By Josh Low
With nearly 5 million Australians voting against changing the Marriage Act late last year, the topic of religious freedom continues to be central in the discussion surrounding same sex marriage.
A panel tasked with reviewing protections for religious freedom laws are still taking submissions until 14 February.
Chaired by former Federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, the panel also includes President of the Human Rights Commission, Rosalind Croucher, retired judge Annabelle Bennett, and Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan.
Australian Family Association President Paul Monagle, said many Australian voters who voted ‘YES’ in the marriage postal ballot did so in the belief that religious freedoms would be protected.
“Regrettably, when the parliament debated the Bill to amend the Marriage Act, even the most basic religious protection amendments were defeated.
“They included religious and conscientious protections for celebrants, freedom of expression and recognition of legitimate beliefs, protections for charities, non-discrimination in government funding, protection of religious bodies and schools and the rights of parents to withdraw children from certain classes,” Mr Monagle said.
“Making a submission to the review could be the last chance to have freedom of religion and conscience protected in the law.”
The Catholic Church has emphasised the importance of protecting religious freedom, outlined in several documents throughout history, including the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae (Dignity of the Human Person) and encyclicals Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) and Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher).
Pope St John XXIII writes in Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra that an excessive concern for the rights of any particular individuals or groups ‘might well result in the principal advantages of the State being in effect monopolised by these citizens.’
“For this principle must always be retained: that however extensive and far-reaching the influence of the State on the economy may be, it must never be exerted to the extent of depriving the individual citizen of his freedom of action,” he wrote.
“It must rather augment his freedom, while effectively guaranteeing the protection of everyone’s essential, personal rights.
Religious freedom, which men demand as necessary to fulfil their duty to worship God, Pope Paul VI describes in Dignitatis Humanae, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.
“Religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honour the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles,” he writes.
“Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word.
“…It comes within the meaning of religious freedom that religious communities should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organisation of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity.
“For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself.
Paul VI encouraged the faithful to walk in the wisdom, unaffected love and truth found in the Holy Spirit to be courageous witnesses in the modern world, especially to what is found to be ‘incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel’.
“At the same time, the charity of Christ urges [man] to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith,” he wrote.
“The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it…
“…let them be about their task of spreading the light of life with all confidence and apostolic courage, even to the shedding of their blood.”
If you wish to make a submission to the review on protecting religious freedom, you can do so online at:
Alternatively, you can make a submission to:
The Expert Panel on Religious Freedom
C/O Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
PO Box 6500
Canberra ACT 2600