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Thursday, 3 June 2021



The remains of 215 children, some as young as three years old, have been found buried on the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School, once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school —that held children forcibly taken from their families across the nation. Canada has acknowledged this historic attempt at genocide.

Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk'emlups te Secwépemc First Nation said the discovery evidenced an "unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented”. More bodies may be found because there were more areas to search on the school grounds. She described the discovery as "an unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented" at the school, the largest such school in the country.

A report more than five years ago by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission detailed harsh mistreatment inflicted on Indigenous children at the institutions. Children were taken from their families, returned damaged or not returned at all.

It said at least 3,200 children had died amid abuse and neglect at such ‘residential schools’ in Canada, and there were reports of at least 51 deaths at the Kamloops school alone between 1915 and 1963. From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools

Indigenous leaders are calling for an examination of every former residential school site — institutions that held children taken from families across the nation. From the 19th century until the 1970s, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend state-funded Christian schools and were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages as part of a program to assimilate them into Canadian society. They also lost touch with their parents and customs. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died. Sexual abuse in the schools was rampant. Indigenous leaders have cited that legacy of abuse and isolation as the root cause of epidemic rates of alcoholism and drug addiction on reservations.

Plans are underway to identify and repatriate the remains of the children found buried on the Kamloops site. Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of Winnipeg and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, expressed "our deepest sorrow for the heartrending loss of the children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School".

The Kamloops school operated between 1890 and 1969, when the Canadian Government took over operations from the Catholic Church and operated it as a day school until it closed in 1978.

The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission has records of at least 51 children dying at the school between 1915 and 1963.

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case seeking to reverse its decision in Roe v Wade. That ruling held that the constitutional right to liberty ensures the right to abortion. “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right but they may not ban abortions,” the court wrote.

The Court has declined earlier attempts to override this ruling. But this time, with its conservative, religion-dominated membership, it has agreed. The case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is due to be heard in the Summer of 2022be heard and decided in 2022.

Meantime Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Missouri, Tennessee, South Dakota and Utah —all have “trigger laws” that would automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if the landmark case Roe v. Wade were overturned.

2021 has become the most hostile year on record for reproductive rights in the US.[1]The new makeup of the Supreme Court has prompted optimistic Republican lawmakers to pass more restrictions, hoping to send test cases to the court. Since January, more than 500 abortion restrictions have been introduced across 46 states. Sixty-one restrictions and eight bans have been enacted across 13 states. In 2011, 42 restrictions and six bans were enacted.

The Guardian states that some recently introduced bills would  charge women and doctors with murder[2]– such rhetoric remains a cornerstone of Republican organizing and fundraising.[3]

About six in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center, a remarkably steady level of support. However, the partisan divide over abortion rights has grown. In recent years, Democrats have grown more likely to believe abortion should remain legal and available.

[1]           The tiny American towns passing anti-abortion rules | Abortion | The Guardian

[2]           Republicans employ new ‘extremely aggressive’ tactics to ban abortion | Abortion | The Guardian

[3]           US anti-abortion groups shift focus to voting restrictions | US voting rights | The Guardian

Sunday, 4 April 2021


‘Secular instruction is instruction respecting the concerns of this life. Secular subjects therefore are all subjects except religion. All the arts and sciences are secular knowledge. To say that secular means irreligious implies that all the arts and sciences are irreligious, and is very like saying that all professions except that of the law are illegal.’[1] 

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) identifies first the right of every child to an education, and second, the right to an education directed toward “the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ‘the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history.’[2] 196 countries have ratified it including Australia.

The Preamble of the CRC recognises that “[T]he child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity..”

Article 29 (1) of the CRC states that education is to include the development of:

“(a) …the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

 “(b) …respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;”

Preparation for:

“(d) …responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin”

However, Article 14.2 of the CRC provides that

States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

This creates an apparent inconsistency between the rights of children and parents, resulting, in particular, in widespread acceptance of parents’ entitlement to frame their child’s religious development exclusively to their liking, and that of their community. The influence of religious instruction and/or counselling in schools erodes students’ opportunity for a secular education.

Religious instruction and counselling, in the form of indoctrination, rather than provision of a general understanding of different religious beliefs and their function in society, is prevalent in government-funded schools throughout the world including Australia.[3] The state, and sometimes parents, have relatively wide discretion when it comes to religious teaching and counsellors in schools.

