ACL's Managing Director Jim Wallace has had an opinion piece published in Sight Magazine entitled Religious Freedom - Why We Must Defend It.

See below for a copy of Mr Wallace’s opinion piece.

In this fast paced world in which we live many of our wives will expect their men to be at risk of dying from heart attack.  Mine has a different fear.

Beside our bed is a pile of my bedside reading. A dangerously tottering pile of, at last count, up to 96 partially read books, that she is sure will fall and kill me before the year is out.  But my great disappointment is that I fear her concern is more the likelihood of suffering collateral damage in what seems I must admit, my inevitable end.

But one of the books is of Historic Speeches – which I hasten to add I was not plagiarising for this piece.  And I was struck to see that the very first speech in the book was by Moses, as he returned from Mount Sinai to deliver the Ten Commandments to the Hebrews.

But even more striking is what the secular author of the book said in his foreword to it.

“At Mount Sinai he revealed the Ten Commandments, an extraordinary code of conduct distinctively different from anything then known in the ancient world.  The Mosaic Law emphasised humility, sympathy for the poor, the widowed and the oppressed, considerations that were low in the priorities of other nations;...”

I suppose a better student of history wouldn’t have thought twice about this, but I did, and decided to look at what those other societies were like.  It’s difficult to find information on issues such as treatment of the poor, but the better reported attitude to human sacrifice gives a pretty good idea of the nature of them.

Human sacrifice was practiced  widely in the ancient world by the Ethiopians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Phoenicians, the Canaanites, the Scythians, the Egyptians, and of course by the Africans and peoples of the then undiscovered Americas and the Britons. 

We know from the book of Kings that when the King of Moab saw the battle going badly for him, he called forth his eldest son, the crown prince, and had him sacrificed by burning alive on the parapets of the city to usage the gods.  Sacrifice of the first born was also prevalent.

But now nearly three and a half thousand years later, after these God given rules first started to transform societies and even more of course with the death and resurrection of Christ, there are people who not only want to constrain their moderating effect on human nature, but eliminate it. 

If they’re bent on evil they have good reason for it of course, because there is plenty out there that needs to be moderated by Godly influence and values.

For instance we may not sacrifice children on altars – but we leave them to die – as many as 50 after failed abortions annually in Victoria alone.  And certainly we kill up to a 100,000 per year by successful abortions, and we have just given our highest national honour to a man in Peter Singer who believes we should be able to kill them as late as two years old.  When they’re at an age that we can be sure they won’t be a burden to parents through some unwanted or inconvenient disease or disorder – a distraction always difficult to accommodate in our busy modern life.

Who is going to represent the case of the voiceless babies in this increasingly utilitarian world if freedom of religion is not protected? Because speaking on this does offend a lot of people when we have so many abortions in Australia each year, and you’re not allowed to offend.

On what basis will the situations of those doctors be represented, who by legislation are currently forced to refer patients to abortionists in Vic for instance; or even worse still participate in abortions, if freedom of religion and conscience are not protected as a legitimate basis for their objection.

Then again, if we are likely to be heading to the economic hardships of Greece in the long term as David Murray has said recently, who will represent the case for continued generosity to the world’s most vulnerable, if the only voice allowed into the debate is that of self interest. 

Perhaps when even more of the community has a self interest in not giving aid there will be even more momentum to silence religious freedom and conscience than in the current debate on same sex marriage, which has a very small active constituency.

Our social licence to speak into society is values based, not science or reason based.  It’s foundation in our faith gives consistency and humanity in a domain that will otherwise quickly default to self interest, convenience and utility.

We see this clearly already in debates about abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and many more – they become arguments about convenience and utility without a faith input.

If today we are supposed to see freedom of religion and conscience  constrained or at worst removed because the incompatibility  of a faith perspective with the homosexual or atheists’ agenda – what agenda will find its restriction equally attractive tomorrow and to what end.  To what end for what evil?

Surely we have seen clearly enough in even recent history that the suppression of religious freedom is the first step in the reduction of humanity.

Some commentators put the deaths under atheist communism as high as a hundred million people including 65m in China and 20m in the Soviet Union.

