Religious freedom and the resurrection
This Easter as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we are reminded of the need for freedom of religion more than ever. Freedom of religion is a universal human right to be protected for the benefit of all — but particularly those of the Christian faith. So, consider the surprise in a so-called Christian nation when, on 23 February 2022, the Liberals and Nationals joined Labor and the Greens to vote down Mark Latham’s Religious Freedom bill in the New South Wales Parliament. The Bill was defeated by a most-disappointing 29-4 with the only supporters being Mark Banasiak, Robert Borsak, Fred Nile and Mark Latham himself. When Mark introduced the bill in 2020 he said: “Just as it would be wrong to tell the Mardi Gras not to be gay, or to tell an ethnic body not to be ethnic, religious organisations must be allowed to remain religious in their guiding principles and practices.”
Unlike Scott Morrison, who failed to deliver on the Religious Discrimination bill as promised, Mark Latham’s bill would have protected people like rugby icon Israel Folau and others from losing their jobs if they quoted from the Bible. The irony, as pointed out many times, is that Mark – who has professed to not being a Christian – has become one of the most notable defenders of religious freedom whilst Scott Morrison and many members of the LNP appear to be fair-weather Christians, having been spooked into not defending Citipointe Christian College, tennis legend Margaret Court and the above-mentioned Israel Folau.
There is no question that the fastest growing form of discrimination in our society is against people of religious faith, especially Christians. Most of us are unaware of the extent of religious persecution that still exists through-out the world — particularly of Christians and Jews – but make no mistake: our religious freedom is most definitely at risk. Many Christians would have noticed over recent years the freedom to express and live by religious belief is increasingly being whittled away through legislation in different jurisdictions across Australia. During the hearings on the Religious Discrimination bill, there were countless 'far-left' activist groups suggesting that even though there is a clear gap in protections for religious belief in legislation the proposed bill goes too far. Really? It is not just the attempt to silence individuals that is the problem, but also the chilling effect such actions have on the rest of the believing community and, more broadly, our Australian society.
Julian Porteous (the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart) noted that anti-discrimination complaints directed against the expression of religious belief, whether successful or not, have the widespread effect of largely silencing those who share such beliefs out of fear of being hauled before an anti-discrimination tribunal, viciously attacked by social media mobs and potentially losing their livelihood. This is the reality in which we live, and social media has done much to weaponise anti-discrimination legislation. This is not a good thing for religious communities, or for society in general. Freedom of religious expression is not just critical for religious communities to flourish: it is fundamentally important for our democratic system of government, which requires free, honest, and respectful public debate on issues affecting the life and direction of our nation – something that Christians should absolutely feel they can be a part of without fear of reprisal. Additionally, it is important that faith-based schools are free to act in such a way so as to protect the integrity of belief within its institutions, meaning it is essential that they are free to present the fullness of their beliefs to students and obtain a commitment from staff to support and uphold these beliefs even if some may have personal reservations.
This Easter we will see once again the anti-Christian lobby attack, ridicule, demean and mock (like they did Jesus) those who wish to express and declare their faith in public, but the resurrection of Jesus is the cornerstone of our Christian faith (1 Corinthians 15:17) and we are not ashamed of it. We urgently need a Religious Discrimination Act to protect religious freedom, for individuals and communities of believers. Yet, with or without it, we will continue to proclaim the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.