Monthly Archives: January 2013

… and credit where credit is due Uniting Church of Australia

Religious ExemptionsI tend to spend a lot of my time slamming religious extremists and bigots on this blog. But, I believe that credit is due to those Christian organisations which take a more enlightened view. In light of the current debate about exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations, it’s important to note that the view of extremist ‘stakeholders’ like Jim Wallace’s Australian Christian Lobby do not represent the ‘mainstream’ Christian view. Why does our Prime Minister and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon not take note of this? This is the burning question!

So, congratulations to UnitingJustice Australia, the justice unit of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. Their submission to the senate standing committee’s inquiry into the human rights and anti-discrimination bill, 2012, clearly states their (qualified) opposition to religious exemptions.

It is, in my view, a sensible and well thought out argument which puts the so-called ‘Christian ethics’ of the ACL to shame.

Here is the section that deals with exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations, submitted in December 2012:

Recommendation Eight:

That the sections governing religious exceptions be amended to remove those protected attributes that are not demonstrably justified by religious needs.

UnitingJustice is deeply concerned that the wide ranging list of protected attributes to which an exception applies for religious organisations serves only to perpetuate the potential for discrimination both by and within religious organisations and institutions.

While we believe that the right to freedom of religion is of vital importance, and its recognition necessary, we do not believe that this is an absolute right. We acknowledge, then, that the exercise of religious freedom is subject to the regulatory norms that govern Australian society. Importantly, we support the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights statement that discussions in this area must consider whether an exemption is “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom”

We believe that religious organisations require an exemption in relation to the ordination or appointment of their religious leaders. The act of ordination is core to the integrity of a religious community and we believe it is appropriate that religious organisations are given the freedom to appoint their leaders in keeping with their religious traditions and beliefs.

We are concerned, however, with section 33 of the Anti-Discrimination Bill, and feel that it gives too wide an exemption to the activities of religious organisations and institutions. We do not believe that it is necessary, in light of the need to balance the rights of the wider community with the freedoms to be afforded to religious groups, to grant an exception to that permits discrimination when that discrimination consists of conduct, engaged in good faith, that:

(i) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion; or
(ii) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion.

When religious bodies are provided to what amounts to a ‘blanket exception’, there is no incentive for that body to ensure that it does not discriminate, and no incentive to promote equality and inclusion in areas of employment and representation other than those leadership positions necessary to maintain the integrity of the religious organisation.

While we acknowledge “the need for some level of exemption, to allow faith-based organisations to maintain their integrity according to the tenets of the relevant communities” faiths, references in the Anti-Discrimination Bill to concepts such as “doctrine”, “tenets of that religion” and “injury to religious sensitivities” are, in many cases, unhelpful. This language is contested even within religious communities themselves, and so to require participants in court proceedings to present and decide on a definitive definition of any of these terms is problematic.

In its submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century project, the Uniting Church National Assembly stated our support for federal legislation prohibiting religious discrimination, including a specific provision which allowed for discrimination on the basis of religion by faith communities in the area of employment in leadership and teaching positions, where it is reasonably necessary for maintaining the integrity of the religious organisation.

Several of the protected attributes listed under sections 32 and 33 disproportionately impact women, including pregnancy, potential pregnancy, breastfeeding and family responsibilities. There are no justifiable grounds for the inclusion of such attributes.

Indeed, they serve only to act as a proxy of sorts for enabling discrimination on the grounds of gender. For this reason, we do not support the wide-ranging list of exceptions granted to religious organisations and institutions under the proposed legislation.”

Well, Prime Minister, Ms Roxon? Why does the ACL’s view trump this one? Please explain …

Chrys Stevenson

UnitingVoice Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

Please use GetUp! to contact Nicola Roxon and your local political representative about this matter. And please spread GetUp’s link among your own networks.

Congratulations and thanks also to Joumanah El Matra, Executive Director of The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights. El Matra has  also opposed the legislation exemptions – Shutting out the ‘sinners’ feeds bigotry – The Age, 18/1/13

Has our first female PM legitimised misogyny? – Dr Jennifer Wilson at No Place for Sheep

Time to put your manhood where your mouth is Mr Wallace

gay_rights_sign_by_The_EnablerThe ALP’s appalling capitulation to religious bigots has been roundly criticised this week. Despite overhauling Australia’s federal anti-discrimination legislation, the ALP has apparently done a deal with the devil Australian Christian Lobby, assuring them that exemptions to anti-discrimination laws will remain in place for religious organisations.

The Prime Minister has assured religious extremists they will still have the freedom to target fellow Australians who offend their religious ‘sensibilities’ – gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, unmarried mothers and people living in defacto relationships to name just a few of the ‘sinners’ the ‘religious’ would prefer not to employ.

