Today is the closing date for submissions to Australia's Religious Freedom Review. An expert panel chaired by experienced Liberal politician Philip Ruddock will suggest further legislation to address concerns about religious freedom in the wake of the same sex marriage legislation passed at the end of 2017.
He has been given an impossible task.
It is absurd to suggest that legislation which demolishes accepted notions of marriage and family can ever be family friendly. And such legislation will inevitably impact on virtually all aspects of Australian life.
It is impossible for legislators to succeed in reconciling the natural and reasonable rights of parents to raise their children according to their own values with the demands of ideologies that would drag society into a direction where traditional moral standards are marginalised.
The issue is not that same sex marriage legislation introduces into society values completely antithetical to traditional Christian beliefs. Rather, it is that its values are antithetical to the reasonable understanding that sexual behaviour between members of the same sex is contrary to what is good for human beings and society.
This is a conclusion supported not just by religious faith but by reason.
Legislation is being used to establish new social mores infringing on the rights of parents (and the schools they choose) to raise children according to reasonable ethical principles. This is a gravely worrying new development. Our legislature has now started to enact laws positively undermining the rights and duties of parents to raise their children according to their best and reasonable lights.
But how can legislation be unreasonable?
Because from the start, the same sex marriage case was driven by emotion and not by reason. “Vote for love!” Kind hearted middle Australia was bowled over. Perhaps there is another, darker explanation: we are a society that has departed from an ethic of sexual responsibility. We condone recreational sex without responsibility and as a consequence we find it hard to say no to homosexual sex.
Laws that demolish the traditional view of family and marriage have now made it more difficult for dissenting parents to be the decisive moral influence on their own children because of the impact same sex marriage laws will have on society, schools and curriculum, marketing, academia, and so many other areas.
No body or person has the right to be a greater moral influence on a child than that child’s own parents, but this right is being trampled underfoot. Lawmakers have chosen to enter uncharted territory where the most cherished values of large groups of citizens are simply dismissed, drowned out by the loudest voices. This is neither democratic nor Australian.
This is not primarily a debate about religious rights, but about responsible decision making.
Legislation must respect the rights not only of formal religious bodies, but also the rights of ordinary citizens to educate their children according to their own values and faith.
Legislation must enshrine the right — and not merely by way of a concession or exception that could in time be eroded or withdrawn — of a school administration and board to enjoy total freedom to employ or not employ staff according to religious belief, to enrol or not enrol on the basis of religious belief, and to adopt or not adopt educational programs on the same basis.
Furthermore, legislation must acknowledge that profession of religious belief carries with it requirements of behaviour and life choices. For example, it would be absurd for an applicant to identify as a practising Christian if at the same time the person were a practising mass murderer; this is true for all aspects of behaviour substantially opposed to the teachings of the church with which one would identify.
The Panel has had brought to its attention the worrying developments in Canada where Catholic organisations are being denied public funding because they will not agree in principle with abortion.
On January 19 Macleans, a current affairs magazine in Canada, reported that youth programs in several Catholic dioceses have been denied substantial government funding because their bishops refused to support of the abortion and gender policies of Prime Minister Trudeau. Trudeau is reported as saying that faith-based pro-life groups are “not in line with where we are as a government and, quite frankly, where we are at as a society.”
We must never allow this to happen in Australia, but once legislation is driven by ideology I do not see how we can eventually avoid the same predicament.
Dr Andrew Mullins was the Headmaster of Redfield College and Wollemi Colleges in Sydney for 18 years. He is the author of Parenting for Character. He now works with university students in Melbourne.