In Human Rights

The Australian Human Rights Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into freedom of religion in Australia. Given the wonderful religious freedom all Australians have always enjoyed (at least until governments began to meddle, as per the recent Victorian religious vilification legislation), why is the Human Rights Commission doing this? Angela Shanahan, writing in The Australian, asks the same question. Here is an except from her article, “Inquiry’s loaded but without an aim” (24 January 2009):

Of course we don’t need this inquiry, so why we are having it?

To answer that I had a look at the commission’s template for submissions with its series of questions. There are sets of questions about the place of religious leaders in public debate, about religious bodies in public as part of the fabric and administration of social services and whole lot on cultural sensitivities and (surprise, surprise) “gender inclusivity” and “sexual diversities”.

There is also a lengthy series on legislation and the Constitution’s section 116. That section says: “The commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the commonwealth”.

Here is a sample of those questions with my responses. Q. Is this section of the Constitution an adequate protection of freedom of religion and belief?
. Absolutely. It has worked well for more than 100 years. Q. How should the Australian Government protect freedom of religion and belief? A. By acting in accord with Section 116 of the constitution and not fraudulently extending its reach into relations between religions or their internal matters. And this beauty: Q. When considering the separation of religion and state, are there any issues that presently concern you? A. I am concerned by attempts by bodies such as the HRC to insert themselves into the religious sphere in violation of the clear intent of Section 116 of the Constitution.

So it goes until we get to the clincher: Q. Would a legislated national charter of rights add to these freedoms of religion and belief? A. No. It would be an unwarranted and dangerous interference into our liberties.

So basically this new foray by our human rights watchdogs is designed not to protect religious freedom but to provide some phony evidence that we need a charter of rights that could just as easily have the effect of restraining and limiting our present religious freedom. Of course the one area where people really are worried about the implications of freedom of religion is Islamic fundamentalism and its links to terrorism. But threats to security have nothing to do with the HRC, rather they are already handled by the security services.

Naturally the commission pretends it is ideologically even-handed. It asks: What are areas of concern regarding the freedom to practise and express faith and beliefs, within your faith community and other such communities? My “conservative” answer, and I suspect that of most of my neighbours, would be: The threat of violence by some of the Islamic community against freedom of expression in the media for critics of Islam, or against comment perceived to be critical of Islam. Also the efforts of militant non-believers to exclude religion from the public square.

Of course we don’t need an inquiry into freedom of religion to know this. We might need an inquiry into Islamic fundamentalists.

Read Angela Shanahan’s full article at:,25197,2495380-7583,00.html

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