The Fight for Religious Freedom

All around the Western world the freedoms which in so many ways arose out of the Judeo-Christian worldview are slowly being challenged or stripped away. Religious freedom is especially coming under attack. Here in Victoria the proposal to remove religious exemptions to our equal opportunity legislation will severely impair our freedom to proclaim the gospel and to undertake services and activities in the name of Christ.

Many are rightly asking if this is part of a broader campaign by the government to de-Christianise the state, and force everyone to embrace its secular, socially progressive agenda. It is certainly possible, given how these various government initiatives are often done with so little public fanfare.

Indeed, as I recently told one reporter, I would suspect that perhaps 95 per cent of Victorians do not even know this review of the legislation is underway. If more people knew, I think there would be far greater outcry. But the government seems intent on sneaking this and other radical changes through under the radar.

I have written up the many risks associated with these changes elsewhere on this site. Here I wish to draw your attention to the just released Pastoral Letter on this topic put out by the Catholic Bishops of Victoria. It rightly points out the many shortcomings of these proposed changes, and argues that the exemptions be left intact.

It notes how the government’s attempt to isolate “core” religious activities from non-core activities is completely unacceptable: “The distinction made in the Options Paper between the core ‘internal’ aspects of freedom of religion such as the right to adopt a religion and the freedom to participate in religious observance and practice and the undertaking of ‘business’ activities such as in education, health, welfare, etc. away from the ‘core’ activities, is false and is therefore rejected.

“The theological basis of service by Catholic agencies is to witness to the founding inspiration expressed in Christ’s injunction to love your neighbour and in imitation of the healing ministry of Christ. That inspiration is for Catholics to provide genuine service to the community, but most particularly those who are in need.

“The delivery of services in education, health, aged cared and welfare by religious agencies in Victoria has been and remains particularly important for migrants. Church agencies provide a context of shared belief and culture where new arrivals could find a familiar source of welcome. That welcome also extends beyond shared belief and culture. Often the Church agencies were almost the only agencies available. They were certainly a safety net for those who did not receive Government assistance.”

Given how many religious-based social service activities take place in Victoria, and Australia, it would be foolish in the extreme to effectively force the churches out of such activities. This is how the Bishops express this concern:

“We express particular concern that the proposals in the Options Paper to remove protection from religious bodies would, in effect, force the secularisation of service delivery by religious agencies. The likely effect of these proposals would be profound because it would go to the heart of the religious motivation that leads people to be involved in ownership, governance and employment, as well as through volunteerism. Experience of the secularisation of service delivery here and overseas indicates that the result of forced secularisation is that some religious agencies withdraw from that work because it removes part of its vocational meaning for them. Secularisation also results in a loss of volunteerism. If people can no longer identify with the religious meaning of the activity, then they are likely to withdraw.”

The Bishops also highlight how these changes will negatively impact on educational services provided by the Church: “Catholic Education is not only a right, but also a duty that is imposed on the Church (Canon 794 § 1). Catholic Education must not only ensure that the instructions given in them is at least as academically distinguished as that in other schools (Canon 806 § 2) but must pay regard to the formation of the whole person (Canon 795).

“In education, therefore, the religious identity of Catholic schools has a particularly formative role given that the formation of students is the purpose of the activity. Parents choose a religious education for their children in the expectation that the institution will educate their children according to the teachings and traditions of that religion.

“Religious schools therefore require those who are in a position to influence students to give witness to those teachings. That does have lifestyle implications. To preserve that role of witness, educational institutions need to be able to make witness to the religious teachings an employment criterion.”

Health care services are also at risk: “The client expectation of a religious health or aged care facility is that it will be conducted according to the teaching of the religion. For staff members this means a requirement that they abide by the mission, philosophy and code of ethical standards (which cover the Church’s teaching on life matters) while working within the institution. Nevertheless, employees in health and aged care also require particular skills, knowledge and sensitivity towards those whose spiritual needs may be more sharply focussed as they enter the last chapter of their life.”

To force Catholic hospitals and medical facilities to employ both workers and methods which may be contrary to Catholic teaching would of course put unacceptable strains on these institutions, and could easily result in their closure.

