Written by: Michael Kellahan
Late last year, same-sex marriage passed into law. For many Biblical Christians it was a sad moment. Whilst the fight over marriage has abated, the fight for our freedoms is hotting up.
You may be surprised to learn that there’s actually very little law in Australia to give legal protection for broad civic freedoms that we have historically enjoyed and largely taken for granted. In many ways we haven’t needed a law to ‘harden up’ that civic culture or protect those agreed cultural values. There are some laws such as Section 116 of the constitution that give some protection, but otherwise religious freedom is mainly protected in Australia by way of exemptions to discrimination laws.
But more and more those exemptions are being seen as an affront to the rights of equality and so in the name of discrimination the state is stepping in. An example is the Northern Territory which is currently trying to roll back exemptions that protect religious organisations.
But religious freedom needs a larger vocabulary than just what happens inside the walls of the church. It’s actually about beliefs which people carry and express in their everyday life. The pressure points that we’re that we’re feeling at the moment are about discrimination against people of faith and the growing tendency of the state to want to interfere in the internal organisation of faith communities and say in the name of justice or equality we insist that you act in a certain way in order to prevent discrimination.
The Ruddock Review
In the last days of the marriage debate the government established the ‘The Ruddock Review’ to examine the need for the protection of freedoms. This review is of considerable importance to people of faith and their organisations as it has the potential to produce a federal legal framework to enable them to ‘live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness’ (1 Timothy 2:2NIV) in an increasingly irreligious society.
Crucially, the review includes the interaction of Commonwealth and State Law. It will:
- consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights
- have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant
- consult as widely as it considers necessary
Note no mention of marriage—the terms are far broader than the marriage debate.
For such an important issue, anyone concerned has had a ridiculously short time frame to work to—with submissions now closed and the review committee due to table its report by 31 March, ironically right in the middle of Easter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Kellahan is the CEO of Freedom for Faith, a Christian legal think tank that exists to see religious freedom protected and promoted in Australia and beyond. Vision and FFF worked closely together last year during the same-sex marriage debate to bring critical information to the marketplace about the potential impact the law change would have on freedoms. Now in this new phase of the fight for freedoms we continue to work together to help you be informed, participate in the democratic process, and importantly, equip you to pray.