The ACL Managing Director, Jim Wallace, participated in a discussion with Australian journalist David Marr at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas last weekend.

The topic for discussion was, 'Gays and lesbians do not belong in the classroom'. The even organisers had described the topic as:

Exempt from anti-discrimination laws, religious organisations of all faiths have the right to decide who they employ in their schools, and who they sack, on questions of faith and morals. For many Australians the idea that gay men and lesbians don't belong in the classroom is an unjust anachronism, but parents are opting in large numbers to send their children to schools that offer a 'values-driven' education. If there is a place for faith in the classroom, does equality of opportunity have to take second place, or can religious values and equality be reconciled?

Please see below for Mr Wallace's speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. It's also available in PDF here.


RELIGIOUS FREEDOM


FESTIVAL OF DANGEROUS IDEAS


JIM WALLACE


 

Well I will for at least two seconds in this debate, be in complete agreement with David, and that is that this is a totally dangerous and in fact preposterous idea.  Gays and Lesbians along with all other Australians do of course belong in the classroom as both students and teachers.

It is a proposition so ridiculous that in all honesty only David could have constructed it.  And construct it he did, to try to illustrate by use of an exception, a general principle.  David is something of an expert at creating the straw man to prove his particular point, some narrow usually personal agenda, while sacrificing the more important general rule, and this he has done again.

The really dangerous idea here is that we should interfere with the religious freedom and the freedom of conscience of faith communities to satisfy David  - his view of the world, his view of what is right and wrong.

And in so many ways he completely misrepresents religion, again because of an almost paranoiac and extremely bitter view of faiths attitude to his lifestyle.  Whether it is through misunderstanding or deliberate misrepresentation, to describe as he has believers’ attitudes to homosexuality as “very, very, wicked”, or “deliberate cruelty” is simply wrong,  even for someone with a  basic understanding of Christianity.

We believe that God is the creator, he is a God of order and that living within the natural order he created, yes that means to his rules, and in communion with Him, through a personal relationship with Christ, and through prayer and fellowship with other believers, is best for people; and creates relationship within community from which communities flourish.

It’s like believing that if you follow the care and servicing regime set by the maker of your car it goes better, lasts longer – is happier.  My neighbour is a nut on cars and he does it, I don’t and mine gives me a bumpier shorter ride.

That we believe is the same with life, when we ignore the Creator’s manual – the Bible.

That believers in the fundamentals of Christianity are bent on deliberate cruelty as David has said of it, is a terrible and inaccurate slur.

Christianity has had an overwhelming influence for good in the world.  The West has been and is still the most compassionate place, where people are most free, enjoy the most tolerance, are most free of persecution, have the highest level of political participation, where women are better treated – because of the moderating influence of its strong Christian heritage and Christian principles.

Just two of those principles which are again always denied or misrepresented by David, and that are central to this civilising influence have been:

The first, that God doesn’t rate sin in some hierarchy – we are all sinners, so I am no better than anyone else and no one should be seen or treated by me as anything but loved by God, and loved equally – even the killer of Carl Williams, God loves him, but can’t look on the sin in him.

The second: that we might hate the sin, but we must love the sinner, because all people are created in God’s image.

It’s a crucial force for moderation in society, for ensuring love not hate, for accepting that we can disagree on issues but not hate the person.

Regimes that suppressed Christianity throughout history have done so with terrible consequences, because you lose this principal.  It became instead you are either with me or against me.  If you’re against me, you’re against the state and I hate you to the degree that I’ll put you in Gulags, if you’re lucky, or kill you.

Stalin – 20million dead. Mao Tse Tung – 40 million dead. And both suppressed or outlawed religion.

This is much less likely if no matter how much you dislike people’s ideas or life style you can love the person - indeed as a Christian you know you must love the person.

Now you will understandably be saying - “but the inquisition”, and perhaps thinking all the way back to the Crusades to say the church has no credibility to act as a conscience of the state.

But all believers I think recognise, that these were instances where the church thought like the state, drew its values and wisdom from the state or the world instead of the scriptures and so acted like the state.  The very concept of separation of church and state was as much to ensure that that not happen again, that the church was free from the type of interference and association with the state that caused this problem.

And this separation, and an individual’s right to a personal faith are protected by freedom of religion and conscience being guaranteed in international law, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and other instruments in the clearest and strongest terms.

The ICCPR says:  “Everyone shall have a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”

The importance the UN places on this is evident in the fact that freedom of religion is one of the very few non-derogable human rights in international law.  That is a government cannot dispense with it even in a time of national emergency.  You might consider this in the light of the relative import of the sort of straw men that David will inevitably create during this afternoon  - cannot be dispensed with even in times of national emergency.

The term used is that any limitation on it must be “necessary” and this I am confidently advised is a very strong test in legal terms.  Especially when you consider it cannot even be revoked in a national emergency – when the state itself is threatened.

