Atheist leader warns of ‘extreme’ views of clerics on religious advisory body

Si Gladman / 09 December 2023

The atheist community leader blocked from a position on the New South Wales Faith Affairs Council due to his beliefs has warned that the religious leaders elected to the body hold views at odds with most religious people.

In an interview on 2GB Radio on 3 December, Steve Marton said that most nominally religious people do not agree with the dictates of religious leaders on a number of issues, including same-sex marriage and voluntary assisted dying.

Last month, the Minns government rejected Mr Marton’s application to represent non-religious and ex-religious people on the new advisory council, and instead appointed 19 religious clerics, with the overwhelming majority being men.

Adding insult to injury, a media statement released following the Faith Affairs Council’s first meeting on 1 December revealed that multiculturalism minister Steve Kamper had unilaterally expanded the body’s membership from 16 to 19 members. But all of these extra positions went to religious leaders, including people who have been at the forefront of lobbying efforts to maintain scripture in public schools.

Mr Marton, president of Sydney Atheists, told 2GB that only 13 per cent of the population regularly attended religious services.


“The faith leaders that have been appointed…represent the leadership of various religious organisations. So you might suggest that they are the most extreme elements of those religions. Generally speaking, you’d imagine they hold the strongest views on a number of issues,” he said.

“…there are a whole lot of nominally religious people who – yeah, they nominally call themselves of a religion. But they’re not committed churchgoers. And their views differ even more widely from the church leaders.”

Earlier this year, Mr Kamper sought to allay concerns that the new body could be dominated by clerics whose views differ from the public and even from the majority of their own congregations. In a letter, he told the Rationalist Society of Australia that “a diversity of viewpoints” would be represented.

As outlined in researcher Neil Francis’ landmark Religiosity in Australia series, large majorities of religious people support social reforms such as same-sex marriage, acccess to abortion, voluntary assisted dying – while their religious leaders actively oppose such reforms.

In his media statement this month, Minister Kamper said the Faith Affairs Council would help the government “identify opportunities and initiatives for enhanced collaboration” with religious communities.

“We are a better government when we listen,” he said.

Previously, Mr Kamper and Premier Minns promised religious groups the body would provide a direct line to government decision-makers and advise on issues including “objections to euthanasia/voluntary assisted dying, and religious discrimination” and “additional funding for chaplaincy”.

On 2GB Radio, Mr Marton said the Minns government’s decision to exclude non-religious and ex-religious representation would result in millions of people and some of the state’s most vulnerable not being represented in policy discussions relating to religion.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has recently featured Mr Marton in a campaign video promoting the right to freedom not to have a religion as a human right.

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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.