The RSA bases its policies on universal human values, shared by most religious as well as non-religious people.
We believe in human dignity and respect in our treatment of one another. We support social co-operation within communities and political co-operation among nations. We think human endeavour should focus on making life better for all of us, with due regard to our fellow sentient creatures and the natural environment.
We believe humankind must take responsibility for its own destiny.
We believe morality is the natural product of human evolution, not dictated by some external agency or recorded in some written document.
Humans live in social groups; this is why all societies, despite differences of culture or religion, share many basic moral tenets and social taboos.
But morality is neither static nor absolute. As history shows, our ideas about right and wrong evolve as we learn more about ourselves, the creatures with whom we share this planet and our environment. Our beliefs about what is right and wrong, therefore, should be subjected to periodic reflection and review, using science, reason and due regard for human dignity.
RSA believes the scientific method is the most effective means by which humans develop knowledge and understanding of the physical universe. And we believe human progress and well-being is best achieved by the careful and consistent use of science and evidence-based reasoning.
The following policies are based on these values and beliefs.
Politics and government
Separation between religion and state
RSA supports a clear, constitutionally guaranteed division between religion and the state.
In Australia, the legal separation of religion and state is not sufficiently guaranteed by Section 116 of the Australian Constitution. We support moves to strengthen and expand this section of our Constitution and to include similar provisions in the constitutions of the States.
RSA believes religious doctrine should not override evidence-based reasoning in public policy-making. This does not mean we believe theists and theistic organisations should not participate in the political process – only that their arguments must, like anyone else’s, be based on reason, evidence and modern secular, democratic values. As American President Barack Obama put it:
“Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
Religious rituals and symbols
RSA supports the removal of references to God in the Federal and State constitutions.
Instead of the reciting of Christian prayers, we support the introduction of opportunities for private reflection at the commencement of parliamentary sittings. The recitation of Christian prayers discriminates against those of a different religion or no religion at all, and is inconsistent with a genuinely pluralistic political and social culture.
RSA opposes the automatic tax exempt status of religious organisations.
We say it is high time to remove the ‘advancement of religion’ from the definition of charity and measure in wholly secular terms those elements of an organisation that wish to be considered charitable, whether that organisation be religious or not.
We do not oppose tax deductions for genuine charitable works by religious institutions which benefit the wider community, providing these are fully accountable and do not involve proselytising, evangelising, the dissemination of false or misleading information or any form of discrimination in providing service.
Commercial enterprises owned by religious institutions should be subject to the same legal and financial laws as other commercial entities. In common with those entities, donations made to genuine charitable causes should be tax deductible.
RSA believes government schools should be neutral on the subject of religion in order to make them a welcoming environment for families of all faiths and of none. We support the invigoration of a robust, well-funded, secular government education system.
We are not saying that government schools should be ‘religion free zones’: we support the teaching of ethics and comparative religion as part of humanity’s rich cultural heritage. We accept that discussion of religion and religious texts may legitimately arise when learning about art, music, history or literature. However, ethics and religion should be taught by qualified teachers in an academic context, not by unqualified religious instructors in an evangelical context.
Parents who want religious instruction (as opposed to religious education) for their children are free to access this outside the government education system. Consistent with this stance, we oppose the following activities occurring on government school campuses:
- the teaching of scripture;
- the public recitation of prayers or similar religious rituals;
- the promotion of church-run camps;
- school-based church-run programs for children such as Hillsong’s ‘Shine’ program; and
- the presence of chaplains or similar religious functionaries.
Education that develops human capacity
RSA supports the development of the human capacity for reflective and generative thinking through the teaching of critical thinking, scientific literacy and ethical values through free, compulsory and secular education.
Critical thinking examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence and assesses conclusions. Well taught, critical thinking leads to open-mindedness, appreciation of the consequences of action, a systematic approach to problem-solving, inquisitiveness, fairmindedness, confidence in reasoning and maturity of judgement. It allows the ideas of another person to be examined while at the same time respecting the inherent worth of the other person.
Scientific literacy is necessary to understand how the modern world works, how to evaluate the validity of arguments based on data and technical information, and how to appreciate the contribution science makes to society and to the economy.
Two hundred years of accumulated evidence from a range of different scientific disciplines has established beyond reasonable doubt that life on earth evolved through the process of natural selection. We therefore oppose the teaching of creationism or its spin-sister ‘intelligent design’.
