While the case is yet to be made that religious freedom is under threat – as demonstrated by the government’s own Ruddock Review into religious freedom – we can quite easily make the case that Aussies don’t have freedom FROM religion.
It's one thing to agree that those who choose to follow a religion should have the freedom to hold beliefs and to act on them within reasonable limits of law -- but even for those who choose not to have religion play a part in their lives, there's often no escape from it.
Organised religion has a privileged place in so many aspects of our public life that no-one can avoid its influence. Here are just a few examples:
- In our public schools, the federal government spends $65 million dollars each year on funding the National School Chaplaincy Program, providing religious chaplains to youth instead of professionally trained counselors. This program has little oversight, no reporting or means of measuring complaints, no yardstick for measuring successful outcomes, has twice been found to be unconstitutional in its funding, and was found, earlier this year, to be discriminatory in its hiring practices.
- State governments, such as in Queensland and New South Wales, force the majority of children in state schools – up to 95% – to sit idle for an hour every week while religious ministers take over the classroom from trained teachers to give scripture.
- Private schools, of which 94% are religious, are the beneficiaries of $12 billion in federal funds each year and are allowed to teach ideas that run counter to the national curriculum (such as creationsm). These schools are also legally allowed to discriminate against LGBTI students and staff, unwed mothers, divorcees, people who cohabit outside of marriage, those who don't hold the same religious beliefs espoused by the school, and many other groups with whose lifestyles they disagree.
- In our military, taxpayers fund religious chaplains in pastoral care roles while the Australian Defence Force blocks non-religious people from performing in such roles, even though 52 per cent of our service personnel identity as non-religious.
- In parliaments across the nation, each day begins with politicians and parliamentary staff standing to recite sectarian Christian prayers, granting "official" status to one religion while marginalising those of other faiths, or none.
- Businesses owned by a church can be operated with vast tax benefits, even if they are large and profitable commercial entities. This deprives the federal government of around $20 billion in revenue each year and creates an uneven playing field between these and non-church-owned businesses.
Who else has special tax-exempt status for ‘advancing’ their beliefs? Who else has special exemptions from anti-discrimination laws, allowing them to fire and expel, and deny service as they please? Who else is specially exempt from laws that require the sexual abuse of children to be reported to public authorities?
Clearly, the case for freedom FROM religion is one that urgently needs to be considered, considering that we may be mere weeks away from having new laws being tabled that further enshrine these privileges in law.
It's time to #EndReligiousPrivilege.
We fully support freedom of religion -- In Australia, we already have it. But people should also have a right to be free FROM religion if they so choose to be. And currently, this is not an option.