People, as members of society, are imbued with a particular concept of the world and the meaning of life from early childhood, as determined by their parents, family and community, when they have little capacity or opportunity to evaluate and choose a belief for themselves. While these capacities and opportunities increase with emerging adulthood and many individuals change or revise their beliefs, the lack of opportunity for a broader outlook on life makes religion a very powerful influence which is difficult to shake off. It may not even occur to people to question what they have been told, or they may be coerced, tricked or pressured into adopting or manifesting a world view they have never questioned.[4]

Evidence of this can be found in the widespread tribalism, divisiveness and even violence that is caused by intolerance of social, ethnic and religious diversity that results from lack of recognition of human rights, as seen in France.[5]

Choice in adopting a worldview becomes a particular issue in the education of children. It is the future of the student, not the future of the parents, that is imperilled by denying children a secular education. Rights are freedoms that can be claimed by the rights-holder (in this case the child) against a third party (in this case the parent or state). They are the expression of an obligation, not of the rights-holder, but of others towards the rights-holder. No one is ever obliged to exercise their rights, but someone else is obliged to ensure that if they wish, they can do so.[6]  Thus everyone has the right to freedom of and freedom from religion.[7]

As future citizens of a democratic state based on the principles of human rights, the state has obligations as well as parents:

‘The state can be argued to have a legitimate interest in ensuring that children who will be citizens together learn with and from each other from am early age to develop the skills and habits of living together in a democratic society. A Balkanized system would hardly achieve that.’[8]

However, a child’s right to adopt a belief has been taken to be constrained by parents’ rights to direct their development. The inclusion of religious instruction or counselling in schools, or home schooling by parents can limit the child’s exposure to a full understanding of democracy through acculturation (‘the way we do things around here’) rather than reason (the basis of democratic society).

I maintain that rather than an enforceable ‘right’ to mandate their child’s worldview, parents ‘rights’ to childcare should be seen as a license to ensure education based on fair, equal and tolerant participation in civil and political life, and to protect that child against others’ attempts to deny this.

A basic liberty is necessary, when it is an ‘essential social condition for the adequate development and full exercise of the two powers of moral personality over a complete life’.[9] These two powers are (a) individuals can rationally pursue a coherent set of values and (b) they can cooperate with others on fair terms to pursue these.[10] Consequently, in a society that undertakes to provide for the realisation of the two powers of moral personality, what may otherwise be a ‘liberty’ becomes a ‘right’.

States have ‘positive duties’ to provide facilities necessary for the exercise of these two powers as equal citizens (for example, through provision of secular education, public health and security, and the ability and means for participation in the public political process). Otherwise, the child will be deprived of entry into the world of diversity and human rights and the ability to be ‘masters of their own destiny.’[11]

Sectarian interests have often overcome attempts at government impartiality towards belief. Individuals in Western democracies are still subject to a very prominent influence of one or more religions.

Australia is a secular nation, committed to the CRC. Children have the right to an education that prepares them for living in such a society.

[1]      John Stuart Mill, letter 1849 . See also Denise Cooper-Clarke A Secular education is not an anti-Religious education

[2]     See, e.g. Countries ratifying the CRC.

[4]       E.g., ‘Stereotypes are reinforced by persistent patriarchal attitudes and assumptions that women’s place is in the
      home supported by men. Male superiority prevails, also in industrial societies, and can amount to an ideology’:
      United Nations (2002), ¶92.

[6]     See Williams (1968), 139.

[7]     Ibid. The relationship between human rights and correlative and non-correlative duties is discussed in
     Lazarus et al (2009), esp 26ff. See also Nickel (1993).

[8]     Andrew Copson, Secularism OUP, 2017, p.114

[9]       John Rawls, Political Liberalism  2005, NY Columbia University Press, (expanded Edition), 293.

[10]    Freeman (2007),  Rawls, London and New York, Routledge, 54.

[11]     Ibid, 245-6. Despite this, Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, guarantees Freedom
            of belief, and gives parents the right to provide direction in exercising this right ‘consistent with the
            evolving capacities of the child’
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). 

Friday, 2 October 2020

Secular Morality v Religious Morality


Sir Ivor Lloyd Morgan Richardson, an eminent New Zealand and Commonwealth jurist, legal writer and Privy Council Judge, noted with approval in 1959 that New Zealand law favours religion in general and Christianity in particular ‘respecting the religious interests of the people generally.’ He gave two reasons for this. 

