Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 1 October 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.
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At the National Level
Hillsong founder Brian Houston has applied to have his legal bill paid by the state after he was acquitted of concealing his father’s sexual abuse. The 69-year-old was represented by his lawyer in Sydney Downing Centre Local Court on Friday in a bid to recoup his costs from the lengthy legal proceedings launched against him. He stood trial earlier this year after pleading not guilty to one count of concealing the serious indictable offence of another person. (22 Sep 2023)
Read more at news.com.au
Church leaders are being urged to prove their support for the Indigenous Voice despite the political risk of taking sides in the closing weeks of the referendum, amid concerns that some leaders are "hedging" after strongly backing the change earlier in the year. The new call highlights questions over whether the nation’s peak faith groups will throw their active support behind the change to the Constitution when early voting begins next week, as some of their communities campaign for the Yes side. (25 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Age
Legal expert Patrick Parkinson says Labor’s proposed laws to combat online misinformation will send it down a “dangerous path” of censorship, cautioning that religious teachings and claims about gender identity could be captured by the bill. The Christian legal scholar said there was a risk that “anything which upsets the powerbrokers of the day” would be captured by the bill and censored, calling for the legislation to be amended to grant faith institutions an exemption. The bill will grant the Australian Communications and Media Authority the power to fine social media giants millions of dollars for misinformation and content it deems harmful, but will not capture content from governments, educational institutions or media outlets. (25 Sep 2023)
Read more at The Australian
The federal opposition’s spokesperson for Defence personnel, Luke Howarth, has suggested tapping into migrants who have “stronger faith in God” as part of a plan to drive recruitment for the Defence Force. In a speech to the Defence Reserve Association’s national conference last month – a recording of which was published on YouTube earlier this month – Mr Howarth appeared to champion religious belief as a virtue for Defence Force recruits as he made the case for encouraging migrants to join. (27 Sep 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
Around the Country
QLD: The death of an elderly man who took a voluntary assisted dying substance prescribed for his terminally ill wife is being investigated by Queensland health authorities. The case, mentioned in the first annual report by the Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) Review Board, is the subject of a review by Queensland Health, with the findings to be referred to the coroner. It's understood that the man's wife had met the criteria and had been given the medication but she was admitted to hospital and passed away before she could take it. Her husband was required to return the medication within 14 days but consumed it instead. (25 Sep 2023)
Read more at ABC News
NSW: An atheist group has nominated for a position on the New South Wales government’s new Faith Affairs Council. The application by Sydney Atheists last week could test the Minns government’s commitment to multiculturalism and diversity, with the group’s president, Steve Marton, arguing in his application that it would be an “injustice” to exclude the non-religious community from the advisory body. Despite having promised earlier this year that a “diversity of viewpoints” would be represented on the advisory body, the Labor government has instead required that nominees meet a number of religious requirements, including that they be endorsed by a religious group and have ascertained endorsement from two other religious bodies. (25 Sep 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
QLD: Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) is now legal in almost every state in Australia but in Queensland, where it's been legal since January, the terms are broader. In the first six months of 2023, 591 people applied to legally end their lives, and 245 have done so – more than one a day, a report released this week has revealed. (26 Sep 2023)
Read more at ABC News
SA: A “multi-faith prayer” will now be read out at the start of Adelaide City Council meetings on top of a non-denominational pledge. Councillors spent around 30 minutes at Tuesday night’s meeting debating whether the Lord Mayor should read a multi-faith prayer at the start of meetings, after spending nearly the same amount of the time on the issue in a committee meeting the week prior. (27 Sep 2023)
Read more at InDaily
TAS: Equality Tasmania is seeking assurances from the Rockliff Liberal government that they will remain committed to bringing in a ban on conversion therapy after the shock resignation of Attorney General Elise Archer. Equality Tasmania wants an assurance from Premier Jeremy Rockliff and acting Attorney-General, Michael Ferguson, that a ban on conversion practices will still be introduced by the end of the year. Archer, who was working on the legislation, announced her immediate resignation from parliament on Friday following allegations of workplace bullying. (29 Sep 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth
Commentary and Analysis
David Furse-Roberts: “We are all members one of another”: Robert Menzies and the principles of Christian engagement in a secular, divided society
"At the same time as fostering a common Christianity as part of Australia’s identity and heritage, Menzies recognised the diversity of post-war Australia’s faith communities and therefore promoted religious freedom, non-sectarianism, and interfaith harmony in the civic life of the nation. With his abiding commitment to religious freedom, Menzies affirmed the place of all faiths in Australia." (25 Sep 2023)
Read more at ABC Religion & Ethics
Sonia Hickey: Vatican Accuses Australian Bishop of Sexual Offences
"The Vatican confirmed it commissioned the investigation which accused Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders of sexual assault and child grooming. It also claims the Bishop hosted ‘bunga bunga’ parties at Church properties and spent thousands of dollars of Church fund on payments, mobile phones, alcohol and cigarettes. Bishop Saunders strenuously denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with any offence." (26 Sep 2023)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers
Si Gladman / Rebecca Banham: Surge in non-religious Australia unsettling for some media, webinar told
"Significant sections of the Australian media are responding to the rapid rise in non-religious identification with concern, defensiveness and fear, the latest RSA Webinar has heard. At Wednesday’s webinar, guest speaker, Dr Rebecca Banham shared insights from her project analysing the media’s response to the 2021 Census results, in which the proportion of Australian society marking ‘No religion’ surged to almost 40 per cent and Christianity plummeted to below 50 per cent. Although she stressed that her findings did not form a representative study, Dr Banham, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University of Tasmania, said she detected an underlying message of concern among not just loud conservative media but also mainstream media." (29 Sep 2023)
Watch the webinar at the Rationalist Society of Australia
Events and Campaigns
The inaugural Secularism Australia Conference will be held in Sydney on 2 December 2023. Early-bird tickets are on sale until 7 October.
Learn more at the Secularism Australia website
Equality Australia are running a petition calling on the Federal Government and all remaining states and territories to remove unnecessary legal carve-outs for religious schools and organisations and ensure laws protect everyone equally.
Read and sign the petition at Equality Australia
The Human Rights Law Centre are running a website for those who want to support an Australian Charter of Human Rights & Freedoms.
Visit the Charter of Rights website here
A change.org petition has been started, calling for churches to lose their tax-free status and for "the religious influence of churches in Australian politics and society" to be limited. It's currently up to 30,000 signatures.
View the petition at change.org
Reason Australia are encouraging Victorians to email the state government asking to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read more at the Reason Australia website
Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!
The Australian Education Union is running a campaign calling for “every school, every child” to receive fair education funding. Support the campaign here.
The Human Rights for NSW alliance has launched a campaign calling for NSW to pass a Human Rights Act.