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ACL event ban has reminded us of the threat to religious freedom in Australia

19 Jul, 2021

Dr Stephen Chavura 
History Lecturer 

Yesterday, the Western Australian government backed down from its decision to cancel a booking made by Australian Christian Lobby to run an event in state-owned — ie, taxpayer-funded — after originally justifying its actions with the claim the ACL has “views opposing the state government” and that its views “don’t align with the state government”.  

The ACL was also told its event could not go ahead at the venue because its views are not representative of the vast majority of Western Australians.  

This represents a historical moment, not just in Australian church-state relations, but in Australia’s history as a liberal democracy. What we are seeing is a gang of state-backed ideological thugs determining what may and may not be said in public institutions.   

An entitlement complex has emerged among managers and HR personnel in government and corporate organisations that tramples our long-standing liberties of speech and conscience. Now that Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is bringing a major rewrite of the Religious Discrimination Bill to federal parliament by December, we need to seize the opportunity to nip this entitlement complex in the bud. 

The bill is contentious, but what should not be lost in the debate is the real-life urgency of this issue. The much-discussed Israel Folau case and the recent ACL case are merely the tip of an otherwise obscure iceberg of cases in a disturbing trend of therapeutic cancel culture, or people’s freedoms being denied or compromised, usually in the name of LGBTQ mental health and “safety”. 

Since 2017 the Canberra-based Human Rights Law Alliance has had hundreds of individuals from around Australia contact it to report cases of discrimination and harassment because their religious views, particularly in the workplace, are often deemed “harmful” and accused of making people feel “unsafe”. Some have even been accused of making their own homes “unsafe” for their own children solely because of their views on gender identity. 

Details of many of the cases are available at the Australia Watch website, but here is a typical sample from the last few years: 

  • Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, a noted scholar and son of former governor-general Sir Zelman Cowan, was Senior Honorary Associate at Monash University until he emailed numerous community figures informing them about a booklet he wrote on same-sex marriage from a Judeo-Christian perspective. After a recipient of the email wrote to the Vice-Chancellor accusing Rabbi Cowen of “blatant bigotry and homophobia” Rabbi Cowen’s honorary status was cancelled because of alleged misuse of the university emailing protocols. 
  • Byron and Keira Hordyk hoped to foster children up to the age of five. When the issue of sexuality arose in the interviews the Hordyks told the foster agency that they believed homosexuality was wrong. Even though the Hordyks only wanted children up to five years old, the foster agency terminated the Hordyks’ application, telling the Hordyks that they could not provide a “safe” living environment for a child. 
  • Henry was a teacher whose students asked him about his beliefs on transgenderism and homosexuality. As a Catholic he told them what the Catholic Catechism says. After the conversation a senior colleague told him it would be better for him not to discuss those matters in the future. Some months later, Henry was approached by a senior colleague and told to immediately exit the school because of the conversation months earlier. Without an opportunity to defend himself Henry’s teaching position at the school was terminated. Henry called his school multiple times for an explanation. His calls were never returned.  
  • Max is an experienced teacher whose school recently introduced new guidelines requiring teachers to affirm transgender identities. During question time, Max cited statistics indicating that 9 out of 10 children resolve gender confusion if left alone, that social transition pushes children down a potentially harmful chemical and surgical intervention path. Max attempted to discuss solutions to the clash between the school’s new policy and his own conscientious objections. The school did not accept Max’s suggested solutions and Max was handed a termination letter. He was abruptly marched off the school premises.  
  • Chris is a government employee who had worked in his department for 30 years. His HR department began sending regular emails promoting LGBT issues to him. Chris asked them to stop sending them to him because he found it offensive culturally and religiously. HR complained about his conduct and the department pursued disciplinary action against him. Chris had received no complaints about his conduct from LGBTQ colleagues. It was only after Chris got lawyers involved that the disciplinary process against him was dropped. 
  • Madeline is a Christian who was working for a children’s party business in Canberra. During the lead-up to the 2017 same-sex marriage postal vote, Madeline posted on Facebook, ‘It’s ok to vote no’. When her employer saw the post, she sacked her alleging that she was homophobic and hurtful. Madeline had to find another job. 
  • Kate announced to her family that she now identified as male. Kate’s parents were committed Christians and believed that individuals cannot change gender at will. Kate lodged a Domestic Violence and Protection Order against her father, whom she accused of being “transphobic” because he refused to use her preferred gender pronoun. Kate’s doctor supported her violence order against her father. Kate’s father appeared in court at the required date but Kate did not appear. The application was therefore dismissed. 
  • Alex, a senior executive in a government organisation, heard his colleagues mocking Israel Folau, who had just been fired from Rugby Australia. Alex suggested to his colleagues that Folau was merely exercising his human rights to freedom of speech and religion. His colleagues complained to management that his comments made then feel unsafe and constituted workplace bullying. Alex was called into a meeting with the CEO and an HR officer and told that his comments might breach the organisation’s commitment to diversity, tolerance and inclusion. Alex chose to leave his job, feeling the work environment very hostile to him from that day forth. 

The sacking of Israel Folau and the cancellation of the ACL’s event in WA are just the most noteworthy recent displays of fanatical naked power being wielded to punish dissidents of political correctness, particularly LGBT ideology. 

This is a Western trend, a therapeutic totalitarianism that is increasingly declaring traditional views on gender and sexuality not simply wrong or even offensive, but unsafe and harmful  

Ominously, the WA Minister for Culture and the Arts, David Templeman, and the Perth Theatre Trust Board Chair, Morgan Solomon, released a statement on Friday saying that “Theatres and arts venues have always been safe places”, that “we respect diversity, equality, and inclusion”, and that they will “strengthen” WA’s venue hire policy “to ensure our venues remain safe places.”   

In other words, in future they’ll simply justify discrimination against non-PC individuals and organisations along therapeutic lines. 

If the HRLA cases and the recent behaviour of the WA government are anything to go by, the evidence shows that it is not a religious theocracy that threatens liberty in Australia – contra critics of Scott Morrison – but therapeutic cancel culture riding on the back of the therapeutic totalitarianism that’s taking over the West.  

 

This article was originally published in The Spectator and has been republished here with permission from the author.