The Letter concludes, “The tolerant pluralism of the Australian society that values difference and diversity is under threat and religion is a major target. It is important therefore that people of goodwill defend their religious liberties.

“The importance of service delivery, by religious people and religious agencies, as an essential element of religious belief and practice in service to neighbour is one our Parliamentarians need to hear. It is also important to defend our pluralist society, the diversity of service delivery, the right of people to receive services in the context of their own beliefs and practices, and the rights of parents to give their children an education in their own faith tradition.”

It is hoped that other religious bodies in Victoria have looked carefully at how these proposed changes will impact on their faith, and that they too will issue a strong defence of religious freedom, and strong objections to these dangerous directions the government seems to be heading in.

[1066 words]

28 Replies to “The Fight for Religious Freedom”

  1. Thankyou, that was an interesting artical and I would like to ask a question.

    What is a new testament church? is it a legal entity, a non profit organisation, unincorporated association, a charitable trust? Is anything that is dependant on the government or state for its existence and sustenance (through tax exemption) a church? Where does their money come from to “help the poor”, I suggest most of it is govt funding.

    Which bible verse can we quote to reference the state or govt legal authority to recognise and qualify the Church of the Living Gods legal existence?

    “Christian” organisations/churches who whore themselves up with govt should expect for Caesar to eventually call in the chips.

    Donie Opie

  2. Thanks Donna

    I think it depends on the church or denomination. Some do not get any government funding. But those which do need to watch out for the strings attached.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Bill,

    Thank you again for a critical article about a very serious issue. Even though I live in another state, I can see this insidious attack on religious freedom having tentacles that reach across the nation.

    I’d like to comment on an aspect of the Catholic bishops’ letter: “We express particular concern that the proposals in the Options Paper to remove protection from religious bodies would, in effect, force the secularisation of service delivery by religious agencies.”

    That has already happened. Some religious bodies that have received government funding for social and community services have been unable to obtain sufficiently qualified Christian staff to run their operations, so secular staff mean that the Christian cutting edge of ministry is almost eliminated. The religious organisation can become so compromised that to see the difference between it and a secular organisation, is marginal.

    I work for one of those organisations.

    Sincerely, Spencer

  4. Thanks Bill.
    As I commented in a post on a previous article on this theme, the government is interpreting religious freedom in an increasingly narrow and restrictive sense, until the time will come that there will be nothing left of the provision, and Section 116 of our Constitution can be deleted without demur.
    This is just what happened in the C17th under Louis XIV: the Toleration Edict of 1598 was interpreted in an increasingly hard-nosed and restrictive fashion until there was nothing left of it, and thus Louis XIV tore it up.
    These socialist humanists have in reality never believed in religious freedom, but it is only now that they feel safe in revealing their true colours. Wake up brethren! Open, community-supported persecution is just around the corner!
    Murray Adamthwaite

  5. Donna to partly answer your question in today’s terms:

    A congregation today is the nearest equivalent (for better or worse) of a NT local church.

    Such a congregation is usually an unincorporated body of free association, meaning that individuals can join and leave in accordance with rules set by the body itself.

    Any corporate vehicles used by the church to hold property or achieve particular focused purposes (within the overall mandate to take the Gospel to the whole world) will run the risks you describe.

    That’s because those bodies will have to be submitted to the authority of the sovereign state which grants rights and privileges to such entities, and can withdraw them if it so decided.

    This usually isn’t a problem when community values are informed and undergirded by Biblical principles. But when the society abandons Biblical principles then “all bets are off” or as it says in Prov 29:18

    Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

    We are seeing the secular state and it’s new religion of ‘secular humanism’ rise up to displace Biblically-based Western civilization.

    From their side it’s a case of “take no prisoners” – every area of life is to be scoured for Christian influence and purged of the blight. The Devil still wants God’s throne and nothing less.

    John Angelico

  6. Is the government really trying to sneak these changes through “under the radar”, or is it more the case that the secular leftist mainstream media back these kinds of changes and therefore have simply determined that it’s a non-issue? Of course having much of the church asleep at the wheel isn’t helping either.

    Ewan McDonald.

