No other candidate in this weekend's Eden-Monaro by-election has so publicly voiced support for secularism than James Jansson of the Science Party.

We're pleased to have him join us today for a Q&A as part of our series that encourages political candidates to talk about their secular credentials and issues of concern to secular-minded voters.

While the National Secular Lobby is non-partisan and does not officially endorse specific parties or candidates, we do want to bring attention to those who openly stand up for secularism in a political climate in which this is all too rare.

NSL:

Thanks for joining us, James. The Science Party has, as a major plank of its policy platform, support for secularism. In the Eden-Monaro by-election, what is at stake for the state of secularism in Australia?

JJ:

Religions get a lot of free passes in this country. They get charity status despite providing a small amount of welfare compared to overall operating expenses and asset ownership. They are allowed to operate schools and generate income from the federal government education subsidies, and those schools act as a recruitment vehicle. They get to operate recruitment through scripture lessons in public schools. They get a taxpayer funded school chaplaincy program. And now they are possibly getting a bill to allow religious people – and religious people only – the right to say hurtful and brand-damaging things and never be fired for it.

The race in Eden-Monaro is between the Liberals who transfer many taxpayer dollars to the church, the Labor Party that still kisses the ring and transfers money to religious institutions, and two or three minor parties that actually stand for secularism, like the Science Party.

NSL:

What are your views on the Morrison government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill?

JJ:

The Religious Discrimination Bill is an answer looking for a problem. There isn’t a huge problem with people getting the sack once their employer finds out they believe that Jesus was real and died for them. The landmark cases are ones like Israel Folau, where the firing was due to a lack of basic human decency. Israel Folau was even allowed to stay on after he was told how bad it looked for him and the code, and still he kept saying the same sorts of things.

Any one of us could be fired for bringing our employer into disrepute for making a public statement that is deeply offensive and bad for our employer. It seems the only rights the Liberals care about in the workplace is the right to upset other employees and customers. There are no protections against other forms of discrimination in this bill, and that is strongly against our strong stance against discrimination and in favour of egalitarianism, especially in the workplace.

NSL:

If the Science Party were successful in getting people elected to the federal parliament, what would the party be looking to do to advance the cause for secularism?

JJ:

I want to make it clear that I do not want people to be forced to stop their religion and I don’t want to close churches. That said, it’s time that the taxpayer stops funding religious recruitment especially in the context of their huge revenues and wealth.

I’d be looking firstly into bringing religious institutions’ tax status into line with other non-profit clubs. I don’t want churches to be treated worse than any other activity, but I definitely don’t want them treated better. I also would be looking into their operation of schools and the access they have to schools in scripture. The chaplaincy program will get the chop.

NSL:

How does the Science Party party feel about the major parties’ records on separation of church and state?

JJ:

Clearly, the major parties have vested interests that are there to maintain the taxpayer funding of religious schools and religious tax exemption status.

NSL:

Some religious groups argue that Labor lost the 2019 election because it ignored the concerns of religious voters, although the ABC’s Vote Compass suggested few people were concerned about religious issues. Do you have any impressions on the role these concerns played?

JJ:

I disagree with that assessment. I think that Labor failed to topple the Liberals, despite all the turmoil they had, because they failed to put up an exciting leader and communicate a vision that inspired the public. It was obvious for a long time that Bill Shorten was not resonating with the public.

NSL:

Communities such as Eden-Monaro have recently been battered by bushfires and COVID-19. Dealing with such issues requires evidence-based policy. What kind of approach would you and the Science Party offer in addressing such issues? How would your approach differ from that employed by the current government?

JJ:

The bushfires were driven by high temperatures and drought, and both of those had climate change as a contributing factor. Obviously, we’re a party that believes in evidence-based policy, and climate change has very strong evidence. So we’re acting on that basis.

Nothing would please me more than to find out climate change wasn’t real and carbon emissions were good for us and the planet. But that just isn’t what the science says, so we have to act. Action on climate change will not stop all bushfires, but it should lessen the frequency and scale of destruction.

Evidence-based policy is kind of freeing from a political standpoint. As a politician, you have values such as a ‘fair go’, and those are not really changed by evidence. But you are allowed to change your mind. New evidence that comes up could lead to a substantial change in policy, and that’s not a broken promise. The promise is to serve the country in the best way possible. And if you find a better way, that’s the way you should do it.

NSL:

When you talk to people about the Science Party’s vision and policy platform, what kind of response do you get? Do you feel that people understand secularism and the role it plays in your policies, and in politics in general? How much support is there for it in the community?

JJ:

It’s funny, I don’t really think people look at the Science Party and automatically think of us as being in favour of secularism, despite it being one of our principles. I think that a small proportion of the population truly understands secularism, and for that part secularism is very important. Most people like the idea of separation of church and state but haven’t thought deeply about what that means from a government perspective.

When it comes to support, I think that a large proportion of people have strong support for ending the taxpayer-funding of religious institutions but might not realise that this may have impacts such as the funding of religious schools.

At the National Secular Lobby, we're pleased to have joined forces with a number of pro-secular community organisations in the #DontDivideUs campaign against the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill. Add your voice to the campaign.