OPINION: by John YoungNews Weekly
The fatal flaw in human rights commissions
, October 30, 2010
"Securing freedom of religion in a hostile environment" was one of the themes at a recent colloquium in Melbourne, organised by the Presbyterian Church of Australia, on the general topic, "Religion in the public square".
Two of the speakers (with views different, I'm sure, from those of most participants) were from, respectively, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).
These speakers - the Hon. Catherine Branson QC and Dr Helen Szoke - assured the audience that their respective commissions aim to achieve a fair and balanced outcome in the cases before them. But the implication I got in listening to them was that such an outcome is impossible. I'll give an example to illustrate this.
Suppose I argue (as I would) that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong morally and are a perversion. They harm the person who does them and they harm society. They tend to the undermining of marriage and to the seduction of young people at the hands of homosexual predators.
Now suppose a homosexual maintains that these acts are normal and healthy for a person inclined that way, that they are beneficial, and that they should be accorded the same status as marriage. Holding these views, he is outraged at my assertions and claims to feel deeply wounded by them. So he takes his complaint to a human rights commission.
How should the commission proceed in order to render a just verdict? There is only one way: the matter must be judged in the light of the truth.
If my position, as just outlined, is true then I have stated a reality. Further, it is clearly important that this reality should be stated, for its denial is a serious error striking at the truth about human sexuality and at that foundational institution which is marriage. To avoid criticising homosexual activity is to connive at the abuse of young people at the hands of predators.
On the other hand, if the complainant is correct, then I have put forward a grave error. I have made remarks which will gratuitously hurt the feelings of homosexually-inclined people, for the remarks are untrue. I have possibly endangered the safety of such people at the hands of homophobes, and with no objective justification for taking that risk.
Will the commission judge the case in the light of the truth? No, because it will not consider itself competent to judge one side to be the truth and the other error. Imagine the uproar in the media if the commissioners took my position as true and judged the matter in that light!
How, then, are they to give the right decision? By abstracting from which of us is stating the reality? No, because that leaves no objective basis for a decision; no way of knowing whether I was justified in my outspoken comments, or whether the complainant is justified in saying I should be found guilty of an offence.
It won't do to assert that the criterion should be the harm or potential harm arising from my statement, such as the feelings of hurt and the possible violence to homosexuals. That won't do because, if the truth about homosexual actions is left out of account, it is impossible to determine whether my statement was justified in the circumstances.
The same reasoning applies to all the matters with which human rights commissions concern themselves. For instance, should women in the army be allowed into combat? Should a landlord be free to refuse accommodation to unmarried couples? Should a painting which Christians claim to be blasphemous be allowed on the grounds of free expression? Should religious symbols be allowed in government-owned buildings?
In each of these cases truth should be the prime criterion, whether about the psychology of women, or the social consequences of co-habitation, or the right critique of blasphemy, or the place of religion in society. But in today's society there is no agreement as to what the truth is. Consequently, the necessary basis for the right decision is absent.
So how do such commissions decide? Largely subjectively, which involves two things. The predominant one is the feelings of those who bring a case: if they are acutely distressed about the behaviour they complain of, this will weigh heavily for a verdict in their favour. But there is a more insidious underlying factor: the presuppositions of the commissioners.
These will tend heavily towards secularism and against traditional Judaeo-Christian values. People with the latter values have little chance of a position on these boards, for such individuals are seen as politically incorrect.
In George Orwell's fable Animal Farm
, the animals had high ideals when they ousted the farmer and took control. Their first principle was, "All animals are equal". But soon the pigs, on gaining dominance, added the words, "But some are more equal than others."
There is much talk today about human rights, and we are told we need all sorts of legislation to ensure that all humans are treated equally. But on examination we find that some humans are seen as more equal than others.
Humans who have been born are more equal than those about to be born. Couples who co-habit are more equal than married couples. Homosexuals are more equal than heterosexuals. Feminists are more equal than non-feminists. Atheists are more equal than theists. Non-Christians are more equal then Christians.
Christ said, "The truth shall make you free." This implies that error will make us slaves.John Young is a Melbourne writer on philosophical, theological and economic questions, and frequently contributes to AD 2000. His recent book The Scope for Philosophy is on sale from News Weekly Books for $20.00 (see this webpage for details). Papers from the July 2010 Presbyterian Church three-day colloquium, Religion the in Public Square, Melbourne, July 22-24, 2010, are downloadable from: www.reformers.com.au/Colloquium/Colloquium_Complete.pdf