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WE CANNOT LET THE AGGRESSIVE SECULARISTS DRIVE OUT RELIGION

By | Feature Articles

The Machiavellian leaking of “fake news” out of the Ruddock review of religious freedom during the Wentworth by-election and the emotionally charged reaction raises yet again the issue of how 25 million people are going to live together with their deepest ideological and religious beliefs in the vastly different Australia we now live in.  In short, the question is how we are now going to respect diversity and still promote liberty while maintaining the harmony that has been so much the hallmark of our national life.  We must face up to the urgency of the problem: we are atomising and fracturing in the context of the rise of powerful ferment over beliefs and ideologies across the globe.

Far from this being “the end of history” or an age of secularism, we are witnessing a global resurgence of religion and ideology.  We are also living through a clash of Western traditions within our own civilisation, between liberal traditionalism and cultural Marxism, both of which emerged out of the Enlightenment.  Add to this the emergence of social media, which was supposed to create a virtual global public square, but in the process has also created virtual global tribes, and we a have vast new machinery for transforming civil disagreement into civil hate.  These forces are potentially so destabilising that they may threaten our governability.

If we beneficiaries of liberal democracy and human rights better understood our history we wouldn’t be so reserved about affirming religious freedom.  History teaches that the long arc of Christian influence on society has proven to be hugely beneficial.  No doubt it is easy to find serious moral blemishes in Christian history, but it was also out of Christianity’s capacity for reform that the solutions evolved.  Perez Zagorin in his classic book How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West shows that religious freedom, the beginning of liberalism, largely emerged from Christian tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The great myth is that all of our most cherished values came out of some secular Enlightenment.  On the contrary, notions of human dignity and equality arose in the Judeo-Christian tradition hundreds of years before the Enlightenment; and, in any case, for the most part the Enlightenment was not secular.  The great Enlightenment document affirming human rights, equality, and liberty, Thomas Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence, based these ideals on the notion that “all men are created equal” and are “endowed by their Creator” with these rights.  To this day secularists have not found a better foundation.

The anti-slavery movement, perhaps the greatest human rights achievement of all time, drank deeply at the well of Christianity, with the strong religiosity of African-Americans to this day testifying to a collective awareness of Christianity’s emancipatory potential.  The early feminist movement was also made up of many individual Christian women, including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which was the major agent behind women getting the vote in South Australia in 1894.  Evangelicals were at the front of 19th-century movements to improve the conditions in factories: Catholic social thought influenced Justice Henry Higgins in the Harvester judgment of 1907, which introduced a minimum “living” wage in Australia.

None of this is even to mention the huge social utility of religion in Australia today, particularly in the founding of charities and levels of charitable giving, as outlined in Greg Sheridan’s brilliant God is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times.  Society benefits from religion, even if not all individuals know it, and thus it is at our collective loss if we hinder religion’s efforts to maintain strong institutions and have a public influence.  But strong religious institutions are made up of strongly religious individuals, that is, individuals who honour the principles of the institution in thought and deed.

For this reason as long as we recognise the importance of allowing religious institutions, churches, schools, charities, to exist we must allow them to discriminate in their membership, lest our commitment to freedom of religion and association is just an empty gong.  It cannot be doubted that individuals can be hurt by the exercise of the rights of religion and conscience, just as people can be hurt by other rights such as freedom of speech, association, we all exercise the right to exclude individuals from our circle of friends, and even free trade.  The best way to address this is within the paradigm of liberal freedoms themselves.

In a liberal democracy, if a clash of interests can be resolved without limiting anybody’s freedoms then it should be the preferred way.  In the case of religious schools in a highly developed country like Australia, most people have the option of more than just one school to work or study in.  Furthermore, as the Ruddock review recommends, schools can develop strategies for making their doctrinal and moral expectations clear from the beginning in a sensitive way, seeking to avoid any unnecessary hurt.  Interestingly, this reflects the diversity of political parties in our system as a vital part of the machinery of our freedom.

