RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MATTERS

Tonight my adjournment speech is about the very important issue of religious freedom.  It is a very important issue for the Christian Democratic Party but it is also important for the majority of people in Australia.  We have just had two major elections, one in New South Wales that saw the return of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the most recent election that saw the election of the Federal Government under our Christian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison.  Many issues motivate the public in casting their vote for this or that party or person but there is one issue that I think impacted both elections and will likely remain a pressing concern for many people.

I am referring to religious freedom or, rather, how that freedom has no guarantees in law or statute.  As members know, the Ruddock review was very clear in its recommendations, one of which stated that legislation should be passed to protect the rights and liberties of people of faith.  I recall the Government indicated to me that it would not be taking any action until the review published its findings and the recommendations were known to all.  We now have the recommendations but so far no action has been taken, although I have given notice of a bill dealing with religious freedom that I hope will be debated in the next few weeks.

This issue has resulted in many people of conscience having their lives turned upside down and their careers ruined.  This has happened not because of what they did or said having a really harmful impact on anyone but because a small minority in this country are very negative in their attitude to people of faith.  They feign offence so as to attack and vilify.  This illustrates an abuse of existing laws that seek to limit discrimination and vilification in society.  These laws, which we support, are now being abused.  We now have a system that facilitates and enables the discrimination of people of faith, when they have done nothing other than preach to their own congregations.

Members would be aware of the recent case of Israel Folau.  Israel is a great sportsman but when he is not on the field he is a preacher in his community church.  By exercising his right to speak on a social media website by quoting the Bible he became the focus of a relentless campaign of hate that finally led to the end of his professional career.  This is not an issue that only religious people should be concerned about.  The new puritans who are sniffing out witches to burn at the stake of public opinion are not motivated by any desire for a better society.

Once people of faith are dispatched, it is likely they will come up with another group or view that they find offensive.  By “offensive”, I mean something they simply disagree with and want to shut down debate on.  In the Hon. Mark Latham’s inaugural speech, which I  congratulated him on, he made it clear that even someone who is agnostic should be concerned about the choking effect of political correctness.  Nobody is perfect but if we cannot talk and exchange frank views, even on religious topics, then we destroy the very thing that has made our civilisation dynamic.  I am of course referring to freedom of thought and the ability to express it in the public square.

Ironically, while those who disagree with me about this may preach tolerance, it is they who should display a little more tolerance themselves.  Recently I spoke to a professor at the University of Notre Dame here in Sydney.  He made very clear to me his concerns about the effect that an absence of law guaranteeing religious freedom may have on his ability to teach at the university.  Universities should be places where ideas can be most freely discussed and debated.  This freedom becomes especially valuable to people who work and teach at universities, at Christian colleges and at Christian schools that have a religious charter or objectives.

I feel it is almost ridiculous to have to say this, it seems too obvious, but if we do not pass some form of legislative protection for religious liberty then I fear that what many take for granted now will come under increasing threat.  Christians have suffered persecution for centuries.  Even today Christians are the most repressed, persecuted religious group in the world, whether it is in North Africa, the Middle East or parts of Asia.  I commend Almighty God to provide that protection for us.

Source: Parliamentary Speech by Rev Fred Nile in NSW Parliament

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