Firstly, ‘our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being, we are basically a religious people’, and the State is ‘simply recognising the religious nature and needs of the New Zealand people’. Second, he said, ‘it is generally accepted that a sound morality among the people is essential to the preservation of individual liberties and the maintenance of democratic institutions.’ [1]

 These words still echo in the constitutional monarchy that is Australia as much as they do in New Zealand. But, I argue, they fail to account for the rise of the UN with its 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was specifically implemented to create a ‘sound morality’ relevant to the wide diversity of peoples and worldviews. This description of morality based on human rights was seen as essential for the maintenance of individual liberties and democracy after the horrors of World War II. 

 Concepts of morality apart from religious dogma and based on human rights, have moved into the space once considered to be the exclusive domain of religion, as described by Sir Ivor above. 

 The UDHR, the foundational document in formulating what was to set the standards for a ‘sound morality’, thus established the ‘public interest’ with parameters that would establish an internationally recognised model of democracy for all peoples, regardless of their ethnicity, or worldview. 

The UN 

  Australia and New Zealand have also signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 8 states that: 

 Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. 

The term ‘thought, conscience and religion’ refers to any worldview (perception of the meaning and purpose of life and a set of rules to govern it): 

 ‘It is, in its religious dimension, one of the most vital elements that go to make up the identity of believers and their conception of life, but it is also a precious asset for atheists, agnostics, sceptics and the unconcerned. The pluralism indissociable from a democratic society, which has been dearly won over the centuries, depends on it, be it ‘atheist, religious or unconcerned’ [2]

 Conventions, Declarations and Bills of Rights around the world contain similar language. Importantly, there is a caveat to Article 18. In line with Article 18.2, the right to an independent worldview is:

 …limited in the public interest; that is, for example, limitations that are ‘prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. 

 Seeking Privilege 

However, religious groups in Australia have ignored the UN documents to which Australia is a party and have ignored the Ruddock Committee’s finding that there is no substantial restriction of religion in Australia. They expect government to rise to their expectations, using the mantra ‘religious freedom’ to claim special privileges for their beliefs and practices. For example, ‘[W]e must concern ourselves with that which concerns God when it comes to the business of government’, says Martyn Iles, Managing Director, Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) on their Facebook page. 

Although Australia is a signatory to the UN documents, there are very 
few cases of a secular citizen succeeding in opposing religious privilege awarded by government despite the alleged equal rights to practise both religious and non-religious beliefs. 

This is not surprising, as the principle of separation of religious values and secular government values is hard to untangle in constitutional monarchies like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. This entanglement is entrenched through the framing of the idea of ‘religious freedom’. 

 How is religious freedom ‘framed’? 

Religious freedom is ‘framed’ in the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill by misleadingly defining ‘religious belief’ as including non-religious belief. This obscurity is bad legislative drafting. Defining something as including its opposite is misleading and deceptive. 

 George Lakoff points to this tactic of ‘framing’ in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant.[3] The framers reference one thing (religion) while claiming they are really talking about something else (belief in general), to promote their cause. 

 Despite the constant use of the word ‘religious belief’, the framers say, ‘we’re not only speaking of religion, because “religious belief” means its opposite too’, and they confusingly use the notion of religion in senses they define. This is sophistry. 

 Further, in promoting this form of ‘religious freedom,’ protagonists disguise their religious motivations. An example of this tactic are current expensive campaigns by religious groups to defeat the passage of dying-with-dignity legislation in Tasmania and New Zealand. They fail to disclose their religious motivation and/or connections, and when asked why, say they’re talking about law and social welfare, implying that religion is not the basis of their cause. 

 Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, when encouraging people to campaign against voluntary assisted dying (VAD) said of disclosing their Catholic background, “we do not have to hide our religious petticoats altogether.” However, while religious groups press their doctrinal interests on government, their religious connections and arguments are often well hidden. Indeed, a religiously inspired anti-VAD campaigning pamphlet expressly advises their followers that when writing to their MPs, “DO NOT use religious arguments”. [4]

 Another example is the strident statement seen as being against the public interest, is that by champion Rugby Australia player, Israel Folau. He said that gays, adulterers, and fornicators would go to hell. This goes to the question of free speech. Folau’s words were on the borderline of restrictions against free speech which advocate hatred and violence. In Folau’s view, LGBTQI people would burn in hell for eternity. That was nasty but hypothetical and caused outrage and boycotts. Rugby Australia terminated his contract, and the ACL raised hundreds of thousands of dollars towards his case framing it as one of free speech. [5]

 More seriously, a Melbourne doctor, Dr. Kok, posting on social media that those involved in abortion deserve to die and touting misinformation about LGBTIQ people.[6] This resulted in his losing his practising certificate. The ACL vowed to fund an appeal against this decision, arguing free speech. 