Politicians argue that voters should have choice, and we as voters embrace choice every time we decide whom to vote for.  The rhetoric of an often aggressive secularism which seeks to drive religion out of the public square fails to grasp that secularism is merely one voice in the pluralist crowd.  Contemporary secularists need to accept that while Australia is not as religious as it was a generation ago, it is not the secularist nation they would like.  If secularists rejoice that the 2016 census reported that 30 per cent of Australians register “no religion” they must also acknowledge that around 50 per cent of Australians identified as Christian, with continued immigration coming from countries that are less secular than Australia.

Thus, calls for the withdrawal of public funding for religious schools that discriminate are seriously flawed.  Such calls covertly define the Australian “public” as secular, as though the religious parents who send their children to religious schools aren’t themselves members of the same public that contributes the funds from which Australian schools are supported.  Once we acknowledge that the Australian public remains to a significant degree a religious public, as the 2016 census indicated, then religious schools have as much right to public funding as non-religious schools.

Sir Robert Menzies said that “democracy is more than a machine; it is a spirit. It is based upon the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine.”  For Menzies, democracy could work only if we remember that “with all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men stand equal in the sight of God”.  In the ridiculing and mocking of the Christian God and his expulsion from the public square, we have also lost the compelling narrative that Menzies so plainly understood for respecting one another that arises from the Christian insistence on loving your neighbour as yourself, even when that neighbour is your enemy.

In the all-too-common circumstances when we find we profoundly and genuinely disagree, we now resort to such levels of hate speech that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are faced with a civic crisis.  The aggressive secularists who insist on burning down what remains of our cultural house have proved totally unable to point the way to a better dwelling.  The 20th century showed us just how hideous secular utopianism can be.  Modern Australia could surely use an infusion of some things traditionally Christian, for example Christianity’s emphasis on humility.

When you replace humility with a culture of narcissism and self-righteousness, those with whom we disagree become wicked in our minds.  But as Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”  We are also seeing how superficial progressives’ commitment to multiculturalism actually is, for the cultural integrity of religious schools, Christian or otherwise, seems to have no moral force when it comes to the diversity movement.

In fact, the demands of diversity are a new form of assimilation.  Dare to disagree on cultural grounds with the reigning orthodoxy on gender politics and you’ll immediately find yourself branded a lesser Australian.  Much as I dislike the racial and sexual discrimination architecture in this country, it appears that an overarching religious discrimination act may be the only way to secure as a positive right an acceptable degree of religious freedom in contemporary Australia.  It would need to be very carefully thought through and drafted in order to properly enshrine religious freedom, associational rights, and freedom of conscience as human rights.

Ironically, this is necessary to bring us into line with the very international obligations so beloved of today’s social activists.  We are fortunate that in Australia there is indication of a decent majority that values freedom of conscience and religious liberty.  The submissions in favour of religious liberty and freedom of conscience to the Ruddock review into religious freedom were overwhelming and, according to polls conducted during the 2017 same-sex marriage debate, a very large majority of Australians are in favour of the protection of religious liberty.

I don’t hear anyone arguing for an extension of religious liberty; rather, it has become patently obvious that effective measures are now needed to simply preserve the freedoms we’ve taken for granted and exercised for so long in laissez-faire Australia.  That is because our society is now plainly infused with activists who are determined to use every tool available to enforce their views on others, no matter the cost.  And as a result, our cherished social harmony really is now at risk.

Source: John Anderson, former deputy prime minister of Australia and leader of the National Party from 1999 to 2005.

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ACT GOES ROGUE ON RELIGION

By | Australian Newsletter

The ACT has proved yet again that Canberrans are living in a world of their own.  They have gone ahead and passed a bill aimed at eliminating the legal exemptions to the anti-discrimination laws pertaining to freedom of religion at schools and other religious institutions.  The exemptions have been branded by the Barr government as “loopholes” although they were deliberately included in the original legislation to give religious institutions freedom to run the institutions on religious principles.  The ACT has gone its own way, despite the federal government having yet to respond to the Ruddock review, pre-empting any changes the commonwealth may make.