  7. The great majority of people in the west lost their Christian roots decades ago. Since then they have been living under the illusion that they live autonomous lives, free of any particular belief or ideology – little realising that they have in fact been conforming to Hegelian philosophy, for some time. We are now moving towards a situation where the luxury of being allowed to hold the “neutral” and non-judgemental position – to sit on the fence – will no longer be tolerated. Hegelian Marxism has come of age; the mask is coming off and we will all conform and be told precisely what to the think, feel and do. The process has already started. Wake and smell the coffee. The era of Christian complacency is over and we are literally going to have to fight to maintain our own faith let alone that of others. Perhaps now we will experience for the first time what millions of our Christian brothers and sisters have to endure in non-Christian countries.

    Will we stand the test of faith? Will I stand the test?

    David Skinner, UK

  8. Professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. has written an extremely good book entitled, ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization’. It explains how Western law grew out of Church canon law and the enormous contribution Christianity has made in the miracles of science, the wealth of free-market economics, education (particularly the invention of the university), a philosophy grounded in reason, extraordinary art and music etc etc.
    It’s ironic that many of these areas are now turning their backs on history and denying the very One who is their foundation and source of existence.
    Donna Murphy

  9. Dear Bill,
    Legislative subtlety is more virulent than the present epidemic. You have shown how it will whiteant much of the structure of Christian origin.
    Bill, they scheme to erase the fruit from the Tree of life or from the true Vine. They cannot eradicate the living Tree, for it is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Church members are peace-loving believers, who contribute much to the national being. They may be driven underground, but they are Christ’s blood- bought.

    The fruit of His life is seen in our hospitals in each major city: the Universities fulfilling educational need. In Adelaide, the ceiling of Bonython hall, used for commemorative occasions, has hundreds of golden placards ‘sub cruci lumen’, beneath the cross is the Light of the world. Inextinguishable!
    The Presbyterian faith, who launched the University, endures even when man demolishes the structure.
    God’s Word the holy bible has produced a fruitage of literature without equal. Some thousands of languages tell the blessed story ‘Jesus loves me’. The Tree of life stands. The outflow of missionaries to the ends of the earth evidence the Tree which man can never uproot

    Three in Adelaide opposed the homosexual ‘Oh, Calcutta’, achieving a victory in the full Supreme Court,
    May God give us the intrepid faith of David to challenge this Goliath with the bow of faith and the five stones of the Word of faith.
    Harrold Steward.

  10. David: “little realising that they have in fact been conforming to Hegelian philosophy”. Darned if I know what you are going on about there. However, I agree that we are being told what to think and feel. There is a creeping totalitarianism oozing between the cracks of democracy. But I don’t see it as having much in common with Marxism, which never had a program of telling us that good is bad, bad is good, that perversion is health, that male and female are mere constructs, that non-marriage is marriage etc. Whatever it is, it’s true shape is not entirely obvious yet. We might be like the Germans in the twenties. We can see that the Nazi minority is crooked, but have no idea of the camps. And we will vote for them nevertheless.
    John Snowden

  11. John Snowden, Darned if I understand, anymore than the British understood Hitler’s Mein Kampf. What they did understand was that Nazism was real threat to their freedom, just as Marxism remains so.

    William S. Lind, writing in October 25, 2005, said: “In order to understand what something is, you have to know its history. Cultural Marxism is a branch of western Marxism, different from the Marxism-Leninism of the old Soviet Union. It is commonly known as ‘multiculturalism’ or, less formally, Political Correctness. From its beginning, the promoters of cultural Marxism have known they could be more effective if they concealed the Marxist nature of their work, hence the use of terms such as ‘multiculturalism’.” (Sir Trevor Phillips and the Armada )

    Perhaps you might research the Frankfurt school and say what you think?

    David Skinner, UK

  12. Donna Opie said, “organisations/churches who whore (sic) themselves up with govt should expect for Caesar to eventually call in the chips”. I have said on a number of occasions that the State is reaching into every aspect of our lives, our families, our homes and our churches to an unprecedented extent. The fact that the government may give funds for some of the services run by religious organisations does not immediately give it the right to dictate how the organisation should be run. In a pluralist and democaratic world the government should respect the rights of the members of an organisation to determine its direction, espcecially when much of it is based on religious teaching. To interfere means the State is effectively interferring with and overriding millenia of religious teachings and practices.

