A Report Into Religious Liberty In Australia: Provided To The Religious Freedom Review Expert Panel

Written by:
4 April 2018
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“Religious and other beliefs and convictions are part of the humanity of every individual.
They are an integral part of his personality and individuality. In a civilised society individuals respect each other’s beliefs. This enables them to live in harmony. This is one of the hallmarks
of a civilised society.”

Lord Nicholls

Beliefs and convictions – whether religious or otherwise – are a fundamental part of what makes each individual unique. These convictions inform what a person believes is right and wrong, which form moral obligations to do what is right. The ability to respond to that obligation and to speak and act in accordance with a person’s moral determination is a fundamental right – freedom of conscience. The alternative – being compelled to do what a person believes is morally wrong – is morally unjust.

But while religious liberty is a fundamental freedom in its own right, it is not a standalone concept. In order to conscientiously live in accordance with a religious worldview, several other basic freedoms are essential. Religious freedom is therefore best considered a bundle of rights, the most basic of which is freedom of speech. It is not possible to have freedom of religion without the freedom to propagate religious ideals without the threat of legal censure or restriction.

The inescapable conclusion then is that to protect religious liberty, you must protect freedom of speech and association. This means that laws such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 need to be repealed.

The IPA has long defended the fundamental right to freedom of speech. The organisation’s objection to laws like section 18C predates the introduction of section 18C itself, when the IPA Review published the article ‘The case against racial defamation laws.’ In 2016 the IPA published The Case for the Repeal of Section 18C, which collects the various philosophical and practical reasons the Commonwealth government should repeal section 18C. The principles that are relied on in that report are also used in this research report.

Of course, the IPA’s defence of free speech extends beyond section 18C: to name just a few, IPA research has informed public debate on the Gillard Labor government’s proposed 2012 changes to federal anti-discrimination laws, the 2012 Finkelstein Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation, the powers of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, internet filter proposals, bans on gambling, fast food and billboard advertising, obscenity laws, blasphemy laws, restrictions on union political donations and participation, cyberbullying controls on social media and internet trolls, internet data retention regimes, and even laws against offensive plant names.

Ensuring religious liberty would not, as some Coalition government ministers have claimed in the context of the same sex marriage debate, open the door to Sharia law. Under Sharia law, clerics make the law and impose a religious orthodoxy across society. In a liberal democracy like Australia, church and state are separate, and parliament makes the law. Under such a system, a multiplicity of faiths – or no faith at all – are permitted to exist.

However, the litany of laws that restrict speech, association, and liberty of contract – predominantly in anti-discrimination legislation – impose a burden on religious freedoms and diminishes our liberal democracy.

This paper aims to explain the fundamental principles underlying the concept of religious liberty, and to explain how the current methods and other proposals to protect this liberty are deficient or fail to achieve their goals.

To download the report click here

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