It has always been the aim of the Greens and the Labor left to get rid of the exemptions to anti-discrimination law.  The last thing Mark Dreyfus did as attorney-general was to eliminate the exemptions in religious aged care.  The timely leaking of parts of the Ruddock review and the outrage that accompanied the leak were deliberately engineered and have given the green-Left the impetus it was seeking to eliminate the exemptions.  In Canberra, where 40%  of children are in independent schools, it will restrict the freedom of parents in the choice of school, under the mantle of eliminating “discrimination” and encouraging “diversity”.

It limits parents’ right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief, all of which are part of the international covenants to which Australia is a signatory.  This was blatantly admitted in an accompanying speech by Shane Rattenbury, who sponsored the bill: “The amendments will engage and limit the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.  They potentially limit the right of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of a child in conformity with their convictions.  However, in the context of the  Discrimination Act as a whole, these limitations are reasonable and proportionate in accordance with s28 of the Human Rights Act.”

This is Rattenbury’s interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Remember what happened to Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous, who was taken to a human rights board for disseminating Catholic doctrine on marriage.  The archbishop was a victim of the human rights apparatus that has redefined and limited our rights by overriding fundamental human rights in favour of the rights of special interest groups.  All rights are important, religion, speech and right of minorities not to suffer discrimination, but the legal structure is skewed in favour of rights that appeal to identified groups, not the broader community.

We have given priority to a handful of rights while ignoring the impact on rights that are just as important.  Hence, the fundamental right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their moral and religious views is potentially compromised by the palaver about “balance” in the ACT legislation.  Freedom of religion is one of our foundation constitutional principles. Despite talk of the “private” practice of religion and those whingers of the freedom-from­religion camp, the manifest practice of religion cannot be separated from freedom to “private” practice of religion.  One must accept religion is not something separate from daily life.

Belief must be manifest in thought, conscience, which guides morality, and speech. Silencing religion in the public square is not just about silencing bishops; it is about silencing all of us.  Governments have begun to interfere in individual conscience in ways acceptable only in the worst totalitarian regimes.  Victoria has overridden the right to freedom of conscience by requiring doctors to refer patients for abortion.  Religious bodies should not be subject to legislation that affects their foundation principles but, then, religious bodies should not have to rely on exemptions.

Activists have been allowed to shape the debate by accepting that manifestations of religious freedom are, at law, mere incidents of discrimination permissible only because of legal exemptions.  Once they fell into that error, a bad outcome for religious freedom was assured.  The starting point for the debate must be that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, the position in international law.  If this right is given only lukewarm recognition, the inroads on religious freedom will get only worse.  Using them in anti-discrimination laws to refer to the importance of religion is much weaker than a stand-alone act that asserts that everyone has the right to private and public manifestations of religious belief.

This would change the debate as practice of religion would no longer be an exemption from discrimination laws but a manifestation of a right accepted by federal law.  Schools would no longer be allowed to “discriminate” but would be allowed to exercise a right to religious freedom.  The leaking of the Ruddock review was part of a campaign to scare the government ahead of the report’s full release.  There seems little appetite to declare freedom of religion as a full right.  However, those who fear such a law as the harbinger of a bill of rights should think again.  There is a greater fear we will have a half-hearted response to the issue and lose a vital part of our freedom.

Source: Angela Shanahan – Columnist with The Australian

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PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH WARNS MORRISON ON GENDER LAWS

By | Australian Newsletter

The head of the Presbyterian Church in Australia has warned Scott Morrison that the ability of religious schools to insist on separate uniforms, sporting teams and toilets for boys and girls will be open to legal challenge under a government plan to outlaw discrimination against gay students.  John Wilson, the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church, has released an extract of a letter sent to the Prime Minister.  It reveals widespread concern among religious schools teaching 300,000 students about the unintended consequences of legislation aimed at better protecting gay students from discrimination.