    It must also be remembered that the money is ultimately coming from tax papyers, and its spending must reflect the choices of the taxpayers. Remember, in a democratic State, it is the government that reflects the wishes of the people! For example, if 30% of school children in Victoria are in Catholic schools, then why isn’t 30% of the education budget for school funding going to Catholic schools. Didn’t those 30% of parents pay their fair share of tax? Is it democratic for the government to redirect their funds to the State schools whose services those parents don’t even use. What justification is there to make Catholic parents subsidise State schools? Is it fair to deny the kids at Catholic schools the same resources as those at the State schools? If the total government funding for a religious organisation, such as a Catholic school or hospital is 20%, does that give the government a right to dictate how it is run?

    Donna, there are many religious and community organisatons in Victoria that have actually rejected government funding, even when offered to them without solicitation, for exactly the reason that it will lead to interference beyond the benefit that the funds provide.

    A simplistic statement that compares our democratically elected government to “Ceasar” is defeatist. Instead, we should call the government to task and make known that we, the people, have limits on how much they can interfere with, control, manipulate and restrict our lives.

    Frank Norros

  13. Frank Norros makes a very good point. Catholic parents subsidise the education of other people’s children in State schools, via taxes. They then pay (again) to make up the shortfall in the Catholic education of their own children. ‘Caesar’ has no right to ‘call in the chips’ with Catholic schools, since the State is indebted to Catholic schools for the enormous service they provide.
    If Catholic schools were to close, State education would collapse under the weight of it.
    Donna Murphy

  14. The Victorian government’s attempt to isolate “core” religious activities from non-core activities sounds very much like the British government’s attempt to isolate “private” from “public”. Presumably they also have the power to define what is core and non-core. Even though in this case it sounds as though the Victorian government is saying that core activities are religious observances and non -core are public service, it could equally be the case, as it is in the UK, that it is saying that core activities are doing social works (for free or at discount prices) whilst non-core activities are the observance of religious eccentricities such as Sunday worship. Either way they are attempting to uncouple the engine from the carriages.

    Both the Victorian and the UK governments raise not only two false dichotomies, the ‘private’ as opposed to’ the public’ and thought as opposed to action, but also demonstrate the selectivity and clear discrimination being exercised against the family, marriage and Christians, in particular. I see no boundary between private and public: what I do in one will undoubtedly the effect the other. The family might be regarded as the private domain, but it is also the very atom or brick of any nation. If I am unfaithful to my wife, how can I be expected to be truthful to the nation; if I cannot control my own household how can I be expected to govern a nation? But whilst the government wants to compartmentalise private and public, it relentless invades every area of our lives; it legislates for every thought, emotion and sneeze. No longer is the Department of Education called as such but, instead, the Department of Children Schools and Families. It has blatantly assumed the role of social engineer and reduced parents to mere operatives.

    The government would also dismiss the idea that what we see, hear, think and feel, with regard to sex and violence in the media affects in any way the behaviour of our children. The banning of pornography is not high on its agenda and yet here it is on the brink of banning whole passages of the Bible. No doubt the government would counter this argument by saying that it is not the content or words or images alone with which they would take issue, but the intemperate manner in which such words or images were expressed, the threatening manner in which they might be read. But whether or not a passage from the Bible such as Romans 1 verses 18-32 would be deemed to be inciting physical violence against homosexuals is not judged by any objective statistics, showing cause and effect, such as a connection between the public or even private reading of such a passage and the effect it might have in increased so-called homophobic crimes of violence, but merely by whether a homosexual feels offended or threatened by such a passage. To the Christian who feels offended at the way the Christian faith is being treated with contempt by the media or to the parent who feels that the moral fibre of their children is being corrupted by violence and sex on the television, the government will merely reply:” You can always turn it off or look the other way.” But the homosexual only has to hear a word – not even a word remotely related to homosexuality – from the Bible being read out from a street evangelist and he has the right to mobilise the entire resources of the police force to censor the Bible.

