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Religion should be separate from State, but apparently not in the 46th Parliament

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The separation of church and State in Australia is becoming a point of concern (Image via Wikimedia Commons - edited)

The line between religion and State is becoming increasingly blurred, with no help from the Labor party, writes James Fitzgerald.

WHAT A TREAT we have in store for us in this, the 46th Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Although we are only a few days in, it is clear that the next three years will be full of economic bluster, Labor capitulation and the Right wing of the LNP calling the shots. So, essentially, nothing has really changed. Nothing to see here.

We have started the first sitting week with renewed talks of protecting religious freedoms. Apparently, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, this legislation is about creating “unity” and is “not for political purposes”.

After a rather famous rugby player – and no, I won’t write his name – made his outlandish, archaic and contract-breaking comment only recently which drove such impassioned public debate, I find the “unity” and “not for political purposes” tags hard to believe.

The fact that this Bill aims to provide equal status between freedoms of religion and the right to non-discrimination smacks of a push towards greater powers to religious factions in the country. Essentially, giving one bigger slice of the freedom-to-say-what-you-want pie to religious organisations that already have a monopolisation on the so-called “moral high-ground”. This will no doubt have huge ramifications for the LGBTI community, among others, that have been through enough pain without needing further abuse and segregation from society.  

Better yet, Labor’s Kristina Keneally has announced the Party's backing of the Coalition's religious freedom laws.

Keneally told ABC radio:

“We are willing to have discussions with the Government and work with the Government on a religious discrimination and freedom Act.”

Where Labor will bend the knee is unclear, but their proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act in 2018 paints a vastly different picture of where we could have ended up.

In fact, the Institute For Civil Society, a social and religious policy think tank, was alarmed in 2018 that if this amendment were to pass then it would vastly limit religious schools, organisations and businesses from the freedom to essentially discriminate against any person that did not meet their beliefs.

In the statement, the ICS said the amendment:

‘...restricts the freedom of religious schools, adult colleges and religious bodies to teach and model the values of the religion in any way that can be perceived to be discriminatory against people on the grounds of their gender, sexual orientation, relationship status or gender identity. There is the problem.’  

The most poignant part of this announcement in 2018 is that the ICS were concerned that if this ALP amendment were to pass, that:

...proponents of the ALP Bill appear to believe the State knows better and should force its better ways onto religious people, religious schools and religious bodies. The Bill would remove or limit the current exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act so that religious schools, colleges and religious bodies will be subject to anti-discrimination complaints and lawsuits when they teach or set behavioural standards which are contrary to secular liberal views on sexual relations and gender identity.

And that:

‘...the State should not be telling religious bodies or religious schools whether their religious values and their policies to uphold them are “reasonable” in the eyes of the State though an anti-discrimination commission or a court.’

So, in a nutshell, the State should not dictate what religious organisations say, do or think. And this is from a fairly large religious institute. This smacks of hypocrisy when a religious body gets tetchy about not being able to harass, abuse or expel a person from the LGBTI community yet can’t accept criticism when it comes the other way.

The article does make a statement which has a form of truth — that religion should not interfere in the running of the State. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Yet this is where we find ourselves at this current juncture.

We are now in a position where these proposed religious freedom laws look set to pass, with help from Labor. The separation of religion and the State is an age-old adage within Australian politics. Yes, we have deeply religious leaders and politicians, but there has always been a line that was never crossed.

We will have to wait with baited breath to see if Morrison, with a wounded Labor’s help, finally crosses that line and reaps the religious whirlwind, further splitting our social fabric and alienating those most vulnerable.  

James Fitzgerald is an Australian freelance journalist based in London. He has a keen interest in world politics as well as social and environmental issues across the globe. You can follow James @Jamesfitzsport.

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