This is to ignore the fact that speech is a form of action, with consequences. In her article in Australian Humanist No 129, Humanist of the Year, Fiona Patten MLC, points out the broadening of exemptions proposed in the Federal Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, and potential to increase, rather than prevent, religious discrimination. Similar, but even more discriminatory legislation is currently before NSW Parliament. 

 The Bills allow legal protection to individuals denigrating other, especially women, for their relationship or marital status, for their reproductive choices and for their sexual agency, and healthcare practitioners to shame and condemn women for requesting contraception or abortion services. Statements claiming disability as a punishment for sin can also constitute protected statements of belief.


Our freedoms should be used responsibly, and at times should be legitimately restricted in the public interest. In statements of rights, the ‘public interest’ is expressed in general terms, (e.g., public order, safety, health, or morals). The UDHR, the foundational document in formulating what was to set the standards for a ‘sound morality’ thus established the ‘public interest’, as noted, with parameters that would establish an internationally recognised model of democracy for all peoples, regardless of their ethnicity, or worldview. This means that arguments for policy or law should be genuinely based on the public good as established by human rights, not misrepresentations concealing true motivation. 

 We can conclude that the current push by religious advocates for proposed Religious Discrimination Bills is designed to impose theocratic values on secular law. 

The UDHR and related UN documents needs to be recovered in this debate to set these questions of so-called ‘religious freedom’ in their proper, broader context.

[1]     Sir Ivor Richardson, ‘Religion and the Law’, New Zealand Law Journal April 7, 1959, p.9

2     European Court of Human Rights in Kokkinakis v. Greece, (1993), §31.

3     Lakoff, G. (2004). Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know your values and frame the debate. White River Junction, Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, USA.

4     See, Neil Francis

5     See

6     See Australian Christian Lobby Supports Appeal From Doctor’s Suspension For Statements Of “Violence”’

Thursday, 26 March 2020


Sophistry: a method of argument that is seemingly plausible though actually invalid and misleading.
The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill No.2 2019 is a classic case of sophistry. We are asked to believe that words that are commonly understood to refer to opposites, are now to be understood as meaning the same thing. The sophistry centres around the Bill’s definition of ‘religious belief’.
According to the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, ‘Religious Belief’ includes both holding a religious belief and engaging in religious activity, and not holding a religious belief or not engaging in religious activity.
For the drafters of the Bill, the lawyers in the Attorney-General’s Department, to define not having a religious belief as equivalent to having a religious belief, is to put their legal training aside. It sets the Bill up to be demolished in a court by anyone who cares to question it.
It is both absurd and bizarre for the Bill to claim religious belief and non-religious belief are equivalent where non-religious belief is a denial of anything supernatural. 
Further, while ‘religious belief’ is defined, it is notably subtle that the words ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ on their own, are not defined, yet they are used repeatedly throughout the Bill.
A likely court case will look to precedent in interpretation, where religion in Australia has been defined as a belief in the supernatural and canons of conduct that give effect to that belief.
The Bill’s  definition of ‘Religious Belief’ buys into the central tenet of those religiously committed who assume as a fact that any worldview or philosophical belief must be understood to be religious in some way.
It unquestioningly accepts the central flaw in religious thought that faith requires no justification. ‘God’ is self-evident to the religious, whereas belief for the non-religious is characterised by reasoned argument informed by evidence.
The Bill is (1) about privileging religion: religious groups and individuals expect to be able to discriminate against others, while seeking protection against discrimination themselves (2) about the Pentecostal prime minister and his mainly religious parliamentary colleagues using their political power to impose religion on Australians, whether they like it or not.
On this second point, in 1953 German sociologists turned their minds to analysing the authoritarian ideology of ‘National Socialism’ used to justify what became the disaster of World War II. They concluded the ideology of ‘National Socialism’ was …
 .. a manipulative contrivance, a mere instrument of power which no one, not even those who used it themselves, ever believed or expected to be taken seriously.
The National Press Club’s  Mark Kenny, describedt this notion of authoritarian ‘manipulative contrivance’ at the Debate on the Bill (see p4):
I’m yet to hear any compelling reason … why we’re having this push forward for this law … I’m wondering why the Government is wasting so much time on trying to deliver rights that essentially are there.
Ideally, equal human rights are maximised when people reach an overlapping political consensus through the process of our supposed liberal democracy, based on human rights and the rule of law. This consensus establishes a public morality: values everyone can accept as principles for society as an inclusive whole, regardless of personal beliefs.

