Atheist group seeks position on NSW religious affairs council

Si Gladman / 25 September 2023

An atheist group has nominated for a position on the New South Wales government’s new Faith Affairs Council.

The application by Sydney Atheists last week could test the Minns government’s commitment to multiculturalism and diversity, with the group’s president, Steve Marton (pictured), arguing in his application that it would be an “injustice” to exclude the non-religious community from the advisory body.

Mr Marton’s nomination for a position on the 16-member Faith Affairs Council has been endorsed by a Christian minister and the Rationalist Society of Australia.

Despite having promised earlier this year that a “diversity of viewpoints” would be represented on the advisory body, the Labor government has instead required that nominees meet a number of religious requirements, including that they be endorsed by a religious group and have ascertained endorsement from two other religious bodies.

Premier Chris Minns and multiculturalism minister Steve Kamper have promised faith communities that the advisory body would have direct access to government decision-makers and be a “solutions warehouse” that could advise on issues including “objections to euthanasia/voluntary assisted dying”, religious discrimination, and providing “additional funding for chaplaincy”.

Earlier this year, Mr Kamper told the RSA that the New South Wales government “provides and promotes opportunities for all individuals…to contribute and participate in all aspects of public life and NSW Government activities and programs.”

In his application, Mr Marton said that, on trends revealed in the ABS Census, non-religious people would now make up about 40 per cent of the New South Wales community.

“It would be an injustice to exclude representation of some 40% (or almost 3 million people) of the NSW community from representation on a body that considers societal, cultural and religious matters that would affect them,” he said.

“I believe that it is imperative that the non-religious be represented on a body that may give preference, privilege, priority and extra funding to those who follow a religion. It is imperative that those of no religion should not be disadvantaged relative to their religious peers. This is particularly the case when religions are indulged financially by elements of government.”

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig has warned that the Faith Affairs Council could privilege the already powerful voices of religious clerics even further in policy making and marginalise the voices of non-religious citizens.

Earlier this year, in a letter to Mr Minns and Mr Kamper, she urged the government to ensure equal access to representatives of all worldviews, whether they be religious, non-religious or ex-religious people.

In his application, Mr Marton said it was vital for people who had left religion and had experienced trauma in religious communities to have representation on the Faith Affairs Council.

“At Sydney Atheists we are conscious of the suffering of people who have left religions and find that they are in great and urgent need of psychological and financial help – help that is not offered to them through other channels,” he said.

“Sydney Atheists are very well versed on religious matters as we are a sanctuary for people who have left virtually every religion in Australia. We have talks monthly from ex-religionists. We have also been involved in various religious debates.”

“It is vital that those who have left religion, then been castigated, isolated, banished, threatened and even violently hurt by their communities, have representation on the Faith Affairs Council.”

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Si Gladman is Campaign & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

All the more reason.