Kirby urges ‘religious freedom’ advocates to ‘come clean’ on their agenda

Si Gladman / 22 June 2021

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby is calling for the faith-based groups that are driving the push for new ‘religious freedom’ laws to “come clean” with the Australian public on what they really want.

In a new statement, Kirby, a patron of the Rationalist Society of Australia, said Australians were entitled to know whether such advocates were seeking further rights to discriminate, especially against LGBTIQ people.

“There has been a lot of skirting around these issues. Yet, this is where the crunch comes in the new proposed legislation,” he said.

“I support Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s earlier reported statements that no child should be removed from a faith-based school on the grounds of their sexual orientation, nor made to suffer bullying or inequality on such grounds.

“Because much funding for faith-based schools today derives from funds raised from Australian taxpayers of all religious beliefs – and of no religious belief – it is more important than ever to limit the use of public monies to support unscientific and discriminatory practices in schools and other religious institutions or institutions having connections with faith-based organisations.”

Kirby’s statement came after an international Christian media magazine that documents Christian persecution reported on his earlier comments in The Guardian, where he warned of the danger of providing ‘excessive protection’ for religious freedom.

In The Australian last week, some Liberal MPs reportedly warned Attorney-General Michaelia Cash against introducing a revised Religious Discrimination Bill that would compromise same-sex marriage or become a faith-based ‘bill of rights’.

Kirby said those driving the push for the Religious Discrimination Bill should be upfront on whether: 

  • children attending faith-based schools who are, or think they may be, gay (LGBTIQ) must identify as such and consider ‘conversion therapy’;
  • such children must answer questions at school concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity and promise sincerely to avoid all emotional and physical contact or expressions of their feelings;
  • such children would be liable for expulsion from faith-based schools if they were open about their sexual feelings;
  • teachers or other personnel in faith-based schools would provide well-informed pastoral care and support for students who identify as LGBTIQ;
  • applicants for employment as teachers or other staff in faith-based schools would be obliged to answer questions concerning their sexual orientation or gender identity before or after their appointment;
  • such teachers or applicants for other employment positions in taxpayer-funded schools would be subject to dismissal if their sexual orientation or gender identity becomes known to the school;
  • teachers and staff who marry a same-sex person would be liable for dismissal if this became known;
  • faith-based schools would provide up-to-date scientific information on the origins and features of sexual orientation and gender identity, including the scientific knowledge about sexual variation, or would only teach ‘binary’ divisions between male and female human beings, allegedly on a Biblical basis.

The staunch supporter of secularism said the universal human right to religious freedom must exist alongside the rights of others.

“As Sir Zelman Cowen, past Governor-General of Australia, once explained: ‘The right to swing my arm ends when I strike someone else.’ Similarly, my right to have and behold religious views is not absolute,” he said.

“When it comes to practising religious beliefs in ways that hurt others, the community, through the law, has the right to step in and offer protection to those others. This is especially so when cruelty and unkindness are upheld by religious doctrines.”

He also called into question whether further protection should go to schools that indoctrinate students in unscientific and harmful views.

“Should we, for example, allow schools today to teach Australian students that the universe was literally created in six days? Or that black people had their skin colour as a punishment from God? Or that left-handed people evidenced a trait of the Devil? Or that women were not equal to men but subject to obedience to men?”

The RSA has joined with a number of other pro-secular community groups in supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill. You can support the campaign here.

Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.