“It’s not just the protection of religious freedom but the protection of other fundamental rights including parental rights.”
“The Parliament should have conceded the importance of protecting religious beliefs as a very essential element of communication in a democratic society.”
“Authoritarianism is undermining the spirit of the Constitution in this country.”
On the table in 2018 – freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.
The vast majority of Australians go to bed every night confident that nothing will have changed when they wake up the next day. Their freedoms will be intact.
Changed marriage laws
Some are now waking up to realise the same sex marriage vote was not about the same sex marriage vote. It was about giving up our freedoms.
Fewer Australians know those freedoms are all interconnected and one of the few is Dr Augusto Zimmermann.
Augusto Zimmermann is a legal philosopher, a former law commissioner in Western Australia, a former director of post graduate research at Murdoch University of law, is currently Professor of Law Adjunct with the University of Notre Dame Australia, and president of the Western Australia Legal Theory Association.
He’s also editor-in-chief of the Western Australia Jurist Law journal and professor in the Sheridan College Faculty of Business.
A question for Dr Zimmermann to answer – How much of the freedom Australians take for granted still stand in the wake of the changed marriage laws that include the legalisation of homosexual marriage?
Why it’s important to protect religious beliefs
Augusto Zimmermann said the cloud began to descend on the future of freedom when the original Marriage Amendments Bill proposal was postponed. But even the postponed bill, that contained the idea of including exemptions to the Marriage Amendments Bill, were not exemptions that entirely protected freedom of religion.
“There is a minor protection when it comes to the celebration of weddings but it’s much broader than this. The Parliament should have conceded the importance of protecting religious beliefs as a very essential element of communication in a democratic society.”
Augusto said these legions of opinions should be protected by what the High Court regards as being a very important element in the elaboration of the constitutional framework of this country.
“It’s this framework that’s protecting freedom of political communication. Most of these religious issues are not entirely connected with religious matters per se or exclusively. They are actually matters that effect government as a whole.”
“The free exercise of religion should encompass in this sense communication that is protected by the Australian Constitution. This has already been acknowledged by the High Court in previous decisions,” Dr Zimmermann explained.
The rise of authoritarianism
“Authoritarianism is undermining the spirit of the Constitution in this country,” Augusto headlined.
“The communication of religious values and beliefs is essential to the exercise of religious freedom. This communication involves matters not regarded exclusively as religious ones.”
Dr Zimmermann said these matters can be political opinions and perspectives, or philosophies and practices based on religious worldviews.
He referred to accounts published in several articles by professionals in this field.
“Professor Adriana Stone from the Melbourne Law School, wrote in her article a couple of years ago that political opinions and perspectives are normally interconnected with religious opinions.”
Dr Zimmermann referred to a paper written a couple of years ago by Queensland Professor Nicholas Irani who’s on the Ruddock Freedom Review panel.
“He explained that religious practices are normally tied up with political perspectives and philosophic practices,” Dr Zimmermann pointed out.
Therefore, if that be the case – that religious practices are tied up with political perspectives, then a Christian perspective shouldn’t be ostracised or be made a pariah in a democratic environment.
“A Christian perspective should receive the same sort of protection under the Applied Freedom of Political Communication that is already in place.”
The law as it stands is the same for a non-believer or a secular person according to Dr Zimmermann.
“They already have the protection afforded by the Applied Freedom of Political Communication.”
“If you go back in time you see the decisions of the High Court actually acknowledging that religious beliefs have a political nature in character, so they should be protected by the Constitution.”
Religious freedom protected by international law
From a legal perspective Dr Zimmermann said Australians should be concerned and that the exemptions being sought through the Ruddock Freedom Review are not a good guarantee.
“You have to consider that religious freedom is already protected by international law. And as a matter of fact Australia has committed itself to certain principles and even written law derived from international Human Rights legislation.”
“This promises not only the Australian people but the international community as a whole, that religious freedom is something considered to be a sacrosanct order in this country.”
Protection of religious speech and religious freedom is not only afforded by the Australian Constitution (that I can easily demonstrate as a constitutional lawyer) but any international lawyer would be able to say that any law affecting religious freedom and the right of people to express their religious beliefs and live according to those beliefs, constitutes a violation of international law as well.”
Fundamental and parental rights
Does that raise the case to possibly change the language so that the meaning of the freedoms we have now are better understood?
“I think we should,” was Dr Zimmermann’s call, adding that we have to take into account what’s at stake at this moment.
“It’s not just the protection of religious freedom but the protection of religious freedom and other fundamental rights, including parental rights.”
Dr Zimmermann said parental rights are not entirely respected in Australia. He mentioned the push for the introduction of the Safe Schools program and said religious organisations should have the right to decide on the curriculum they want established in their institutions.
“That’s the right to choose. People talk about the right to discriminate but freedom of association implies the freedom to not discriminate, but the right to choose. People have the right to choose on the basis of their core values and principles.”
The right to freedom
Dr Zimmermann said this is a fundamental aspect of the basic right to the freedom of association whether a person is religious or not.
Meantime the expert panel making up the Ruddock Freedom Review is now adjudicating upon every Australian’s right to freedom.
Dr Augusto Zimmermann believes the parliamentary review is highly politicised.
“It’s essential the rights of people are not undermined. There should be no excuse to undermine the rights of some people to advance the proposed rights of others.”
Dr Zimmermann included the rights of those in a minority group. “We would be compromising the Constitution of this country and also undermining our democratic rights and freedoms.”
If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below
Dr Augusto Zimmermann
LLB (Hon.), LLM (cum laude), PhD (Mon)
Director of Postgraduate Research
Dr Augusto Zimmermann (LLB (PUC-Rio), LLM cum laude (PUC-Rio), PhD (Monash University)) is Senior Lecturer and former Associate Dean (Research) and Director of Postgraduate Studies at the School of Law at Murdoch University. He is the unit coordinator for two core units taught in the Law School: Constitutional Law and Legal Theory
Dr Zimmermann is also a Commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia; President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association (WALTA); and Editor of the Western Australian Jurist law journal. He is also a Former Vice-President of the Australian Society of Legal Philosophy (ASLP).
A prolific academic writer and the author of numerous articles and books, Dr Zimmermann has been awarded the 2012 Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, and also been awarded two consecutive Murdoch School of Law Dean’s Research Awards, in 2010 and 2011.