Joe Hockey, told Parliament on 21 August, 2002
I do not believe, as do some of my colleagues, that it is the role of government to preach and legislate morality. This is not a church, and I am not standing in a pulpit. As an elected representative of the Australian people, it is not my role to exclusively impose my values on others … we must never indulge ourselves with the power of office and we should not use our position to force the community to accept our personal moral judgments. This parliament is not for moralistic crusades.
Scott Morrison wants to, in Joe Hockey’s words, force the community to accept the authoritarian moral judgment of the Christian far-right. This reveals the true political ideology of Australia, not as a liberal democracy, but as a soft theocracy, where the religious hold disproportionate sway, as expressed through the sophistry of the Religious Discrimination Bill.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019


Members of the Government have told us


Hundreds of homes have been destroyed, people are dead, thousands of hectares of land have been burnt out, destroying huge amounts of flora and fauna. And that’s NSW alone.

In Australia, the CSIRO predicts with very high confidence that:
·                hot days will become more frequent and hotter;
·                sea levels will rise;
·                oceans will become more acidic;
·                snow depths will decline;
·                extreme rainfall events will become more intense, with seasonal-average rainfall changes;
·                In southern mainland Australia, winter and spring rainfall will decrease;
·                the time in drought is predicted to increase over southern Australia;
·                Current stratospheric warming events have influenced the increased springtime temperatures, decreased rainfall, heatwaves and fire risk.
·                Southern and eastern Australia are projected to experience even harsher fire weather.
The Guardian, 19/11/19 reports that on 18th firefighters were battling a firefront of some 6,000km, ‘the equivalent distance of a return Sydney-Perth trip’. Six lives and 530 homes had been lost since NSW bushfire season hit, with more than 420 homes destroyed in a fortnight alone. More than 1,300 firefighters continue work with most of the state’s east coast is under severe or very high fire danger ratings,.Throughout the world, fires, storms, droughts, heatwaves and floods have become more frequent and severe, here. Polar thawing threatens sea land marine life, and the release of climate-toxic methane animals and plant life are threatened by extinction. Overall, science supports the fact of climate warming and its adverse effects, along with the need for urgent action .


Monday, 14 October 2019


It’s already well protected! Marque Lawyers managing partner Michael Bradley called the proposed Religious Freedom Act “an entirely unnecessary law”, arguing that no one has yet established a clear case for its enactment.

The Expert Panel Report Religious Freedom Review (Ruddock Report) to the Prime Minister in May 2018 concludes that religious freedom is well protected now, and any case of suppression of having or practising one’s existential beliefs (religious or otherwise), should be dealt with through current anti-discrimination laws, with appropriate consideration of existing exemptions.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is still considering the question of religious organisations’ exemptions from discrimination law. It won’t report until April 2020, including on matters that involve some of the proposals in these bills. So, what’s the hurry?

As it stands, the Bill establishes as a legal fact that the freedom of institutional religion is more important than the freedom of individual religion, let alone non-religious belief, since the former trumps the latter, as offending the ‘sensibilities’ and ‘ethos’ of religious institutions is a ground for discrimination, no matter what one's beliefs may be.

Apart from confusion (‘religious belief’ includes not having a religious belief), complexity (‘discrimination’ takes 3 pages to define), and potential legal density, overall, the bill creates a two-class society, based on perceived sinfulness. Those considered ‘sinful’ (such as those who are LGBTI+, single mothers, divorcees, women seeking reproductive services those seeking voluntary assisted dying and non-religious aged) are considered unworthy of being treated as equal before the law, for the perception of being sinful is enough to disrespect the rights of others.

Associate Professor Beck of Melbourne University has argued that the bill as presented may breach the Constitution under the foreign affairs power by allowing health practitioners to refuse treatment, by failing to provide for human rights.