The Coalition and Labor are trying to repeal an exemption in the Sex Discrimination Act that allows religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”.  The exemption is rarely used for this purpose but is one of the only legal protections in federal law for faith-based educators.  Anglican schools have also sounded the alarm on a separate push by Labor and Greens MPs to protect gay teachers from discrimination, warning they could lose the right to hire staff who support their ethos.

The letter from Mr Wilson goes a step further.  It argues that schools should retain the exemption allowing them to discriminate against students, not on the basis of sexual orientation but on the basis of “gender identity”.  In his letter Mr Wilson says the removal of the exemption to section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act could expose schools to an allegation of “direct discrimination” simply for upholding gender as being determined by biology or promoting to students a biblical view of sexuality.  “Prime Minister, you will know that gender distinction, and the binary nature of gender, is a foundational precept of the teaching of Christian faith,” Mr Wilson says.

“Currently, an exemption exists for our Christian and church-connected schools to keep distinctions such as: insisting on distinct uniforms for boys and girls, providing separate male and female toilets for comfort and privacy, building separate accommodation quarters (for boarding schools) and having distinct boys and girls sporting teams.  “The removal of the exemption clause in the act will make it possible for a claim of ‘direct -discrimination’ against such schools.  Why is it that the government wants to undermine the integrity of our much-loved and valued schools where currently more than 300,000 students across the nation are flourishing?”

Mr Wilson also flagged the issue to the 650 Presbyterian pastors around the country so they could inform their congregations of the problem.  In the blog, he said it was “harmful to children to encourage them to think of changing gender” and said society was “being fed a lie that the male-female gender distinction is not a biological reality but a social construct”.  The letter from Mr Wilson will increase pressure on the government to ensure it strikes the right balance in its response to the Ruddock review into religious freedom, which was leaked in the lead-up to the by-election in Wentworth, home to one of the largest LGBTI communities in the country.

Some religious schools want their protections framed in a different way rather than in the form of exemptions to existing laws that grant them the right to “discriminate” against key groups in some circumstances.  Mark Spencer, the executive officer with responsibility for national policy at Christian Schools Australia, which represents about 140 schools teaching 60,000 students, warned that religious educators could lose their ability to resist the introduction of radical gender theory in schools.  “Our fear is that if section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act is removed, we may not even have the right to teach a biblical view of sexuality and sexual conduct,” he said.

“We don’t know where this will end and whether this will be really forcing us to have to teach a view of sexuality and sexual conduct that is inconsistent with our faith and beliefs”.  One of the possible solutions is to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act, a recommendation of the religious freedom review that Attorney-General Christian Porter will take to cabinet for approval.  The removal of exemptions allowing faith-based educators to discriminate on the basis of “gender identity” could also have broader ramifications if applied to teachers as well as students.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has noted that employees “should be able to use toilets, change rooms and other facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender”.  “Allowing transgender employees to use toilets and facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender should not affect others in the workplace, and not allowing them to do so may be unlawful,” it found.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports.

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FRANKLIN GRAHAM ANNOUNCES 2019 TOUR OF AUSTRALIA

By | Australian Newsletter

In 1959, Billy Graham launched a tour of evangelistic events across Australia that had a significant spiritual impact on tens of thousands of people.  Next year on the 60th anniversary of Graham’s historic 1959 visit, his son Franklin Graham will bring an all-new Graham Tour to six Australian cities.  The Graham Tour comes at a time when fear and uncertainty are plaguing communities across Australia, America and around the world.  Franklin Graham believes, as his father did, that what the world needs is spiritual change. “We will share the same life-changing message of hope my father preached in Australia 60 years ago,” said Franklin Graham.

