Tag Archives: freedom of religion

They say one thing and do another: Politicians break promises

Religious freedom after 2019 Australian election

By Spencer Gear PhD

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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.[1]

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).[2]

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.

clip_image004For 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.

clip_image004[1]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).

clip_image005However, 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[3] 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).[4]

As I write, these freedoms are under threat in Australia as we have seen in,

clip_image007The 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.

clip_image009See 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’.

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Voice for unborn: Graham Preston (photograph courtesy Catholic Leader).[5]

Graham, not known to me personally, would be one of the bravest and overt defenders of the life of the unborn.

clip_image013Campbell 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.”[6]

clip_image015A 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 [2015]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.”

clip_image017In 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.”[7]

clip_image019Independent 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”.[8]

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.[9]

B. My assessment of some of the post-election Australian issues after the 18 May 2019 election

clip_image021 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).

clip_image023“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).

clip_image025  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).

clip_image027Before 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.

clip_image029  What were those Ruddock recommendations? See: Recommendations for further CONSULTATION AND LEGAL consideration.

clip_image031  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).

clip_image033 There you have the current controversial problem for Christian schools, churches and organisations with this proposed Coalition government Law, RULED OUT … ‘RELIGIOUS FREEDOM’.

clip_image035  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.

C. Conclusion

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.

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D.   Notes


[1] 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).

[2] 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).

[3] ‘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).

[4] 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).

[5] ‘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).

[6] 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).

[7] 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).

[8] 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).

[9] 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.

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Sleeper cells and Australian election victory

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This article was first published as ‘Sleeper cells and Australian election victory’ in On Line Opinion (21 May 2019).


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(Photo Scott Morrison family, courtesy frasercoastchronicle.com.au)

The Prime Minister gave credit to ‘quiet Australians‘ for his shock election victory on 18 May 2019. Pollsters predicted a Labor win. They got it wrong – very wrong.

Who could the ‘quiet Australians’ be? I’m not thinking of the ones mentioned by Morrison: Those with hopes of getting jobs, apprenticeships, and starting businesses. There are those with personal aspirations to form a family, buy a house, labour to provide for kids, and to save for retirement.

They sure were ones who spoke at the ballot box, after viewing the policies of the two major parties.

The forgotten quiet ones

Remember Morrison’s statements about dealing with the drought? He was in Albury, the birth place of the Liberal Party in September 2018, addressing the Liberal Party: ‘I do pray for that rain. And I’d encourage others who believe in the power of prayer to pray for that rain and to pray for our farmers. Please do that’. Were these among the quiet ones?

Was it a ‘miracle’?

Morrison said he ‘always believed in miracles‘ as he gave his victory speech at Liberal HQ on the evening of 18 May 2019. He added: ‘I would like to wish [Bill Shorten] and Chloe, and his family all the best, and God’s blessing’, concluding with, ‘We are an amazing country of amazing people. God bless Australia’.

Was it a ‘miracle‘ win, as ScoMo labelled it?

Yes it was in this sense: ‘A remarkable event or development that brings very welcome consequences’ for the Coalition government (Oxford English Dictionary). However, I don’t see it as ‘an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency’ (OED) like Jesus’ resurrection.

The God factor was included in ScoMo’s blessing on the Shorten couple and exhorting God to bless Australia? Do we deserve blessing or his chastisement?

The sleeper cells I’m thinking of were not highlighted in the mass media coverage. They weren’t mentioned in what I heard and read after the voting.

God’s people, some of them elderly, distributed leaflets house-to-house about Labor’s extreme abortion agenda in public hospitals. I know of a couple in their 70s who did this and thought it might be a waste of time. It wasn’t.

The call to prayer

One not-so-quiet Australian was tennis great and pastor of Victory Life Centre, Perth, Margaret Court. In addition to praying through the election campaign period, Margaret and other Christian leaders called Australians to:

Image result for photograph Margaret Court public domain (photo courtesy Blue Mountains Gazette)

gather in praise and worship on the evening of Friday 17 May, on the eve of our election day. Encourage the people in your networks to get together and hold a combined church praise and worship night to declare that God is on the throne in our nation. ‘Your Kingdom Come! Your will be done by us in Australia, as in heaven’.

She previously wrote to ScoMo:

God impressed on my heart – that once the election date was announced, we should stand together and call 21 days of Pray[er] & Fasting. Through the Bible, Prayer and Fasting has (sic) impacted the course of history and adjusted the spiritual course of Nations. I’m reminded of – ‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Let our united prayer be: ‘Thank you Father that the righteous rule in our Nation of Australia, in Jesus Name. Amen’.

On 15 April 2019, the Australian Prayer Network began 30 days of prayer for the nation and the 2019 election. This prayer included ‘asking God’s forgiveness for where we have in the past failed to collectively pray for our national leaders and Government’.

These are some of the ‘quiet Australians’ who were praying and acting behind the scene, seeking God’s action for his intervention in the government of the nation.

Freedom of religion

The agenda of the ALP and the Greens threatened freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Only 5 days out from the election, The Catholic Weekly, warned: ‘ALP-Greens win would be a disaster for Catholics‘. Why?

The ALP policy pamphlet A Fair Go for LGBTIQ Australianssigned by Bill Shorten does not equivocate when it states ‘A Shorten Labor Government will amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the exemptions that permit religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity’….

There is also no doubt what the Greens Party intends to do if it forms an alliance with an incoming ALP Government. Its policy also denies religious freedom when it states, ‘The Greens will protect LGBTIQ+ rights in law, through a Charter of Rights and by legislating to remove religious exemptions in federal and state anti-discrimination laws’.

After the election, this led The Age (20 May 2019) to report that ‘Christian leaders say religious freedom was among factors that influenced voters‘.

Before the election (8 May), Martyn Isles, managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) confirmed the:

Image result for images religious freedom(image courtesy Eternity News)

…ALP’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus [stated] a Shorten government would remove important legal protections for religious schools.

‘This is out of step with what Tanya Plibersek said last week when she seemed to show a willingness to support religious schools’ right to teach their values, and employ staff that faithfully represent those values,’ commented Mr Iles. Religious freedom for schools remains a critical issue for millions of Australians, and so far, it has been sidelined from the election campaign’, he stated.

Labor and the Greens should have seen this coming. They were warned before the election, ‘Parents of Christian school students urged to vote for religious freedom‘. SBS reported 329 Christian schools had sent a pamphlet to parents whose children attended those schools. Mark Spencer, Christian Schools Australia national executive officer, told SBS News, ‘We have to be very careful, we’ve provided the policy information and it’s really up to parents to work out which parties are going to protect their values’.

Mr Spencer said this was an unprecedented move and ‘we have certainly ramped it up a lot because this issue is so important to us’.

SBS reported on the alarm by Christian schools last year of proposed change ‘to the Sex Discrimination Act to prevent religious schools being able to expel students or sack staff on the basis of their sexuality’.

If ‘millions of Australians’ were concerned about this, the ALP and the Greens should have seen it coming and so deserve to lose because of policies that discriminated against religious values.

Who brings a government to power?

In the New Testament, Romans 13:1 states ‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God’.

It is God who raises governments and tears others down. If the values of governments clash with God’s law, Christians need to pursue what Peter and the apostles did: ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority’ (Acts 5:29).

These could be some of the sleeper cell issues that led to defeat in Labor’s unlosable election.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2019.

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