (she calls it ‘marriage equality’), delivered her complaint to the office of Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner.
She claimed: ‘This booklet says same-sex partners don’t deserve equal recognition, same-sex-attracted people are not ‘whole’ people and the children of same-sex partners are not ‘healthy’. “By spreading this message, the church does immeasurable harm to the wellbeing of same-sex couples and their families across Tasmania and the nation.”
In addition to the complaint against Campbell Markham at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Hobart, there also has been a complaint against David Gee, an evangelist for Cornerstone who works a day a week for them and is funded for another one-and-a-half days by Operation 513, a street preaching group. He is a veterinarian.
Gee sets up a table in Hobart’s street, making the Bibles available, and handing out tracts. The table often becomes a place for conversation. “He also does street preaching,” says Markham. “That’s what people don’t like.”
The complainant has been hanging around Gee’s preaching places for years. “He is an atheist, who says he feels offended and insulted by what has been written and said.”
Independent and Roman Catholic Schools are uncertain of the government’s intrusion into preventing hiring of teachers and enrolling students sympathetic to the school’s values. Or, will government force independent and Catholic schools to hire people of any value system and enrol students who have values opposed to those promoted by these schools.
Israel Folau’s clash with Rugby Australia ‘over his fundamentalist religious social media posts’ motivated ‘nine prominent Christians to send letters about the protection of religious freedom to Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten’. These people included leaders from Presbyterian, Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist and Apostolic churches, as well as a number of religious school leaders.
The letters were worded differently for each political leader but both letters ‘flagged a range of issues, with protection of religious belief and free speech at the forefront’.
Each letter began:
“In recent years the protections to be accorded to religious freedom, and the related freedoms of conscience, speech and association, have come under increasing focus within Australia.”
“We write to invite you to provide clarification on a range of key issues that are important to the preservation of these freedoms in our country”.
Reverend Dr Hedley Fihaki, a Uniting Church minister and the national chair of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, said he was worried the Wallaby’s case could set “a dangerous precedent”.
“Scripture is the book the whole church is based on, so if we are not free to teach from that, not just in the private but particularly in the public domain, it is a dangerous precedent,” Dr Fihaki told the ABC.
“From the Bible, from the holy scriptures, that’s the Old and New Testament”.
Anna Patty, in writing for The Age, pointed out some of the apprehension of religious leaders:
The letter to Mr Shorten details concerns that Labor Party policies do not go far enough to protect religious freedom and have the potential to impact on the free expression of traditional views of sexuality and marriage. It asks Labor for an assurance that religious institutions will continue to be able to hold such views and defend them in public….
The Liberal Party has committed to introducing a Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act, but the religious leaders asked the Prime Minister to go further by protecting believers in associations including churches, mosques, charities, schools and corporations.
B. My assessment of some of the post-election Australian issues after the 18 May 2019 election
On 14 May 2019, before the Australian election on 18 May, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reported as saying:
“There is no more fundamental right than the right to decide what you believe or do not believe. That means Australians of faith should be free to hold and practise that faith without fear of discrimination against them.… And that is why my government is committed to providing Australians of religious belief with protections equivalent to those guaranteed in relation to other protected attributes under Commonwealth anti-discrimination law (Christian leaders say religious freedom was among issues that influenced voters, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2019).
“Graeme Irwin chair of the Australian Association of Christian Schools said governments needed to recognise there are “a lot of highly intelligent people of religious persuasion who believe there should be freedom in this area.
“They do not want to discriminate against other segments of the community but also do not want to be discriminated against for holding their beliefs”, he said (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2019).
Behind the scenes, some Coalition MPs are advocating “stronger religious freedom laws after the party received strong backing from religious voters at the election. Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is pushing for religious beliefs to be exempt from employment contracts, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald report” (SBS News, Religious discrimination laws get closer, 31 May 2019).
Before the election, “the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has also been tasked with examining five Ruddock review recommendations relating to discrimination against LGBT staff and students of religious schools” (The Guardian Australia, 1 June 2019). The Government announced this new ALRC review to include, ‘an inquiry into the framework of religious exemptions in Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination legislation’.
The ALRC is due to report on its findings on 10 April 2020.
What were those Ruddock recommendations? See: Recommendations for further CONSULTATION AND LEGAL consideration.
Christians must not leave it to the post-election Coalition government to guarantee freedom of religion for students and staff in Christian schools and organisations. Evidence now comes to light of a softening of the preservation of religious freedom.
