Religious Freedom Review
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Parliament House, Canberra
In order to understand the impact of further religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law, it’s necessary to first understand public perceptions of religion. I argue that in light of this, such proposed changes will have very important and dangerous repercussions.
The majority of Australian people have no hatred for LGBT people and they’ve come to see the small, but extremely vocal, group of homophobic religious people as extremists. But more than that, they see these extremists, and the hate they promote, as being toxic to religion, worsening the church’s already tainted reputation, and accelerating its decline.
Some of the things contributing to this are:
- The paedophilia scandals in the churches, and, worse, the coverups in the wake of their exposure, have convinced many people to dismiss the morality which the church supposedly stands for.
- A lot of people were shocked by the terrible misrepresentation and outright lies from religious extremists regarding the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. The extremists’ hatred of gay people was so great that they were happy to sacrifice children’s lives on the altar of attacking gays.
- Australians saw the repellent campaign of hate, fear, distortion, and shameful untruths indulged in by religious extremists during the recent vote on marriage equality. It has become clear that some part of the church views marriage as a vehicle for hate and exclusion rather than love and trust.
- People have become impatient with the church hoarding fortunes — tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. This is done while extracting further enormous amounts of money from Australians and being exempt from paying their fair share of taxes when that money could instead do much to help relieve poverty, enhance education of our children, and help the sick in hospitals. It is worsened by the fact that private religious schools and private religious hospitals profit further from people (both in fees and public subsidies). The usual excuse for all this accumulated wealth is charity work, but religious charities are actually outnumbered by secular charities, which often have less corruption and do a more effective job.
- Many now understand that having immunity from anti-discrimination laws lets churches and their businesses deal unjustly and immorally with people in ways that are illegal for all other employers in Australia. This allows religious organisations to fire people for their private sexuality, and encourages religious intolerance in deciding who to employ. This is not just bad for society, but infects the church with spiritual disease.
- And now everybody sees what appears to be a naked power-grab by a small number of extremists wanting even more immunity from the law, to allow religious people to spread even more hatred in our society. And many of us are frankly disgusted that it would appear to be “payback” for gay people winning the right to live in socially recognised loving fidelity — marriage.
And I know this might not initially seem relevant, but are you aware of how most Australians see this Review? Their belief that this is biased and mere pretence is damaging to both the rule of law and to religion. Those suspicions seemed to be confirmed by:
- the name of the “Religious Freedom Review” (religion already has more freedom than any other section of society),
- the appointment of noted homophobe Philip Ruddock to head it, instead of an impartial investigator,
- the initial intent to make its work secret.
- It is widely believed that this Review will simply enable a law letting religious people do unjust things without legal consequence. This cynicism, whether justified or not, is unhealthy for our society and further damages religion.
All the things mentioned above are accelerating the decline of religion.
In the 21st Century, secular society has risen far above the immorality of a Bible which excused slavery and actively promoted racism and xenophobia. We now understand that gay people are merely people who wish to do their part to help in wider society, whereas the Bible enables the lie that gay people are bad.
Society benefits greatly from gay people in ways that are generally not recognised.
Despite their small numbers they are overrepresented in creative professions such as scientist, writer, artist, musician, filmmaker, technologist, and even as religious leaders.
As we see in nature, same-sex attraction is entirely natural, with more than 300 species now documented as having same-sex-attracted members — it would appear to be universal. Some species exist entirely as females (for example the New Mexico Whiptail lizard), with female-to-female sex triggering ovulation. Some other species change sex under certain circumstances. One thing that is truly unnatural is for creatures to attack fellows for same-sex-attraction.
Legitimising bigotry and attacks on LGBTI people is extremely dangerous and unhealthy for our society. Have you noticed the wave of mass murders and torture of gay people, and people merely suspected of being gay, in Chechnya at the moment, and the beginning of it in Indonesia? That hysteria is driven by religious bigotry. Do you want to tear our society apart like that?
The poison spreads
But the most disturbing aspect of giving religious people more power to be hateful to gays is how it will explode in unexpected ways. The bigotry and hate won’t magically stop at LGBTI people. It will poison everything. It will infuse new life into old feuds:
- Catholics and Protestants will find new outlets for their old hatred.
- Muslims and Christians will be encouraged to ramp up their prejudices against each other.
- Almost everybody will discriminate against the Jews, taking us back to the bad old anti-semitic days before World War II.
- Cults and the “church” of Scientology will gleefully use these extra “freedoms”.
- Those with no religion are already the largest group in Australian society and are growing rapidly. (At 30% they outnumber Catholics, who are the second largest group at 22%.) Atheists will be able to refuse services to the dwindling number of religious people.
- People will be able to use religious excuses for all kinds of insane prejudices, such as racism. We’re already seeing this in the new round of religious excuses for racism in USA, with businesses and some government departments refusing to serve interracial couples for “religious reasons”.
- It will unlock a Pandora’s box of animosity that has the potential to shred our society. This is exactly why we have anti-discrimination laws in the first place.
Here we are in the 21st Century, having built one of the most peaceful societies on Earth, and you would risk that accomplishment by breathing new life into old hatreds? This Review is a terrible mistake; it should never have been opened. It, and the appalling postal vote on marriage equality before it, have already precipitated new hate and violence against gays and transexuals. Even before doing anything, you have blood on your hands, but if you give people the key to neutralising anti-discrimination law, nobody knows how much more blood — including religious people’s blood — you will cause to be spilled.
If you have any social and religious responsibility, you will recommend that no new religious discrimination should be enabled, and further, that current legally enabled religious discrimination should be removed, not only because it is repugnant and counterproductive for society, but because it is morally corrosive to the church itself.
If new laws are made to favor religious discrimination, it will provoke a popular backlash. It will certainly result in the new discrimination being overturned, but Australians, having their attention now focussed on the church’s injustices, will likely bring religious organisations into line with anti-discrimination law, removing all religious ability to discriminate against others. Also, there are strong signs it will be a powerful incitement for taxing religious organisations, the rationale being that when the church interferes in politics, it has discarded its special status and thus should pay tax. Such calls are already getting louder in reaction to this Review being formed.
Even if you do award religious extremists extra “rights” to propagate the spiritual sickness of hate and bigotry, they have already lost in the most meaningful way. When next you wonder why religion is declining so quickly, you’ll be able to gaze upon the answer in the mirror. Religious intolerance and extremism is killing all religion.
Please, don’t poke the sleeping lion. It is dangerous to everybody.