Our concern for religious freedom and freedom of conscience today should not be for their effect on us, or the church – but the effect on humanity when the light of the Gospel in all its forms through churches, in education, and through advocacy is limited by law. The effect on humanity that is what we must be concerned for.

I must admit that we, the Church have I think been slow to respond to this issue and perhaps to our great discredit, then only when it knocks on our own front door.

For millions of Christians and indeed other mainly minorities this is a daily reality.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ have been persecuted to a degree that lead Bishop Anthony Fisher to say recently and I am sure rightly, that this current era of history supersedes all others for its persecution of Christians.

Indeed in ACL we have been attempting to intervene for nearly a year now in the case of an Afghan Christian, a pastor, who is literally being hunted across north India by Muslims who are determined to kill him for not just his own conversion, but his pastoring of other converts.

Recently we were advised that website’s now carry a reward of R1m for his death.  We still can get no action on the case out of UNHCR.  The reaction – it’s just another case.  Death for your beliefs is so common place overseas, that its imminent reality can’t galvanise the UNHCR into action.

We need as a Church to get more active on the atrocious abuses being occasioned against vulnerable Christians overseas.  But the reality is that we must also deal with the problem of religious freedom at home, in this secular society

I do want to make clear though that for me, this is not an issue of restricting others’ rights to freedom of faith and conscience.  I do not sit here insecure in my beliefs, doubting of my God, to the degree that I’m seeking other faiths the be restricted.

Certainly they must be limited by the normal strictures of the law.  In this regard the laws interest in the riots in Sydney recently was whether anyone had in the first instance a permit to demonstrate and then whether they committed violence of affray or incited others to. Not that it had a religious purpose.

Freedom of religion and conscience has to be available fully to all people of faith.

But it must guarantee that equally, and equally with other beliefs not always declared as religious beliefs.

In the last two weeks I have been made aware of two cases of people being called into work as the result of complaints made by outside callers about their views.

One is a young man who is a frequent author on a popular web based opinion site.  He writes on many different topics, but did an article on same sex marriage – disagreeing with it.

Someone tracked him down by googling his name to his place of work and reported him, citing the company’s diversity policy.

In another unrelated case, a woman who is an employee of a major bank had her appointment title listed on a Christian Business Persons’ website of which she was a member.  Someone obviously objected to the fact that somewhere on this website there was an endorsement of traditional marriage.

Again I guess we call them a “troll” contacted the bank, claimed again the fact that the bank had a diversity policy and the person was called in.

Now I really am sorry that each of these cases is pursuit by a homosexual activist it would seem – but I’m only telling the story.

These examples are the start of what we already know happens with even more frightening effect overseas – and remember we are talking about people being harassed in this case for holding a view that reflects the law of the land on marriage!

We have seen the chaplaincy providers harassed all the way to the High Court because a single atheist objected to the presence of chaplains in schools which well over 90% of their principals had rated as extremely valuable.

We now have the Greens and gay activists announcing in Tasmania that children are to be taught on the homosexual life style throughout the primary school curriculum.

Now last time I looked Freedom of Religion included the right for parents to determine that their children will be educated in their faith and its values.  But I will be interested to see if the parents of Christian children are allowed to remove their children from this part of the curriculum – certainly they are not in Massachusetts.  This is because gay marriage is enshrined as equal to marriage in law, making it discriminatory to remove even a kindergarten equivalent child from the reading of the King and King – a story of two princes who meet, fall in love and live happily ever after.

We have even had cases overseas of it being proven unlawful to pray for people either publicly or privately without their permission.

My concern is that we are beginning to create in our laws, vulnerabilities for churches, church organisations and people of faith without considering the effect on freedom of religion and conscience, when it is very plainly there to be seen around the world. 

There are abundant examples around the world of this unreasonable militant atheism or gay activism and their clear intent to pursue the Church and people of faith – and yet we continue to pass laws that create vulnerabilities – and this despite religious freedom and freedom of conscience actually being fundamental human rights.

This is a hugely important subject and one on which the church cannot afford, for the sake of the Gospel, to be caught napping at the altar.