On 5 June 2019, The Guardian Australia reported Australian attorney-general, Christian Porter, stating that a basic bill will be brought to Parliament to prevent discrimination, rather than a broader bill that allows religious opinions to be expressed that may breach codes of conduct [thinking of the Israel Folau case].
This will dissatisfy backbench MPs who sought to protect religious freedom.
It satisfies a Liberal Party, homosexual MP, Tim Wilson who “backed the more limited form of a religious discrimination act which he said would not be ‘overly controversial’ but is ‘quite different from a religious freedom act’” (Coalition to rule out conservative demands for ‘religious freedom’ law, The Guardian Australia, 5 June 2019).
There you have the current controversial problem for Christian schools, churches and organisations with this proposed Coalition government Law, RULED OUT … ‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM’.
Would the Coalition consider it satisfactory for people who vote for Labor or the Greens to work in their electorate offices and in the State and National Coalition headquarters without espousing Coalition values? Or, will the Coalition discriminate and choose only Liberal Party supporters? Will the Coalition government discriminate against Christian schools from employing Christian staff but NOT discriminate against the kind of staff employed by the Coalition?
The same applies to independent and Catholic schools and organisations. They need to employ staff members who agree with their values, just as the Labor, Greens, Coalition, Katter, and other parties do.
Immediately before the Australian election on 18 May 2019, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, stated it was a fundamental right of Australians that they should be able to believe and practise those beliefs without fear of discrimination.
Now that commitment seems to be broken with the Attorney –General, Christian Porter, stating that the basic bill to be brought to Parliament will not be broad enough to allow religious opinions expressed that may breach codes of conduct.
Will this refusal to have a broad Bill mean that Catholic and independent schools will not be able to exclude teachers, staff and students who do not support the values of the schools?
Will this law extend to all political parties who will not be able to exclude staff who disagree with some of that party’s policies? Will street preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ be closed down?
Seems to me we have another example of broken promises by the Coalition government.
I eagerly wait to see the Australian government’s new legislation & law for religious freedom to determine if it broke its promises.
 Student Vote Ontario Activity Resource n.d. Lesson 4: Democratic Principles. Available at: http://civix.ca/resources/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/ON-Secondary-Lesson-4.pdf (Accessed 8 June 2019).
 Jonathan Leeman 2018. The Two Kinds of Government That Show Up in the Bible. Christianity Today (online), 20 April. Available at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/may/how-nations-rage-jonathan-leeman.html (Accessed 8 June 2019).
 ‘Generally, the left-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “ideas such as Liberty, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism”, while the right-wing is characterized by an emphasis on “notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism”’ (Wikipedia 2019. Left-right political spectrum (online). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left%E2%80%93right_political_spectrum#cite_ref-14. Accesses 8 June 2019).
 Heritage.org, 1 December 2019. Available at: https://www.heritage.org/what-you-need-know-about-religious-freedom/what-you-need-know-about-religious-freedom (Accessed 8 June 2019).
 ‘Graham Preston facing arrest if he continues his pro-life activism for the unborn in Queensland’, 21 November 2018. Available at: http://catholicleader.com.au/news/graham-preston-facing-arrest-if-he-continues-his-pro-life-activism-for-the-unborn-in-queensland (Accessed 7 June 2019).
 Campbell Markham 2017. We are all losers when the right to free expression is muzzled. The Mercury, 7 August. Available at: https://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/we-are-all-losers-when-the-right-to-free-expression-is-muzzled/news-story/da33da4483b51dfdebc3951a96196fd2 (Accessed 7 June 2019).
 John Sandeman 2017. Pastor, street preacher face Anti-Discrimination complaint. Eternity, 31 July. Available at: https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/pastor-street-preacher-face-anti-discrimination-complaint/ (Accessed 7 June 2019).
 ABC News, Brisbane, Qld 2019. Israel Folau’s case prompts Australian religious leaders to pen letters to Scott Morrison, Bill Shorten (online), 11 May. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-11/israel-folau-religious-leaders-send-letter-to-shorten-morrison/11104094 (Accessed 8 June 2019).
 Anna Patty 2019. Christian leaders challenge major parties on commitment to religious freedom. The Age (online), 11 May. Available at: https://www.theage.com.au/federal-election-2019/christian-leaders-challenge-major-parties-on-commitment-to-religious-freedom-20190508-p51lgo.html (Accessed 8 June 2019).
Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 08 June 2019.