Note: The following article expresses the opinions of Charles Newington, Michael Kellahan and Elizabeth Kendal.
“The intent while it doesn’t specifically mention schools, actually assumes and implies that religious schools are set up for a religious purpose, not just an educational purpose.”
Family Voice Australia’s Charles Newington, speaking on the Sex Discrimination Act found this to be an interesting point. The religious angle, whether that be Christian, Muslim or secular, education is about educating people for life.
“Education implies a moral and spiritual education and you can see that early legislation respected and valued that.”
“But now that societal values are changing we’re wanting to remove exemptions for people who feel are out of step with the zeitgeist of the nation,” Charles discerned.
It’s a desire for a new kind of sexual orientation.
With the acceptance of religious schools seen to be an extension of the church, be they Anglican, Catholic or evangelical, the generic word used is they’re Christian schools.
Charles Newington said these schools are very much the expression of local churches or denominations.
Science arts and religion
“They are for religious purposes,” Charles stated, adding that religion doesn’t just cover what they do in the building.
“It covers how we approach science, how we approach the arts, and how we approach our engagement with the world and that is the nature of religion.”
This is part of the big debate that’s going on. But some people don’t want to concede religion to be that holistic, that it influences everything.
They want to try and confine it to the private space of the home and the church hall,” said Charles Newington, National Director of Family Voice Australia.
A failure of leadership
Michael Kellahan, who leads a legal ‘think tank’ called Freedom For Faith, described the last week of parliament sitting for 2018 as a scramble to try and fix things.
The Ruddock Report on religious freedom is hidden amongst a pile of paperwork to be attended to next year.
It comes out of a failure of leadership to put the Ruddick Report out sooner so that people can have an informed debate.
“This is so it isn’t done on the run with competing bills and the like,” Michael said.
On top of this came supposedly ‘leaked’ Ruddick Report recommendations deliberately released prior to the Wentworth by-election that were later exposed as a lie by Mediawatch after the election.
The lie was that LGBTQ students were being expelled from religious schools. Turns out they weren’t and were never likely to be.
A range of opinions
Michael Kellahan said the nation will be the biggest loser if the religious freedom debate is lost.
“You lose the ability to have opinions which are out of step with the government of the day.”
“It will also apply to end of life questions or places where people of faith may have a different position than the newspaper editorial policy or the political party,” Michael commented.
What’s at stake is whether we have diversity for a range of opinions and a freedom to speak those different opinions.
“Or whether we instead move to a more authoritarian setting where everyone needs to comply to an agenda that must also be yours.”
Michael’s adamant that faith-based organisations should continue to operate based on their beliefs.
Protecting faith-based rights
“They should be able to set up things like charities, hospitals and schools. You think about the incredible good that’s done in that space by faith-based organisations.”
Michael emphasised his organisation Freedom For Faith is resolutely bi-partisan and for people to be able to come together and come up with something that goes beyond the outrage cycle of Twitter or the 24 hour news cycle.
He also stressed it’s not simply Labor is wrong and the Liberals are right when it comes down to protecting faith-based rights.
Within each party there’s a lack of unity and clarity about where they stand.
Michael mentioned how they immediately saw problems with the Penny Wong drafted bill.
“There’s an intent there to restrict freedoms but there are also unintended problems from doing drafts on the run.”
“We can’t just have a zero sum game in politics which says you either choose religious freedom or LGBTQ rights,” Michael advised.
Another recognised voice in the religious freedom debate from a Christian perspective, is that of Elizabeth Kendal.
Elizabeth declared religious freedom is vulnerable in Australia with no legislation ever enacted to protect it. It was always considered a given in accordance with Australia’s Christian heritage.
“In the absence of legislation to protect religious freedom and religious liberty, faith communities are in a precarious position,” Elizabeth writes.
Unable to claim minority (and therefore protected) status, Christians are particularly vulnerable.
The fact that devout, Bible-believing Christians doubtless are a minority and exist in large numbers within ethnic minorities, is irrelevant.”
Elizabeth reported numerous workers, including teachers and other professionals, have been disciplined, sacked or have lost their accreditation simply for expressing their position on same-sex marriage.
“Most cases are quickly resolved after the accused Christians receive legal advice.”
But the trend is undeniable: intolerance is escalating.
“The reality is that a critical shift in that balance [of rights] can undermine an education system whose legal protections are fragile.”
“It is absurd to believe activists will not test a new legal structure,” Elizabeth Kendal warned.
If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below
For Elizabeth Kendal’s article – Australia: Will Religious Liberty Slide into Oblivion?
Charles Newington FAVA
FamilyVoice Australia is a Christian voice promoting true family values for the benefit of all Australians. Our vision is to see strong families at the heart of a healthy society: where marriage is honoured, human life is respected, families can flourish, Australia’s Christian heritage is valued and fundamental freedoms are enjoyed.
Charles Newington, B.D (Hons) is the National Director of FamilyVoice Australia. Charles has been an ordained minister with the Australian Christian Churches for 34 years. During this time he has been engaged in training the next generation of leaders, starting new congregations and working in mission and community development in Asia.
Freedom for Faith is a Christian legal think tank that exists to see religious freedom protected and promoted in Australia.
‘As Christians, our concern is not only to see the religious freedom of Christians protected. Australia is becoming more pluralised and secular in its beliefs. Freedom of religion must necessarily include people with very different beliefs. It provides the means by which people with diverse and deeply held beliefs are able to live together well.’
Elizabeth Kendal is a dedicated international religious liberty analyst and advocate. Her ministry gained recognition in mid-1999, when she commenced writing weekly Religious Liberty Prayer bulletins for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC).
Elizabeth is the author of two books: