Weekend Wrap for 11 June 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 11 June 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

The Morrison government gave $4m to an organisation accused of “extreme religious practices” – including exorcisms and gay conversion – on the same day the Australian government solicitor (AGS) advised the grant would “likely be without lawful authority”. The former prime minister Scott Morrison announced the grant for Western Australia’s Esther Foundation in the lead-up to the 2019 election, declaring the organisation had “completely, completely captured” his heart. The grant was part of the $2bn Community Health and Hospitals Program (CHHP). This week the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found the federal health department had deliberately breached guidelines in administering the program and “fell short of ethical requirements”. (7 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

The high court has pressed the Catholic church to explain why it didn’t have an adequate opportunity 50 years ago to investigate the extent of a priest’s abuse of children, given there were “red flags everywhere” about his crimes. The court on Thursday began hearing a key case about a legal tactic now routinely being employed by the church and other institutions to permanently shield themselves from abuse survivors’ civil claims for compensation. Institutions are now regularly seeking permanent stays, or a permanent halt to proceedings, by arguing the death of alleged perpetrators and the inability to obtain their response to a survivor’s allegations leaves them unable to receive a fair trial. (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

The federal government has announced it will introduce legislation to ban Nazi symbols and the sale of goods-for-profit featuring Nazi symbols. The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill will be introduced into parliament next week, outlining a ban on symbols related to Nazis or the SS, including on flags, armbands, T-shirts in public and online, with a maximum penalty of up to 12 months' imprisonment. The bill will not ban all uses of the swastika, due to the religious significance of the symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at ABC News

Catholic bioethics and legal experts have called for children born alive after an abortion to be granted legal protections at a Senate committee hearing on 8 June. Health practitioners are not required by law to provide medical or palliative care or treatment to a child who survives an abortion. Senators Matthew Canavan and Alex Antic introduced a bill to Federal Parliament last November to protect such newborns, following the defeat of a similar push by former MP George Christensen earlier in the year. The bill would require a child born alive after an abortion to be given the same medical treatment or palliative care as a newborn. (9 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Catholic Weekly

The sex abuse crisis engulfing the Catholic Church threatens to break the back of its financial structures without an urgent ­rethink of how as much as an ­estimated $500bn of its wealth in Australia is handled, according to a former senior adviser to the faith’s bishops. Economist Brendan Long has warned the complex structures of the church could lead to enduring huge deficits in many parishes and dioceses despite the wealth of the church’s broader economic assets in Australia. Dr Long estimates the total wealth of the church’s economic assets in Australia is huge, with a $23bn total annual revenue base that combines entities such as schools, hospitals, the Australian Catholic University and the St Vincent de Paul Society. However, much of the estimated wealth is tied up in complex structures that are out of the hands of the bishops, who are facing falling church numbers, the ­effects of the pandemic and a generational backlash caused by the abuse scandal. (9 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Australian

Around the Country

NSW: The New South Wales government has pledged to ensure “a diversity of viewpoints” will be represented on its new Faith Advisory Council. In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), multiculturalism minister Steve Kamper has sought to allay concerns that the new body – which was an election commitment – could be dominated by clerics whose views differ from the public and even from the majority of their own congregations. (4 Jun 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

VIC: The education minister has said the government is open to lifting the private schools payroll tax threshold even further as Catholic schools urge families and principals to lobby their local MPs against the plan to slap payroll tax on mid-priced and high-fee schools. The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (CECV) is seeking to mobilise school communities against the tax, which was originally targeted at the 20 Catholic schools and 90 independent schools that charge more than $8000 a year. (7 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Age

QLD: Members of the Queensland Labor Party have sent a strong message to the Palaszczuk government that they want Religious Instruction (RI) classes to be moved outside of class time and teaching time given back to professional teachers. Delegates at the party’s state conference, held in Mackay on the weekend, unanimously passed a resolution on RI. The motion put to delegates asked that RI be removed from lesson time to lunch time or before or after school, or, alternatively, that non-participating students continue with learning the curriculum. (7 Jun 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

TAS: The Tasmanian government has committed to a conversion therapy ban in 2023. The commitment was made by Attorney-General, Elise Archer, and Community Services Minister, Nic Street, in Budget Estimates this week. Minister for Women, Jo Palmer, also said she supports a ban, adding that as a person of faith, a woman and a Tasmanian, “I don’t believe God makes mistakes”. (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth

VIC: An LGBTQ+ event that was being planned for St Kilda library has been cancelled amid threats from far-right groups. It is the second LGBTQ+ event in Pride month and at least the 13th since December last year to not go ahead. (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

ACT: Australia’s first laws to protect intersex people from medical procedures without their consent passed unopposed in the ACT parliament on Thursday. The bill will prohibit unnecessary medical treatments on people with natural variations of sex characteristics until the person can make the decision themselves. (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Star Observer

ACT: The challenge to stop the ACT Government compulsorily acquiring Cavalry Public Hospital has been thrown out of the ACT Supreme Court. Fr Tony Percy, who has led the SaveCalvary campaign, told supporters in a video the decision was disappointing. “What is clear now is that every Australian should be writing to the government – federal government, state governments and local governments – asking for guarantees that what they’re currently doing will not be taken away from them by this decision made in the ACT, which could set a precedent.” (9 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Catholic Leader

NSW: Students are reportedly being pulled from a prestigious private school south of Sydney because of a controversial statement of faith incoming staff must sign that opposes same-sex marriage. Some parents of children attending The Illawarra Grammar School have told The Sydney Morning Herald they’re appalled at the wording of the statement incoming principals and board members must endorse. The school, located in Wollongong, is run by the Sydney Anglican diocese, which updated its statement of faith in 2019 to read that “faith produces obedience in accordance with God’s word, including sexual faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman, and abstinence in all other circumstances”. A letter from parents said opposing same-sex marriage goes against “the values of mainstream Australia or the community (the school) seeks to serve”. (10 Jun 2023)
Read more at The New Daily

WA: An overhaul of Western Australia's abortion laws that will streamline access to terminations is set to be introduced to parliament following successful community consultation. Thousands of health professionals and members of the broader public in WA were surveyed on six proposed amendments late last year. The majority backed every change, including fully decriminalising abortion, increasing a gestational time limit for a procedure from 20 to 24 weeks, abolishing mandatory counselling and scrapping the need for a GP referral. (10 Jun 2023)
Read more at ABC News

NSW: Religious demonstrators gathered in Newtown on Friday, June 9, marching through the suburb against the LGBTQ+ community. Members of ‘Christian Lives Matter,’ among other far-right groups, took to the streets of one of Sydney’s queerest suburbs around 7pm and, through shouting, prayer, and preaching, worked to disrupt individuals moving about their evening. (10 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Star Observer

Commentary and Analysis

Jack Waterford: Catholics should go where the government isn't.
"I do hope that the Catholic Church remains closely involved in providing health care to Canberra citizens, particularly the poorer ones, after the takeover by the government of Calvary public hospital. Indeed I suspect it could be making for itself, and Canberra citizens, greater treasure in heaven if it got entirely out of the provision of government-funded health care and concentrated on areas where the less well-off were not as well served by government as they could be and should be. It is a political, not a moral question, whether the takeover of the hospital by the government is a good thing. One can wonder if Chief Minister Andrew Barr, or health minister Rachel Stephen-Smith are doing a wise thing. Or whether they can manage Calvary, or a united hospital system better. You can guess that single ownership of the public hospital system, or secular ownership of Calvary might be better or cheaper. One doesn’t or shouldn’t judge these matters according to religious affiliation. But whether they are wise or not, governments have the legal and constitutional right, as elected representatives, to decide to do it." (6 Jun 2023)
Read more at Pearls & Irritations

Paul Gregoire: Churches Use New Tactic to Avoid Paying Compensation to Child Sexual Abuse Victims.
"'This is a very disturbing case of history repeating,' declared Senator David Shoebridge, in relation to Christian institutions once again employing legal thuggery to avoid paying victims of historical sexual abuse perpetrated by their own clergy. 'And it’s the worst of history repeating,' he added. The Greens Senator raised this with the Attorney General’s Department during budget estimates on 24 May, as the issue was supposed to have been solved via state responses to the findings of The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse almost a decade ago now. Shoebridge quizzed staff from the office of attorney general Mark Dreyfus about what’s being done at the federal level to prevent the new practice of church legal teams making permanent stay applications which, if successful, stop cases in their tracks to threaten abuse survivors to drop their cases. Yet, their response was not much at all is being done." (6 Jun 2023)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

David Free: It’s the season of the Hillsong documentary, which is a bad sign for Hillsong.
"As a rule, it’s a bad sign when multiple documentaries and podcasts about you come out simultaneously. A single documentary can be cause for celebration. Two or three at once is rarely a reason to break out the champagne. More than three and you’re really in strife. ... Now it’s the season of the Hillsong documentary. Late last year came the four-part Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed. A podcast called Faith on Trial debuted earlier this year. In the US, the four-part documentary The Secrets of Hillsong just went to air. This weekend SBS will premiere The Kingdom, presented by Marc Fennell, who grew up attending several Pentecostal churches in Sydney, including Hillsong. And to add insult to injury, Hillsong will be getting the satirical treatment in the first episode of The Betoota Advocate Presents, which premieres later this month on Paramount Plus." (6 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Age

Maria Bhatti, Maryam Hashimi, and Sandy Noakes: Are Australia’s anti-discrimination laws protecting the rights of Muslim women?
"The level of protection provided by Australian law for Muslim women who choose to wear religious garments, such as the headscarf, has received minimal attention. This is significant because Muslim women who opt to wear religious garments continue to encounter discrimination, as highlighted in the 2022 Islamophobia in Australia Report. Studies also reveal that the prevailing biased narrative surrounding the veil often undermines women’s autonomy. This makes it crucial to assess the effectiveness of international and domestic legal frameworks — including Australian federal and state laws — in ensuring sufficient safeguards for Muslim women, especially in relation to employment." (8 Jun 2023)
Read more at ABC Religion & Ethics

Dan Jensen: The Kingdom: Uncovering Hillsong's rise and demise.
"The Hillsong Church has gained a reputation as being a dangerous organisation through its political influence and subsequent scandals that have led to its downfall. While appearing as a religious body, delving deeper into its inner workings reveals the true nature of the beast and how it succeeded in luring hundreds of thousands of members into its fold. Australian journalist, author and media presenter, Marc Fennell, was one of many who was part of the Pentecostal religion and fell victim to the Hillsong empire. In The Kingdom, he explores the history of Hillsong, how it became so successful and why the megachurch is now in ruins. But more importantly, he also shows how when one head is cut off, another grows in its place." (9 Jun 2023)
Read more at Independent Australia

Jane Caro: Underfunded public schools suffer.
"In the 23 years since then prime minister John Howard and his Education minister David Kemp decided parental choice should be at the centre of Australia’s publicly subsidised education system, our schools have become increasingly segregated. Middle-class families have flocked to what they see as “desirable” schools and left the rest in their dust. In 2021, an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study that compares education systems internationally found 41 per cent of government schools in Australia could be classed as disadvantaged, compared with 3 per cent of Catholic and less than 1 per cent of independent schools." (10 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Saturday Paper

Rationalist Society of Australia: Religionists give to their own, shows new volume in ‘Religiosity in Australia’ series.
"Religious people engage in higher levels of volunteerism and charitable donations than the non-religious but say it is more for their personal benefit and that of their congregations rather than benefiting others, the latest report into religiosity in Australia reveals. The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has today published the new volume in Neil Francis’ landmark Religiosity in Australia research series, with Part 4 – Religion and charity – examining the charitable behaviours of religious and non-religious Australians as individuals. The report also reveals that religionists feel higher levels of coercion in making donations. Francis utilises gold-standard Australian university datasets and peer-reviewed scientific literature, and applied his Australian Religious Identity 6-Segment model (ARI6) model, to explore widely held beliefs about religious people being more prosocial in giving to charity." (10 Jun 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Events and Campaigns

Until 5pm on Tuesday 20 June, Boroondara City Council is accepting public feedback on rule 18A of its Governance Rules – which relate to the council’s prayer ritual at the opening of meetings.
Complete the survey or make your written submission at the Boroondara Council.

An upcoming SBS documentary sees Walkley Award-winning journalist Marc Fennell return to the world of Pentecostalism – 17 years after he ran away from the religious movement. In the show, the self-professed “dirty heathen” investigates how Australia produced one of the world’s most successful and scandal-plagued megachurches, Hillsong. The Kingdom premieres on June 8 on SBS On Demand and June 11 on SBS at 7.30pm.
Read more at the New Daily

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

Just.Equal has created a tool to enable people to email Tasmanian MPs to urge them to support the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute's proposal to prohibit conversion practices.
View the tool at Just.Equal

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 28,000 signatures.
View the petition at change.org

Reason Australia have started a new petition to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read and sign the petition at the Reason Australia website

Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!

Humanists Australia have launched a Change.org petition calling for full separation of church and state in Australia. View and sign here.

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.

That's it for another week!

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