January 27th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Loy Yang just latest critical asset to go offshore

EDITORIAL Behind the power shift in the Middle East

CANBERRA OBSERVED Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

GENDER POLITICS Family Court washes hands of gender-dysphoric kids

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Western sanctions have forced Russia to upskill

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS China exerts soft power on our southern neighbour

ENVIRONMENT Senate committee puts marine life before people

SEXUAL ABUSE Royal commission report ignores cause of abuse

HIGHER EDUCATION Critical thinking and the culture of skepticism

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS U.S. urges Taiwan rearmament to counter China threat

PHILOSOPHY A reflection on thoughts of Richard Dawkins

MUSIC Group theory: A good band is greater than its parts

CINEMA Darkest Hour: A long time till dawn

BOOK REVIEW 'Populism' and the new social divide

BOOK REVIEW Poems outshine dross of inept introduction



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Freedom of religion just an afterthought?

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, January 27, 2018

As a means of placating churches and other groups deeply concerned about the wider ramifications of the legal redefinition of marriage, the Turnbull Government decided to push the issue of “freedom of religion” into a separate inquiry headed up by former Howard government Minister Philip Ruddock.

In effect, the inquiry that was announced on November 22 last took some of the heat out of the debate and “kicked the can up the road” on the important implications the redefinition of marriage would have for people of faith: those whose religious beliefs impel them to hold to the conventional view of marriage that has been in existence for the past 5,000 years or so.

But the assurances that the Ruddock Review into Protecting Freedom of Religion in Australia was a serious initiative began to look somewhat hollow when it was revealed over the Christmas break that public submissions to the review would be kept secret.

This was a marked departure from normal processes of inquiries, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which is running the Ruddock Inquiry, declared it would not be publishing the submissions, unlike the procedure followed by ordinary parliamentary inquiries where most submissions are automatically released.

“Submissions to the Expert Panel will not be published online,” a department spokesman said in an emailed statement, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “However, where individuals provide consent, submission extracts may be included in public materials.”

Church groups and other opponents of same-sex (really gender fluid) “marriage” had been given assurances that the Ruddock Inquiry would look seriously into the issues of religious freedom in Australia, particularly because so many issues raised at the time of the postal plebiscite in relation to the consequences of redefining marriage for schools, hospitals, charities and other areas of the public sphere remained unresolved.

In fact, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that his belief in the fundamental right of freedom of religion was in fact stronger than his belief in same-sex “marriage”.

Members of the panel include Mr Ruddock, who is chairman, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Professor Rosalind Croucher, retired judge Dr Annabelle Bennett, Jesuit priest and commentator Father Frank Brennan, and constitutional academic Professor Nicholas Aroney.

While eminently qualified, there are no obvious strong conservatives on the panel.

The terms of reference include attending to the following tasks: consideration of “the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights; consideration of any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant; and to consult as widely as it considers necessary”.

Following the ensuing controversy about keeping submissions secret, the committee itself held a quick meeting about its deliberations, announcing that submissions would be published “provided the author of the submission consents to its publication and provided there is no other reason not to publish the submission (for example, if publication could raise legal issues)”.

So now all submissions are to be published before the committee produces its report on March 31.

However, given the growing hostility to religion in Australia in the universities, the national broadcaster and other left-wing media outlets, it is even more important that government work to enshrine freedom of religion.

“No religion” is Australia’s fastest growing “religion”, recently overtaking adherence to the Catholic faith at the 2016 Census. In fact, the number of people who declared “no religion” almost doubled between 2001 and the 2016 Census, whereas Catholics fell through the same period despite the influx of immigrants.

Even so, according to the most recent Census, more than 5 million people declared themselves to be Catholic, 3 million people declared themselves to be Anglican, and 3.8 million declared themselves members of another Christian denomination.

In other words there are still 12 million Christians in Australia, as well as 600,000 Muslims, 560,000 Buddhists, 440,000 Hindus, 125,000 Sikhs, and 91,000 people of the Jewish faith.

In short, Australia remains a predominantly Christian country with a growing sizeable number of people of other faiths.

One danger of the result of the postal plebiscite is that anti-faith people and atheists will be emboldened to isolate Christians and other groups even more and drive them out of the public square.

If the report turns out to be a whitewash, there will be a backlash for the Turnbull Government both internally among conservative MPs who went quiet during the marriage redefinition debates, and from religious groups themselves.

And given the extraordinarily high “No” vote in parts of western Sydney, where the high Muslim population flexed its political muscle for the first time, the implications of trouncing freedom of religion run a lot wider than any consequences for the Coalition.

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