Positive ethical values such as the Golden Rule of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ are found in all philosophical traditions, religious and non-religious. This is because positive ethical values are the natural product of human evolution, not derived from any supernatural source. Each generation has a responsibility to pass on these positive ethical values, and we believe this can be most effectively done by a combination of socialisation in the home and education in schools.
Right to education
RSA believes every child has the right to be educated to the full extent of their capacities. We therefore oppose any attempt by organisations to limit children’s education, or to isolate children within closed communities.
We oppose the indoctrination of children into any particular religious doctrine before they are mature enough to consider alternatives and make up their own minds. We believe children should be taught critical thinking in order to develop the capacity to decide for themselves what philosophical life stance, religious or nonreligious, will guide their lives.
Civil rights and human rights
Freedom of thought and belief
RSA supports freedom of thought, freedom of religion (as well as freedom from religion), freedom of speech (within reasonable limits), and freedom of information. We consider these basic rights to be essential for the development of a resilient, pluralistic and compassionate society.
Freedom from discrimination
RSA supports the democratic ideals of equality before the law, civil rights and the dignified and humane treatment of human beings.
RSA opposes exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations. For organisations providing social services or educational services, it should be a condition of receiving government funding that recipient organisations do not breach anti-discrimination laws.
Further, we say that employees of organisations that provide social services to the public should not be able to refuse to provide particular services on the basis of a ‘conscientious objection’. Such employees are free to work for organisations that do not offer those services.
We oppose arbitrary discrimination based on outdated notions of gender roles or prejudiced misunderstanding of sexual orientation. We support full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people, including the right to same-sex marriage.
We contend that, as far as practicable, all Australians have the right to a decent standard of living, access to education and social services, and the opportunity to lead comfortable and fulfilling lives. We therefore support programs designed to realise these objectives, including programs aimed at equalising life chances, living conditions and education for disadvantaged people or communities.
Sex education and reproductive rights
While not condoning sexual activity by children under the age of consent, RSA believes the first priority must be to keep children safe. We therefore support appropriately targeted sex education aimed at providing younger children with the skills to deter sexual predators and report sexual harassment, and keep older children safe from sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and exploitation by internet predators. Sex education should not encourage sexual activity but keeping children ignorant about sex is counter-productive and ignores the reality that teenagers and even pre-teens are increasingly sexually active.
We support a nationally consistent standard for the age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual sex.
We consider that everyone of reproductive age should have access to and education about appropriate contraception. This is the best way of minimising the abortion rate.
Regarding abortion, RSA recognises the difficulties and emotions that can be involved in decisions about the termination of pregnancy. Respecting this, we support the right of a woman, in conjunction with her partner if she has one and in consultation with her medical and mental health advisors, to determine whether to terminate a pregnancy. The law should reflect this by removing all references to termination procedures from the Crimes Act, allowing it to be regulated like all other medical procedures.
Right to die with dignity
RSA supports the right of individuals with terminal disease and intolerable suffering to choose to end their life with dignity, providing this is entirely voluntary and subject to appropriate safeguards.
We believe that every person has the right to sovereignty over their own mind and body. Dying with dignity is favoured by an overwhelming majority of Australians. Trials in other countries show that the risk of exploitation is extremely low and can be prevented. We contend that dying with dignity is a basic human right and that a legal framework should be enacted to enable this right to be exercised.
Science in society
Use of evidence in public policy
The use of good, reliable evidence in public debate is important if Australian society is to benefit from progress in scientific understanding and research. RSA supports ‘evidence-based policy making’ by the public service and the use of robust, reliable and defensible evidence in public debate about controversial social and scientific issues.
Evidence-based policy making requires the collection of good data, the selection of appropriate methods for analysing the data, openness to professional and public scrutiny, independence from vested interests, and a commitment to resist ideological quick fixes, personal biases or ‘conventional wisdom’.
Superstition, conspiracy theories and the paranormal
RSA believes the Australian public has a right to better information about unsubstantiated claims which may adversely affect them physically, psychologically or financially.
We contend that reason, evidence and the scientific method should be used to:
- evaluate the claims of the whole of the health industry, including the ‘alternative’ health industry;
- test the existence of the paranormal; and
- expose the dogmatism of some religious groups.
We are particularly concerned about untested theories that threaten public health or vilify minority groups. While ‘conspiracy theories’ or ‘new age’ ideas should not necessarily be dismissed out of hand, they must meet a reasonable standard of evidence if used in public policy debate.