Graham is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which both have offices in Australia. “I first went to Australia in 1975 with my good friend Bob Pierce, who founded Samaritan’s Purse.  Since then I’ve had the opportunity to preach in many locations across this incredibly beautiful nation.  I’m looking forward to returning next year to share with the people of Australia that God loves them.”  The Graham Tour will be free of charge, and everyone is welcome.

Along with a message from Franklin Graham, these positive, family-friendly events will feature performances by popular Grammy-nominated music artist Crowder.

DATES AND LOCATIONS FOR THE 2019 GRAHAM TOUR

  • Perth: Feb. 9
  • Darwin: Feb.13
  • Melbourne: Feb. 16
  • Brisbane: Feb. 18
  • Adelaide: Feb. 20
  • Sydney: Feb. 23 – 24

For more information about the 2019 Graham Tour of Australia, visit www.grahamtour.com.au

Franklin Graham’s first evangelistic event was in 1989, and since then he has held 183 evangelistic festivals in 48 countries. In addition to serving as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Franklin also leads the international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which helps meet the needs of refugees, victims of war and natural disasters, the sick, the poor, and the suffering in more than 100 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.

Source: Billy Graham Evangelistic Organisation

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PRIME MINISTER ISSUES FORMAL APOLOGY TO ABUSE SURVIVORS

By | Australian Newsletter

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has delivered a formal apology to the country’s victims of child sex abuse, saying the nation must acknowledge their long, painful journey and “say sorry”.  Scott Morrison’s emotional speech delivered in the Australian parliament before hundreds of survivors followed the conclusions of a royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, the nations’ highest level of inquiry.  “Today as a nation we confront our failure to listen, to believe, and to provide justice,” he said, adding: “We say sorry.”

The four-year inquest revealed shocking evidence from more than 17,000 survivors and heard allegations against government, church and private institutions, as well as prominent individuals.  It also heard evidence from leaders such as Vatican Cardinal George Pell, who is charged with committing historical sex abuses himself and was accused of failing to protect children.  Mr Morrison said it was time for Australia to confront key questions.  “Why weren’t the children of our nation loved, nurtured and protected?  Why was their trust betrayed?” he said.

“Why did those who know cover it up?  Why was our system of justice blind to injustice?  Why has it taken so long to act?  Why were other things more important than this, the care of innocent children?”  Mr Morrison said nothing could be done to right the wrongs inflicted on children.  “Even after a comprehensive royal commission, which finally enabled the voices to be heard and the silence to be broken, we will all continue to struggle,” he said.  “So today, we gather in this chamber in humility, not just as representatives of the people of this country, but as fathers, as mothers, as siblings, friends, workmates and, in some cases, indeed, as victims and survivors.”

Gathered MPs stood for a minute’s silence following the apology, which came with the announcement of government plans to create a museum and research centre to raise awareness and understanding of the impacts of child sexual abuse, and to ensure the nation does not forget the horrors victims have suffered.  The research centre will also assist those seeking help and guide best practice for training and other services.  The government will also commit to reporting every year for the next five years on the progress of the royal commission’s recommendations.

It has already accepted 104 of the commission’s 122 recommendations, including a redress payments programme, with the other 18 still under examination.  The government has also established a new office of child safety, to report to the prime minister.  Opposition leader Bill Shorten joined the apology, saying Australia had failed tens of thousands of children, across generations.  “Our nation let you down.  Today, we offer you our nation’s apology, with humility, with honesty, with hope for healing now, and with a fire in our belly to ensure that our children will grow up safe in the future,” Mr Shorten said.

While many survivors and campaigners went to Canberra to hear the apology, many are still calling for far more work to be done to address the history of abuse.  Care Leavers Australia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy called on the government to remove a charity tax exemption from institutions that are still deciding whether to opt in to the national redress scheme for victims.  She says she has never healed from being abused.  “You can learn to live with it, but it never goes away.  It will be with me and all care leavers until the day that they put the lid on the coffin,” Ms Sheedy said.

