Australia has seen itself as a country of equality, fairness and justice for everyone. People of many religions and none have co-existed, in one way or another, in this free country for over a century. However, the freedoms we have enjoyed and often take for granted are now being eroded.
The new law on marriage equality passed by the Federal Parliament in December 2017, while aiming to provide equal status for same-sex couples, has brought an onslaught of discrimination and harassment to Christians and those who publically shared their decision to ‘Vote No’.
Churches, such as Waverly Baptist Church in Melbourne, were vandalised with graffiti urging people to “crucify ‘no’ voters”. The managing partner of IBM, Mark Allaby, was called out by LGBTI activists, for being on the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute which supported traditional marriage while IBM was a key corporate advocate for marriage equality.
Additionally, the rise of anti-discrimination laws has silenced Christians who are afraid to speak out, and for those who do speak out the consequences can be huge. Tasmanian Presbyterian pastor Campbell Markham has been taken to the Anti-Discrimination Commission for his views on traditional marriage, although the case has now been dropped. Yet the law and the invidious process remain.
Section 116 of our Constitution enshrines a prohibition on our Federal Parliament “establishing any religion, imposing religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. It also prohibits a “religious test” to be required as a “qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”.
Despite our Constitution’s being the bedrock of our liberal democracy, section 116 is limited to prohibiting Parliament to make laws affecting religious freedoms; it does not provide direct protection for individuals whose religious freedom has been encroached on by other laws. Also, judicial courts in Australia have interpreted this freedom narrowly, which has meant less protection for religious groups.
Australia’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 18, promoting the “free exercise of religion” has had only symbolic force in this nation despite Australia’s promise to comply with its obligations. It is up to us and the political will of our politicians to ensure religious freedoms are adequately protected through laws that balance the rise of anti-discrimination legislation targeting Christians and other faith groups. One may question how possible this is – and certainly how likely.
Barnabas Fund has supported persecuted Christians worldwide and seeks to highlight the threat to religious freedoms in Australia. We are launching a new campaign to reclaim the heritage of religious freedom in this nation by calling our Parliament to enact a domestic law to protect and at least attempt to guarantee our religious freedom.
Sign the Petition today at Ourreligiousfreedom.org.au