Beck, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Law Council of Australia have pointed out that there is no justification for the federal government to override state and territory discrimination laws. This will allow defendants in a discrimination action before a State anti-discrimination tribunal to move the matter to a federal court, with resulting much more expensive and complex court hearings. The Australian Human Rights Commission has stated that “overriding … all other Australian discrimination laws is not warranted, sets a concerning precedent, and is inconsistent with the stated objects of the bill”.

Rather than recognise the indivisibility and universality of human rights, the bill privileges one human right over all others. It will make life excessively complex and uncertain for employers, sporting organisations and basically everyone except religious bodies.

In reviewing the Religious Freedom legislation there is no mention of discrimination against those with no religion. What about the discrimination against them, which occurs because of the privileging of religion by allowing the denial of services, including health care, goods, employment and the allowance of any speech no matter how harmful or offensive?

Then there are such examples as the influence of religion in politics, where prayers begin parliamentary sessions, religious ceremonies are used to start the parliamentary year and sittings of parliament. Religious views are an accepted basis of policy and play a significant part in policy formation, whether this is acknowledged or not.

Government provides taxpayers’ money for religious instruction and religious chaplains in public schools.

Religious bodies, enjoy publicly funded exemptions, simply for being ‘religious’, without further consideration of charitable works, and even their commercial enterprises can be tax-free. They also enjoy freedom from rates and other financial benefits at public expense.

Oh, and there are the government grants that religious bodies obtain, and the generous financial benefits to many religious schools, with reduced accountability (see the Sydney Morning Herald 13/10/2019).

It is not a matter of accepting a law to enshrine religious privilege, but ensuring  equality of belief for all. This, as the Ruddock Report states requires fair-minded revision of exemptions in current anti-discrimination legislation. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


In May 2019 a group of eight Torres Strait Islanders, who are Australian citizens, with legal representation from Client Earth, submitted a claim to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC). They allege that Australia is failing its legal human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islanders because it has failed to take adequate action to reduce emissions or to provide for proper adaptation measures on the islands.

The claim is legally significant for all Pacific islands, as it is the first lodged with the UNHRC by island inhabitants threatened by climate change.
The case was brought under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Australia is a party. Article 6 of the ICCPR requires State parties to respect and to ensure the right to life of everyone.
Implementation of the obligation to respect and ensure the right to life, and in particular life with dignity, depends on measures taken by States parties to preserve the environment and protect it against harm, pollution and climate change caused by public and private actors for all persons over whom the government exercises power or effective control. (UN Human Rights Committee, in General Comment 36 (2018)). This includes:
  • sustainable use of natural resources;
  • development and implementation of substantive environmental standards;
  • environmental impact assessments; and
  • consultation with relevant States about activities likely to have a significant impact on the environment.
International courts have held that a complaint can be lodged by anyone ‘already adversely affected in his or her enjoyment of such a right, or that such an effect is imminent’.
However, the Torres Strait Islanders’ claim is not fully provided for by the current processes for an application to the Committee.
Firstly, the UNHRC requires the claimant to have unsuccessfully petitioned domestic tribunals in Australia. But there are no relevant Australian courts or tribunals for hearing such matters.
Second, it may be difficult to assess the extent of harm specifically caused by Australia’s failure to protect the Islands from environmental degradation. Environmental harm may be caused by different, interdependent and varied factors, and the actions of multiple nations may be involved.
The nature and extent of causation in such cases may have to be revised. Even so, it could be argued that Torres Strait Islanders who have already sustained severe flooding and ocean inundation have been directly affected by Australia’s omission, and are entitled to bring a complaint.
If the Committee accepts the Islands’ contention, the decision could set boundaries and standards for determining the extent of legal obligations and protections by which other states ought to measure their compliance with international requirements to deal with climate change. Although UNHRC findings are unenforceable, they do serve to ‘name and shame’ offenders.