Hetty Johnson, founder of the Bravehearts support group for victims, said survivors had made it clear they wanted all the royal commission’s recommendations fully implemented.  “There is a lot of anger in the community,” she told Sky News.  “They’ve made it very clear they want these recommendations implemented as they were intended and it’s yet to see whether the government will actually do that.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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TASMANIA ON THE VERGE OF REMOVING GENDER FROM BIRTH CERTIFICATES

By | Australian Newsletter

Tasmania is set to become the first state to remove the sex of a child from birth certificates, in a major win for transgender people that has been attacked by critics as “abolishing gender”.  A vote is expected in Tasmania’s lower house next month, as amendments to a bill ending the need for trans people to divorce before they can change their gender on official documents.  While the bill’s central aim has tripartite support, the Liberal government, Christian groups and feminists fear it has been “hijacked” by the transgender lobby via a series of Labor and Greens amendments.

The Hodgman government relies on the casting vote of Liberal Speaker Sue Hickey, who was elected to the position with Greens and Labor support and votes as an independent.  Labor and the Greens both plan amendments to remove gender from birth certificates, while also backing changes to remove the need for trans people to have sex change surgery before switching gender on official documents.  Ms Hickey said as a matter of policy she did not declare her voting intentions until debate concluded.  She said she was broadly supportive of measures to end discrimination against trans people.  “I’ll be listening to every word possible,’’ Ms Hickey said.

“I do think the world is changing and we need to be open to considering things that might discriminate or harm somebody.  I’m very open.”  Transgender activist Martine Delaney said removing gender from birth certificates would be a significant win that would harm no one.  “It would be the first in this country, although not the first in the world, and an excellent statement by Tasmania to say, ‘We have the need to do this and we will not wait for other states to lead’,” Ms Delaney said.  “It is not doing away with gender.  That information would still be recorded by the registrar and medical records in the hospital.  It just simply wouldn’t be displayed on the birth certificate.”

She said removing sex from birth certificates would negate the need for transgender people to “out themselves” every time they applied for work or sought to prove their identity.  The Australian Christian Lobby said the reforms essentially abolished gender, further “homogenised humanity” and “greatly diminished” the significance of birth certificates.  ACL state director Mark Brown said the changes threatened to destroy the sanctity of women’s “safe places”, from refuges to sports teams.  “If you are legally a transgender woman, even if you have a penis you can go wherever you want in terms of women’s safe spaces,” he said.

This concern is shared by feminist group Women Speak Tasmania.  “If you have birth certificates issued with no sex marker on them, how then are female only services and spaces, like girls’ schools, or the girl guides, women’s domestic violence shelters, able to maintain the female only integrity of their service?”  spokeswoman Bronwyn Williams said. “It puts female-only organisations and services at risk of breaching anti-discrimination law if they say ‘No, you can’t become a member’.”  Greens leader Cassy O’Connor, whose child, born as a girl called Mara Lees, is now a 20-year-old man, Jasper, said the changes would end discrimination and make a real difference to lives.

“The flow-on effects of being able to have your birth certificate either gender neutral or changed to your correct gender are profoundly life-changing,” Ms O’Connor said.  “At the moment in Tasmania, if Jasper wants to have his birth certificate changed, he will need to have a hysterectomy, and that is cruel and unnecessary.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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RADICAL ABORTION BILL PASSES QUEENSLAND PARLIAMENT

By | Australian Newsletter

The Queensland parliament, for all the wrong reasons, has voted 50 to 41 in favour of ending the lives of unborn children.  The Australian Christian Lobby’s state director Wendy Francis in a statement said; “We would like to thank all 41 members of parliament who voted against Labor’s radical abortion bill.  They stood for life and the inherent humanity of babies who have yet to be born.”  “The work done by pro-life organisations, volunteers and supporters have also been strong indicators of community opposition.”  “This bill only serves to legalise the vulnerability of already vulnerable women” Mrs Francis said.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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