    David Skinner, UK

  15. “Church agencies provide a context of shared belief and culture where new arrivals could find a familiar source of welcome. That welcome also extends beyond shared belief and culture”
    This defines the difference between State-run agencies and Church-run agencies. The ‘welcome’ extended ‘beyond shared belief and culture’ is epitomised in people like Teresa of Calcutta. Who could ever calculate how much the Missionaries of Charity continue to SAVE the Indian government in aiding the ‘poorest of the poor’, regardless of their religious tradition? This can also be said for the missionaries of ALL Christian denominations who risk their lives to provide education and medical assistance to the impoverished in many countries. There was the recent story of the 35 yr old Catholic nun who lost her life saving five HIV patients in a fire that swept through an African hospital. These people had a terminal illness for goodness’ sakes!! And she gave up her life for them!! No State-run agency could EVER pay their employees enough money to give THAT much! This is what government ideologues don’t understand…it’s the difference between an employee and an apostle!!
    Donna Murphy

  16. I have thought about this issue since Bill first raised it and on reading THE AGE article yesterday. It seems that there are three alternatives, and I can only speak to the area I work in which is church based welfare services.
    1/ Larger church welfare agencies may amalgamate with those of the denominations that would be least affected by these changes ie UCA and possibly the Anglicans or amalgamate with secular agencies, but encourage Christians to support them.
    2/ Individual churches take up utilizing their members to be volunteers in service provision; receive no government funding, and appoint one of the ministerial team to have oversight for these services.
    3/ Stay as they are and say to government “here we stand bound by our consciences we can do no other”.

    Whatever occurs it means that Christians should be prepared to role their sleeves up and become what Stephen did – minister to those in need.
    Wayne Pelling

  17. These socialist humanists have in reality never believed in religious freedom, but it is only now that they feel safe in revealing their true colours.

    Totally agree. I think what secularists mean when they talk about “religious freedom” is freedom from religion. (Especially, Christianity).

    Louise Le Mottee

  18. The fact that the government may give funds for some of the services run by religious organisations does not immediately give it the right to dictate how the organisation should be run.

    This is absolutely correct, however, the reality is, as someone else pointed out, “all bets are off” because our society is apostate and as such does not care for such things as reason (though it claims to). If it were interested in reason, it would see that any supposedly “neutral” state (I do not believe such a thing can exist, however) could neither withold funding for charitable organisations, nor force those organisations to do anything (other than their work) to obtain the funding. This would be the reasonable position, but that is not where they’re at.

    Louise Le Mottee

  19. Instead, we should call the government to task and make known that we, the people, have limits on how much they can interfere with, control, manipulate and restrict our lives.

    Yes, we can and should call them on it. But at the same time, it is not defeatest to know exactly who and what we’re up against. They are not primarily interested in reason or in following even their own avowed “values” such as tolerance. They (the hardcore followers of the Spirit of the Age) wish to eradicate Christ and His Church and if they have to be intolerant to do it, then so be it.

    Louise Le Mottee

  20. David Skinner on “Cultural Marxism”. I can’t find anything about “Cultural Marxism” in my “A Dictionary of Marxist Thought” , a standard reference, but maybe I missed it. The book deals with Western Marxism. What is “Marxist” about “Cultural Marxism” as a branch of Western Marxism?

    You seem to think that Multiculturalism and Political Correctness are the same. The first is a certain political theory about how a society should be. The second is a form of coercive behaviour designed to instil conformity and silence some forms of dissent. The fact that it comes from the political Left does not in itself make it Marxist for the obvious historical reason that not everything on the Left is Marxist.

    “William S. Lind, writing in October 25, 2005, said: “In order to understand what something is, you have to know its history”. He is partly wrong. I understand Australian parliamentary democracy without having to trace its roots back through English history. Similarly good Christian souls understand their religion without understanding the history of their religion. All they need is their Scripture and clergy (except Spong!). On the other hand, it might be possible to understand Political Correctness better by searching European social history for previous forms of the behaviour over the centuries, as if it was a sociological chamaeleon. Have you considered the possibility that it first arose in Christianity? Just a thought. After all, there is an argument that socialism arose from Christianity, and socialism is Left as is Political Correctness in its current form. If understanding what something is requires knowing its history, then you might get more than you bargained for.

