The left are launching strikes on liberty in schools and churches

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Mercury 18th June, 2016

The Green-Left presents itself as the tolerant brand of politics. In reality, it only tolerates government interference with our freedom.

The latest display of the radical Left's illiberal tendencies was the Greens' announcement to expand anti-discrimination laws to extinguish the few carve outs made for religious liberty.

At its core, this progressive elite, intellectually authoritarian in nature, has decided how we should act, what we can say, what we can believe. They will use the force of law to ensure compliance.

You want freedom to debate the definition of marriage? Don't do it in Tasmania, where writing an innocuous booklet in defence of the definition of the law will be caught under the state anti-discrimination laws. A recent attempt to silence the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart was dropped not because of a defect in the law, but because the Leftist advocate withdrew the complaint.

Likewise, the subjective definition of offensive speech under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act captures any discussion tangentially related to race. A case before the Federal Court about Facebook comments from 2013 is an embarrassing farce, but highlights how insidious section 18C is.

If you have said anything remotely sceptical about climate change, you might be targeted by campus authoritarians. Look no further than the hysterical response last year from academics and students to Bjorn Lomborg's proposed multi-million dollar Consensus Centre at an Australian university. Lomborg agrees humans cause global warming, but his views were deemed too dangerous for Australian students.

This is a taste of what has happened in the past 12 months to chill freedom of speech. Now, these intellectual authoritarians have turned their attention to religious groups. Two weeks ago, the Greens announced they would lobby for removal of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws. The ALP National Platform sympathetically states that "Labor believes that no faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said last week that while federal Labor is "not interested in telling religious organisations how to run their faith-based organisations" they "haven't seen the case made to make change." Expect to see that case suddenly be made if such changes are the price of Greens support for Labor legislation in the Senate.

Anti-discrimination laws are top-down attempts to regulate how people associate with one another in public, such as how we speak and act in the workplace and in trade and commerce.

Business owners who have religious convictions are not spared the effect of these laws. This is why Christian florists, bakers and photographers are dragged before overseas courts for opting not to participate commercially in same-sex wedding ceremonies. Expect the same to happen if marriage is redefined here.

The fact that a sliver of liberty has been granted to faith-based groups is hardly representative of the pernicious influence of organised religion in lawmaking. It's just politicians have been unwilling to directly attack the liberties of churches. Until now.

It is a fundamental principle of religious liberty that members of a religious community can come together to exercise common religious beliefs. Whether in church, school or commerce, religious organisation should be able to organise their affairs in accordance with their beliefs.

Intellectual authoritarians would presume to tell religious schools who they can hire and who they can admit as students. But these schools have an interest in providing a platform for strengthening the faith of their communities.

Compelling faith-based schools to admit students or employ people who do not share their faith inevitably diminishes the religious character of those schools. This erodes their ability to immerse students in a religious experience as expected by parents.

Those on the Left believe they are balancing two equal kinds of rights: the right of people to exercise their liberty, and the right of others to be free from discrimination. This is a mythical comparison.

Religious liberty requires government not to interfere. For churches, that means you can keep male-only ordination, or establish schools so that service families that belong to a particular faith. Likewise, individuals are free to join or avoid these organisations as they like.

On the other hand, the right to be free from discrimination requires the government to step in and force compliance. That's not a right, that's a special privilege. And the thing about a special privilege is they are weapons to be used by the perpetually aggrieved. The intellectual authoritarians of the Left seek to use this against churches. Pray they don't get it.