Why We Released Morrison’s Address to the Conference of Christian Churches
Imagine if the Prime Minister was a die-hard atheist giving speeches on political issues at an atheist convention that he or she wanted to hide from the general public.
Imagine if the federal government was drafting a law that would have devastating effects on religious communities.
Christian groups, other faith groups, the media and the public would be eager to hear what such a prime minister had to say. And, it would be the same for the Rationalist Society.
Two weeks ago my organization made the decision to publish the video from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s speech at the Australian Conference of Christian Churches, held earlier in April on the Gold Coast.
We released the video because it was in the public interest to do so.
Australians, on the whole, are uncomfortable with extreme worldviews, whether religious or political ideologies.
We also like to think that the religious views of individuals will not interfere unduly in government. But, even in our liberal democracy, it is quite possible for a politician to be elected without fully revealing his view of the world.
We have a right to know what ideas guide the actions and decision-making of those who run for public office.
If a Christian political candidate believes that planet Earth was “created” a few thousand years ago and is anxiously awaiting Jesus’ return to Revelation, voters have a right to know. Likewise, if an atheist militant candidate harbors bad intentions towards religious people, voters have a right to know.
All too often, religious views are seen as forbidden. In 2015, for example, then-Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie refused to answer questions about whether he believed in creationism, arguing that his religious views were irrelevant to voters.
Far from being irrelevant, the religious beliefs of political leaders are of great interest to Australians, as evidenced by the public reaction to the video of Prime Minister Morrison’s speech.
There is legitimate concern about the impact of these beliefs on policymaking in the Morrison government.
The Prime Minister has pledged to present a Bill on religious discrimination in parliament ahead of the next election, although the first two drafts have drawn much criticism from all quarters, including business groups, legal groups, human rights groups, LGBTIQ groups and even religious groups.
Had either of these conflicting bills become law, religious people and organizations would have been given a “sword” which they could use to discriminate against and harm a wide range of people. Anti-discrimination laws are meant to be “shields”, not swords.
While the vast majority of Australians, including many Christians, support the concept of secularism – the separation of church and state – it is not clear that the Prime Minister feels the same.
In his first speech to Parliament he endeavored to Argue Australia “is not a secular country”.
In response to the video’s release, it was heartwarming to hear public figures like Anthony Albanian and Kevin rudd affirm the importance of defending a secular society that protects people of all faiths and none, and treats them equally.
Sadly, very few politicians defend secularism, even though Australia is a multi-faith society and, increasingly, a non-religious society. With this year’s census set to confirm a further decline in Christianity affiliation, people increasingly want freedom of religion as well as freedom of religion.
The need for pro-secular champions in community and in politics becomes increasingly important as religious institutions maintain and seek to improve their privileged place in government institutions.
For example, in parliaments and councils across the country, non-Christian representatives – atheists, agnostics and people of minority faiths – are forced to observe exclusively Christian prayers before devoting themselves to their daily work of representing their constituents. .
In the military and schools, government-funded pastoral care is reserved almost exclusively for the Christian religion, despite the fact that public schools are secular and the vast majority of recruits in our armed forces are now non-religious.
As Australia’s oldest free thought organization that promotes reason and evidence as the basis for policymaking, Rationalist Society of Australia will continue to investigate the beliefs of the political leaders of this country. We will steadfastly continue to work to advance the cause of secularism.
Meredith Doig is President of the Rationalist Society of Australia and writes a daily newsletter titled ‘Daily RSA‘.