Kevin Donnelly: Free speech is essential

Reading Time: 4 minutes
State ideology? The current public hearings into religious freedom and faith-based schools are clearly an attempt to prevent Christians teaching the faith that they believe. Where’s the freedom in that?
Christians believe that the demands of this temporal world cannot violate or contradict the word of God and the Bible’s teachings, says Dr Kevin Donnelly.

Banning debate creates a dictatorship

Swamped as it has been by the daily news of stories like the coronavirus it’s understandable why so little attention has been paid to the Commonwealth Government’s second exposure drafts of its religious freedom legislation.

The closing date for responses was 31 January and the government is now going through the difficult process of weighing often-conflicting opinions about how best to protect religious freedom and freedom of conscience in what is an increasingly Woke age.

As discovered by Israel Folau and Margaret Court, an age where any comment criticising or opposing what is deemed to be politically correct is immediately condemned by the cultural-left as hate speech.

During the same-sex marriage debate those advocating a Christian view were attacked as ‘heteronormative’ and ‘homophobic’ and Hobart’s Archbishop Porteous taken before the Commission for Anti-Discrimination for simply circulating a booklet to Catholic schools espousing the teachings of the Church.

Gone are the days when school children in the playground chanted ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’.

Proven by the example in Victoria, where a Christian Youth Camp was convicted of unfair discrimination after refusing to provide accommodation to a gay activist group, it’s also the case that religious bodies and organisations are under threat.

The root of opposition to religious freedom

The first thing to note is that much of the opposition to religious freedom is based on a radical, secular, anti-Christian ideology. Julie Szego, for example, writing in the Age newspaper, criticises the draft legislation, saying “Religion, as we know it, retails illusion”.

Szego goes on to satirise the Bible by providing a number of examples, including “A man walking on water. A sea parting. A prophet with a direct line to the almighty”. It’s also hypocritical that many of those so quick to criticise Christians refuse to apply the same test to those vilifying and attacking Christianity.

While Folau and Court are condemned for stating their religious beliefs the radio announcer Kyle Sandilands’ offensive remarks regarding the Virgin Mary went unpunished. In October last year Sandilands joked someone had “chock-a-blocked her behind the camel shed” and anyone who believed otherwise was talking “bull sh.t” as well as being as “dumb as dog sh.t”.

It is reasonable that a Catholic school employ teachers and staff who are willing to identify with and support the school’s culture and ethos, says Dr Kevin Donnelly.

The second thing to note, instead of being an add-on by allowing exemptions and exceptions to current anti-discrimination laws, is that religious freedom is an inherent right equal to what the American Declaration of Independence describes as the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

While alien to those without religious faith, the Christian belief that the demands of this temporal world cannot violate or contradict the word of God and the Bible’s teachings is sacrosanct. And history is replete with Christian martyrs like the priest Edmund Campion and England’s High Chancellor Thomas More who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Some positive signs

Thankfully, although opposed by the legal academic George Williams, the need to respect and not violate religious faith is protected by the draft legislation. Section 11 protects religious freedom if organisations act in good faith in accordance with their doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.

It is only fair and reasonable that a Catholic school has the freedom to employ teachers and staff who are willing to identify with and support the school’s culture and ethos as a religious institution. Those who cannot are always free to seek employment elsewhere.

Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a liberal, democratic society

It’s also right and proper that nurses, doctors and health professionals are not made to undertake or be complicit in procedures like abortions, euthanasia and gender transitioning procedures they consider to be immoral and against their religious beliefs.

It’s also positive that the draft legislation protects individuals espousing a religious belief as long as what they say or write is lawful and does not “harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify” a person or group.

Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a liberal, democratic society and if it is to mean anything citizens must have the freedom to engage in the type of robust public comment and debate that others might find uncomfortable or indeed offensive.

While we now have generations of snowflakes who are so easily distressed and upset that universities now have trigger warnings and safe spaces to ensure they are never offended, it’s vital that individuals are not punished or unfairly ostracised for putting a point of view.

As stated in a quote often attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Related article:

Religious Freedom expert Rabbi Saperstein to talk at ACU North Sydney