Sunday, 31 March 2019


Chaplains in Australian government, must be religious, although they are officially banned from proselytising or preaching. The religious bodies that appoint them deny any connection with ‘preaching’ or proselytising (see, eg., Canberra Times March 8 lead story). If that is the case:
1.      Why are chaplains required to be religious? Wouldn’t a non-religious person be just as capable of performing the requirements of the job?
The central role of religion has been described as the obligation to evangelise and bear witness. ‘True evangelism’, has been described by the World Council of Churches as belonging to the very being of the church, and ‘an essential mission and a responsibility of every Christian and every Church’.  Pope Francis describes transmission of the faith as ‘the heart of the Church’s mission’. Belief-based associations that perform state responsibilities may well implement the supplementary agenda of proselytising (either officially or otherwise): that is their job. The distinction between religious and non-religious activity of these associations could be difficult to draw, as many religions consider they have a mandate to proselytise, recruit converts and influence government, even when carrying out secular functions. The distinction between religion and social welfare activity becomes irrelevant in countries that have adopted English precedent which provides that the ‘advancement of religion’ per se is to be considered a benefit to society, and therefore eligible for classification of ‘charity’.
2.      If chaplaincy is supposed to be secular in nature, why do the heads of chaplaincy services claim a religious agenda?

v For a start, here is an image from a Scripture Union Queensland T-shirt worn by a chaplain. How is the image of a Christian cross displayed in this way, not a form of not-so-subtle proselytism? The text on the t-shirt reads ‘bringing hope to a young generation’. Scripture Union Queensland’s website says it is a ‘Christian organisation seeking to bring God’s love, hope and good news to children, young people and their families.’It is a reasonable inference that the ‘hope’ they are talking about is their belief in Christian salvation.

The heads of organisations have themselves declared their intention to proselytise. Evonne Paddison, former CEO of Access Ministries, Victoria's largest chaplaincy funding recipient, told a conference of evangelical Anglicans in 2008, "We must go and make disciples ... What really matters is seizing the God-given opportunity we have to reach kids in schools.'' (emphasis original). See here and here.
Latika Bourke, states that ‘Generate Ministries, the largest provider of school chaplains in NSW, has begun offering a "faith building" course to students and told them their chaplain is one way of accessing the program. When contacted about the possible breach, Generate Ministries said it only intended for chaplains funded under a separate NSW wellbeing program to offer the course. However, that program also forbids chaplains from proselytising’ (Sydney Morning Herald),24 September 2018.
Belief-based associations that perform secular state responsibilities consider they have a mandate to proselytise, recruit and influence government, even when carrying out secular functions.[1]
SUQ’s chief executive, Peter James, said it is meeting its obligation under taxation law and defended the fund’s tax deductible status by arguing that chaplaincy is “explicitly religious in nature”. SUQ runs chaplaincy services in the ACT.
Chrys Stevenson provides evidence she says indicates that-Guidelines-wont-stop-school-chaplains-proselytising. She points out that Both chaplains and chaplaincy providers have made it clear – chaplaincy is about making disciples. For example, she quotes a Queensland school chaplain recently writing on his blog, ‘It is my mission to disciple others, including kids and their families in the schools I work in, as well as those around me in church life.Again, quoting Stevenson, chaplain David Hockey in an interview with ABC’s Compass program indicated that you can’t put religious evangelists into schools and expect them not to proselytise.. Hockey said ‘I personally believe, and as a chaplain I believe, that Jesus is the way, truth and life, and that can come through in our conversation. But young people know that I’m the chaplain in the school. They know what they’re going to get. They know that I’m the ‘Goddie’, so they come to me, young people and staff, knowing and I guess expecting me to speak about that.’ This doesn’t address the fact that children are naïve and impreeionable, open to unquestioned influence in their lives.
3.      The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations (Council) which represents parents at the Territory’s public schools, welcomes the move away from religious chaplains in ACT public schools. Why are parents and the community ignored elsewhere?
“Our schools need counsellors, not chaplains,” said Council President Kirsty McGovern-Hooley.
“A national program which employs only religious personnel is a misdirection of funding. It takes resources which could be used for qualified social workers, mental health nurses and counsellors in schools to assist students and families.”
The Council, says that ACT schools must be secular and that the real need is for qualified mental health professionals in our schools.
“Overwhelmingly, our members have told us that school-based mental health workers should not be affiliated with a religious body. Many parents do not think it is appropriate to have personnel identified as religious in our secular government schools.
“Our schools serve diverse communities and appointing a chaplain of one religion is inappropriate and likely to alienate those of other faiths,” she said.
4.      Religion is a matter for churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions. Why is the taxpayer compelled to pay for religious guidance, which is the business of those institutions? Church attendance is falling. Is it fair for parents to leave religious development of their children to the government?

[1] See, e.g., Monsma, Stephen and Soper, Christopher, The Challenge of Pluralism (Plymouth, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. 2nd ed, 2009). 121