    John Snowden

  21. John Snowden, I think you answered your own question “We can see that the Nazi minority is crooked”. Fascism is the unification of the rights of the individual balanced against the interests of society as a whole. Multiculturalism blends society as one and Political Correctness is the justification tool used. Holocaust survivors would definately tell us they lived in a world where good was evil and evil was good. Sounds like Hitler’s “New Social Consciounsness” restyled with trendy words.

    2 Tim 4:3: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.”

    Donna Opie

  22. John Snowden, I certainly do not profess to be an expert in Marxism or history, but I certainly believe in the narrative of the Church. After all isn’t the Bible largely history? Didn’t Jesus Christ have to explain to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus the way history was his story? Likewise, the New Testament makes no sense unless one understands the Old Testament. Where we are today hasn’t just happened; there are documented events and characters who have all played their part in bringing us to where we are today. As a map is to a mariner so the Bible is to us. It tells us where we have come from, where we are and where we are headed.

    As for the possibility that political correctness arose from Christianity, this cannot be. Political correctness is the rule of whatever is the average consensus at any particular moment; what might be virtuous in the morning might become criminal in the afternoon and vice-versa. Christian morality does not change, neither do God’s laws.

    Forgive me if I have misunderstood you?

    David Skinner, UK

  23. Two points at a very basic level.

    1 This is going to be a problem for VIC Labor at the 2010 state election as many of the seats held in Melbourne’s Eastern ‘Bible Belt’ are quite marginal. (ie Forest Hill, held by Kirstie Marshall by only 550 votes,) With I suggest more than 550 Nominal Catholic and evangelical Labor voting Christians who I would suggest will change (hopefully) their vote on this issue not to mention our full term abortion laws.

    2. Why would I continue too spend $8000 a year sending my 2 children to an independent Christian school (and saving the state Government heaps) if it is not going to be any different to the State schools in my area by way of who MUST be allowed to teach there. Again a no brainer, but I don’t think the ALP apparatchiks are smart enought to do the maths on this one!

    Mark Godfree

  24. David Skinner: “Christian morality does not change, neither do God’s laws.”

    Some Christians believe in abortion, some do not. Somebody is changing something. As for God’s laws, the conventional concept of miracle implies that some can be changed, if only by the the Author, and on a temporary basis to make a point.

    John Snowden

  25. Thanks John

    Sure, Christians change things all the time, including Scripture, by not believing in what the Bible says, etc. The fact that there are pro-abortion or pro-homosexual Christians does not mean that God changes however.

    As to miracles and change, you perhaps confuse several issues. God’s character and nature is unchanging, and therefore moral obligations – which are grounded in his person – do not change either. As to the so-called laws of nature, these of course are simply descriptions of recurring events.

    Natural laws are descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, as in the law of gravity, they tell us what should occur, under ideal conditions, without natural or supernatural interference. But they do not tell us that something outside of nature can or cannot intervene with such laws.

    So it would be incorrect to say, for example, that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. The law of gravity still works, but one can intervene in its outworking by putting out a hand to catch a falling apple. The law simply predicts what will happen, provided there is no change to the conditions under which these things take place.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  26. If I understand David Skinner’s main thrust concerning ‘cultural Marxism’, then I agree with him that the Marxist manifesto is not dead, but simply travelling ‘under the radar’. I have also heard this reinvented Marxism referred to as ‘Communitarianism’, and have read some very good articles on the subject.

    Danny Polglase

  27. I’ve heard some conservative Christian commentators describe “political correctness” as “cultural Marxism”. See here for example.

    Ewan McDonald.

  28. Danny,
    Thanks for your links re Communitarianism & the ‘third wave’
    I have found it somewhat disturbing over the last 2 decades to see many parts of the Church have shifted their identity or way of describing themselves from the ‘family’ of God to the ‘Community’ of God. My concern being that (although unintentional) it really is a reflection of the current collectivist preference of sociology & politics and changes the way we see the Church and exactly what it is…. Subtle – yes – but definitely a paradigm shift.
    Mark Godfree

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