Voters should be particularly interested in Senator Doug Cameron’s admission that this cozy little deal was made arbitrarily; the matter, he says, was not discussed in caucus.

Well may we ask which members of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) have been busy pulling Ms Gillard’s strings! Mr Farrell? Mr de Bruyn? What exactly do you owe these people, Ms Gillard, that you will bypass caucus in order to fulfil their wishes?

Of course, this little victory has made the ACL’s managing director, Jim Wallace, a right happy little Vegemite. Although, curiously, while lauding the government for preserving bigots’ ‘religious freedom’ to flout the laws which every other Australian has to follow, Mr Wallace says it’s ‘not a big issue’.  Indeed, Mr Wallace insists that, as far as he’s aware, there are no religious institutions which actually practice the discrimination they’ve so vociferously demanded. WTF???

Yep.  “We lobbied for a right to discriminate, but don’t get your knickers in a knot, because no-one’s going to do it.”

Really? Really?  This from the monster man who cheerfully agreed in February last year that church schools should have the right to expel students for no reason other than being ‘openly gay’.

In an interview on ABC News yesterday, a disingenuous Mr Wallace said:

“I’m not aware of any Christian organisation that has refused to hire anyone (based on their sexuality), and I’ve looked. I’m not aware of any school that has expelled anyone… for homosexuality. So, I think this is a beat-up in that it’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

If the problem doesn’t exist, Mr Wallace –  if religious institutions have no interest in discriminating against their fellow Australians – why did you lobby for them to maintain the right to do so? Have you any idea how badly this is playing with the general public? This is Australia, Mr Wallace, land of the ‘fair go’ – not land of the ‘one law for everyone – except religious institutions’. This is a secular democracy Mr Wallace – despite your burning ambition to turn it into your own personal theocracy.

And, might I ask, exactly where and how hard did you look for victims of religious bigotry?

As one of my Facebook contacts observed:

“By “looked”, perhaps Wallace means that he stood alone in a dark room and squinted, which is precisely how the ACL seems to do much of its strategising and policy development.”

Another hastened to clarify:

“No … the man’s eye’s were firmly closed and he placed a bag over his head just to make sure he couldn’t see.”

Well, Mr Wallace, the time has come to put your manhood where your mouth is. You reckon you’ve gone searching for victims of religious bigotry and have found none? Seems you’ve just been asking the wrong people.

Today, veteran gay rights campaigner, Rodney Croome, of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, issued a media release stating that he would be happy to arrange a meeting between Mr Wallace and ‘some of the thousands of employees and students’  who, Croome says, have been discriminated against by religious organisations.

“I invite Mr Wallace to meet GLBTI employees who have been sacked from church welfare agencies and GLBTI students who have been expelled from church schools,” said Croome.

“I want him to look them in the eye and tell them why their contribution and their rights matter less than other people’s.”

Well, there you go, Mr Wallace. You say you’ve been looking for victims of religious discrimination and couldn’t find any. Mr Croome has kindly found what you were looking for. The question is, are you honest enough, man enough, Christian enough, to take Mr Croome up on his offer?  Man up and accept the offer, Jim  – or people will take you for a dick.

Chrys Stevenson

Croome – Media Release

Please use GetUp! to contact Nicola Roxon and your local political representative about this matter. And please spread GetUp’s link among your own networks.

Related Post:

Has our first female PM legitimised misogyny? – Dr Jennifer Wilson at No Place for Sheep

 Jim Wallace blames homosexuality for clergy child abuse – Flourish& Bloggs

More on Julia Gillard’s pet religious ‘stakeholder’: Is the Australian Christian Lobby Dominionist? – Chrys Stevenson, ABC Religion & Ethics

Atheism Survey – Australia & NZ v the rest of the world

Better understanding the world of atheists – survey

atheism worldLate last year I wrote about a survey on atheism being conducted by Professor Tom Arcaro of Elon University, North Carolina.

The final date for submissions is drawing close and Professor Arcaro has informed me the response from Australia and New Zealand has been so good we will be able to proceed with our plan to co-author a paper on the results.

If you are an atheist or agnostic and have not already completed this survey, I would greatly appreciate your input. Depending on how many comments you wish to make, it will take between 10 and 20 minutes of your time.

If there are questions you don’t like or if you wish to clarify your answers you can do so in the spaces provided. I guarantee I will be taking comments into account during the analysis.

I envisage that the final article will compare both Australian and New Zealand results and Australia/NZ with the USA and the rest of the world.

It’s an exciting project and the more input we can get from this part of the world, the more accurate the results will be.

Please complete the survey if you have not done so already and please circulate the URL to your networks:

Cheers and Happy New Year to you all

Chrys Stevenson