And as we’re discussing this in an Australian context, it is also important to say that these principles have been endorsed in common law findings in Australia, for instance Justices Mason and Brennan’s statement that “freedom of religion, the paradigm freedom of conscience, is of the essence of a free society.”[1]

So religious freedom is something with which we don’t lightly tinker – even when religious views don’t suit David.

But what does religious freedom mean?  Well there are five principles that can be derived from the ICCPR and other legislation on it:

The first is the Freedom to manifest a religion through religious observance and practice.

Important to the issue in hand here is the fact that this principle acknowledges that religion is not just a private thing and even in the public it goes well beyond just worshipping.  It extends in some cases to modes of dress we need to respect or holy days or observances that might differ from the dominant culture.  As the High Court noted in the case to which I referred before: religion impacts upon and makes demands upon, the way we should live in the world.

It extends to usually commonly held beliefs across the major monotheistic religions on responsibility to others, generosity, and yes even attitudes to sex before or outside marriage and I’m afraid to homosexual practice.

The second principal is the freedom to appoint people of faith to organisations run by faith communities.

Christian communities run organisations from a love of people and more, a desire to demonstrate God’s love for people and therefore need to staff these organisations with people who will honour the beliefs, values and codes of conduct of that faith based community.

Of course as we know too well, this doesn’t always work, the church and church organisations make mistakes, and employing the wrong people too often lets it down.  But that doesn’t negate the incredible contribution of the church and its organisations to relieving the suffering of people both at home and overseas in any fair minded assessment.

Staffing is an issue with many Christian schools, because the purpose of the school is in the words of the ICCPR: to ensure the “religious and moral education” of the children “in conformity with their parent’s convictions”.  It is not just subject matter or even scripture in the education, but the moral environment and values that are a recognised concern of the parents here.

The third is the freedom to teach and uphold moral standards within faith communities

Clearly Christian schools are a manifestation of this freedom, are a part of faith communities, but this principle also extends to churches and other faith organisations.  They have a right to uphold their moral standards within their faith communities

In this regard David is very selective in his examples and straw men, because people of faith not only hold a moral position on homosexuality, but equally demand ethical standards within those communities around heterosexuality for instance.

Closely related to this is the fourth principle the freedom of conscience to discriminate between right and wrong.

Outsiders possibly see religious communities as coalescing around a sense of what is right and wrong, but its more than that. In the Christian sense at least it is around a belief that Christ is the Son of God and died for us on the cross.  But clearly values and moral standards of conduct are a very important part of belief.

Importantly governments are responsible to ensure that people are not coerced to act in violation of their religious conscience.  If a religious community establishes a school or organisation, it should not be caused to accept and intrusion of what it believes is wrong, and the government must not create laws that cause that.

Unfortunately this principle is being increasingly sacrificed around the world and particularly in the face of aggressive homosexual activism.

What respect was there for the freedom of religion of the New Mexico photographer who declined to photograph a same sex civil union ceremony when she was charged and fined six and half thousand dollars?  Presumably there were other photographers available.

Or the British B&B owners who refused a room to a homosexual couple as a matter of conscience, only to be fined three and half thousand pounds – what about their freedom of conscience?

And of course now we have our own case in Victoria with the Christian Brethren Youth Camp on Phillip Island ordered to pay $5000 for refusing to allow a homosexual youth group to use the facilities.  Presumably there were alternate youth camp facilities.

This issue of there being an alternative service provider is an important one.  It comes back to the limitations on religious freedom and freedom of conscience being “necessary”.

In the case of schools I cannot for the life of me imagine why a homosexual parent would want to enrole a child in a Christian School, when they know that the teaching on homosexuality will not reinforce the family situation and will in fact challenge it.

But I am also confidently assured that wherever there are specifically protestant Christian Schools, there are everywhere Catholic or public schools nearby – so there is choice, no one is deprived school as David has so mischievously implied in his articles, and this proposition poses.

In fact David if the percentage of the population that is homosexual is as high as we are being continually told in pushing the gay and lesbian political agendas, I am a little surprised that we don’t have gay and lesbian schools all over the country.

On the test of it being necessary to interfere with the religious freedom of these schools, any removal of protections would certainly fail.  But this aggressive activism of the homosexual lobby to limit religious freedom fails another test, very important to modern day Australia.

How on earth do we build a tolerant and diverse society if we can’t even protect the rights of the growing numbers of religious minorities in Australia to practice their religion as internationally expected and guaranteed?

Are we going to determine our tolerance to diversity in this country by the noisiest and most profane people on social media, or are we going to abide and honour our obligations under international law to protection of this fundamental freedom - freedom of religion and conscience.

That we might limit freedom of religion is the truly dangerous idea here, and it must not be allowed and particularly to satisfy what, from all his writings, is a vendetta by one man against the Church.

 







[1] Mason ACJ and Brennan the Church of the New Faith v The commissioner of Pay-roll Tax (Vic) (1983) 154 CLR 120 at 130