Former High Court Justice Decries Religious Freedom in Australia
06/17/2021 Australia (International Christian Concern) – Michael Kirby, a former justice on Australia’s highest court, decries what he calls “excessive protection” for religious freedom in light of a new survey on religion in Australia. Justice Kirby, a self-declared Anglican, told the Guardian Australia that religious practice must be done “in a way that respects others’ rights in the community – including the rights of non-believers and minorities who are sometimes on the receiving end of animosity or prejudice from religious people.”
The report, compiled by Australia’s Rationalist Society, of which Justice Kirby is a patron, details the steady decline of religious affiliation in the country, citing how 71% of Australians said religion is “not personally important to them.” A slightly larger percentage of the population do not believe private religious schools should be allowed to discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation.
Justice Kirby feels that this report means, “The Australian population is confirming the impression most people would have that it is not particularly religious and … that Australians are very skeptical of legal protections that would protect religious organizations or their members at the expense of respecting human dignity and basic rights of others.”
Justice Kirby’s argues that, since religion has a decreasing degree of relevance in Australia, it should not be used as an “excuse” to impede the rights of growing segments of society. What this essential does is relegate religious freedom to a second-tier liberty; that the value of a right rests in the amount of people who lay claim to it. This line of reasoning inherently supplants the rights of the individual with the will of the majority.
Whether by accident or design, the report was released on the same week Freedom for Faith (FFF) a Christian legal think tank, held their nationwide Religious Freedom Weekend in Australia. The aim of the Religious Freedom Weekend, according to the event’s website, is for “faith groups across the nation to pray for the globally persecuted and the protection of religious freedoms in Australia” given that “religious freedom is only weakly protected in Australian law, and those protections are rapidly eroding.”
“Every Australian deserves the space to investigate competing claims of truth and goodness, refining their convictions without fear of coercion or punishment,” FFF continues. “There is growing evidence that ordinary religious Australians – students, support workers, counsellors, teachers, medical professionals, public servants – are unjustly suffering the consequences of weak protections and unprecedented intrusions into their lives.”
This concern over the state of religious freedom in the country is not unwarranted. Religious freedom is protection in Section 116 of Australia’s constitutions, with language that closely mirrors America’s own First Amendment. However, Australia’s High Court has interpreted the section quite narrowly, meaning the actual legal protection provided under their constitution is fairly limited compared to the US.
Because of this, for the past two years, Australian Christians have hoped that Prime Minister Scott Morrison, an open Pentecostal, would lead the charge to pass some new law to fill the gap and provide greater protections for people of all religions in the wake of growing pressure from Australia’s LGBT lobby. Despite the fact Morrison claims that he feels “personally called” by God to sit in Australia’s highest office, no law has been forthcoming.
“We are disappointed that two years after an election promise by the Morrison Government to provide at least some protection for religious freedom, no Bill has yet been introduced into Parliament,” said FFF in their Religious Freedom Week statement, “We understand the impact of the pandemic, but we now ask that the Parliament make it a priority.”
Such cannot be the end of a democratic society. As FFF stated in their address this past weekend, “Australia is a successful multicultural society with people of many different faiths, beliefs and views about moral and ethical issues. As Australians, we need to be able to live with each other in harmony, respecting our differences and accepting that we will not all think the same way.”
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