Weekend Wrap for 12 March 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 12 March 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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Do you have any news items, campaigns, petitions, webinars or other event notices that could be added to our weekly Wrap? Let us know at wrap@nsl.org.au.

At the National Level

The largest study of Catholic women in the church’s 2000-year history has found they are hungry for reform. They resent their lack of decision-making power, want to follow their consciences on sex and contraception, and think the church should be more inclusive of the diverse and the divorced. Other views expressed include a dislike of priests promoting political agendas, and concern about a lack of transparency in church governance. More than four in five said LGBTQ people should be included in all activities, and just over half strongly agreed same-sex couples were entitled to a religious marriage. (6 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

An Australian right-wing Christian conference has been urged to flood the country’s Liberal parties with members to gain long-term influence and ensure conservative religious candidates “prevail” in every branch. The comments from host Dave Pellowe were part of a panel session to end the Church and State summit in Brisbane on Saturday, focused on whether to join a major or minor party amid the goal of “arming Christians to influence culture”. With Labor now holding power federally and in all states and territories except Tasmania and NSW, the various Liberal and National parties are seeking to rebuild relevance from opposition amid efforts by the religious sector and the far-right to import strategies from counterparts in places such as the United States. (6 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

A key proposal for Australia’s first federal human rights act would see religious freedom, expression, privacy and the environment included among 28 protections. The Australian Human Rights Commission on Tuesday night launched its proposed model to replace the nation’s patchwork of rights, international obligations and recourse limitations with one coherent document. The culmination of a four-year review of the current framework and extensive consultation with civil liberty groups, legal experts and rights advocates, the proposed act would reflect and codify fundamental common law rights. (7 Mar 2023)
Read more at The New Daily

Peak bodies representing the Catholic education sector united in opposition to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into faith-based schools. The National Catholic Education Commission, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic School Parents Australia submissions offered criticisms of the consultation paper, with the NCEC submission recommending the inquiry "goes back to the drawing board" altogether. (9 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly

Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie has used leaked documents to allege Hillsong Church broke financial laws in Australia and around the world, while accusing founder Brian Houston of spending lavishly on private jets, luxury retreats, designer goods and custom skateboards. Wilkie used parliamentary privilege on Thursday to make the allegations regarding the church’s finances, which he claims were leaked to him by a whistleblower, including that the church earned $80 million more income in Australia than it reported publicly. (9 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

The Australian charity watchdog is investigating allegations against the Hillsong church of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion to fund lavish trips and lifestyles. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege on Thursday to claim tens of thousands of leaked financial records and documents show misuse of church funds. (10 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

Former assistant minister Jason Wood says Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call on Australia to protect Hindu temples vindicates his decision to redirect cash from a community safety program to protect places of religious worship. Modi expressed concern about a spate of attacks on Hindu temples with his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese late on Friday in a closed discussion in New Delhi, highlighting the scale of the alarm in India over the problem. The attacks on temples in Melbourne and Sydney sparked concern at the highest level in India and drew a promise from Albanese to provide special protection. (11 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

Around the Country

NSW: As voters across NSW prepare to cast their vote in the March 25 election, a number of candidates have been pitching directly to faith communities to cast an Upper House vote for them and keep the next Labor or Coalition government accountable on key issues such as freedom of religion and parental rights. Among the candidates vying for one of 21 seats in the Upper House or Legislative Council is the former managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Lyle Shelton, who is contesting the election as an independent. (6 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly

VIC: The City of Boroondara council has paused the use of a Christian prayer asking God to direct it after receiving a legal letter stating its inclusion in council processes was unlawful. Jennifer Kanis, social justice principal at Maurice Blackburn lawyers, wrote to the council this year, advising that the inclusion of the prayer was unlawful under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The prayer also has no connection to the decision-making process of council and “it is therefore beyond the powers given to council by the government to have a rule that requires that”, she told The Age. (8 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

QLD: Three Queensland Labor MPs have spoken out against the Palaszczuk government’s stance on religious instruction in state schools, with one MP declaring the policy’s “time is up”. It comes after a Brisbane church volunteer’s comments about using controversial religious instruction to “harvest” state school children and “disciple them afterwards”. Ex-principals lashed the comments, which also reignited calls for Queensland to follow other states’ example and review religious instruction policies in state schools. (8 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Courier Mail

NSW: Prominent independent MP Alex Greenwich and the Animal Justice Party have forged a formal alliance which will see them shepherd each other’s key policies through NSW parliament. Greenwich said his top priorities were gambling reform, including a mandatory cashless gaming card, as well as laws to stop discrimination against the LGBTQ community. (10 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald

Commentary and Analysis

Paul Gregoire: Locals Say F**k Off, As Christian Fascists Descend Upon Newtown.
"A large group of Christian fascists descended upon Newtown on Friday night, marching in a pack along King Street and hurling abusive slurs at locals. Fuelled by homophobic and transphobic sentiment and spurred by the success of WorldPride, the men’s presence was a clear attempt to intimate the local community. The group goes by the name of Christian Lives Matter, despite the fact that Christians have never been anything of a persecuted minority on this continent. ... And the reaction of the NSW Police Force to the Christian fascists was in stark contrast to how it might react to an unannounced and unauthorised protest carried out by a First Nations group, a trans rights organisation or climate defenders."
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

The Age (Editorial): Lord’s Prayer should no longer have pride of place in public life.
"This week, the City of Boroondara became the latest municipality to reconsider its long-running practice of starting its meetings with the reading of a prayer. Following a campaign from one of its members and a broader push from a group of councillors statewide, it has now “paused” the practice while it consults residents on its next steps. The decision is in line with the times. Indeed, it is entirely reasonable today that we question the relevance of preferencing a single faith while representing our diverse communities." (9 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age

David Hardaker: The Hillsong whistleblower files.
(A series of articles based on investigations into the allegations of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion made against Hillsong.)
"Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has tabled internal Hillsong documents that he alleges reveal the church breaking 'numerous laws' in Australia and around the world, relating to 'fraud, money laundering and tax evasion'. The independent MP said the documents had been provided to him by a whistleblower. ... Hillsong’s public documents show that there are millions of dollars in “loans” between the various Hillsong charities. They also show that Hillsong “donates” funds to other Hillsong charities. In the opaque world in which Hillsong operates (along with other churches), it has been impossible to know the detail of these cross-charity transactions. This is partly because key financial information is kept secret — even from the government regulator — in certain religious charities." (10 Mar 2023)
Read more at Crikey

Jackie Turner: Anti-trans disinformation is rife in Australia — and it’s being spread by a small group of organisations.
"In the first month of the 2022 election race, an archive of Liberal candidate Katherine Deves’ deleted tweets went viral. The general public was appalled at the crude and dehumanising ways she talked about trans people and the broader LGBTQIA+ community, referring to surrogacy as “reproductive prostitution” and the bodies of trans children as being “mutilated”. However, this also served as the moment when many people in Australia learnt about trans people for the first time. ... Since the federal election, we have seen an uptick in the promotion of anti-trans disinformation by the media, groups like Binary Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby. Over the past couple of months, The Australian has published articles platforming disinformation about trans health care, such as a recent piece attacking gender-affirming care at Westmead Hospital." (10 Mar 2023)
Read more at Crikey

Sonia Hickey: Catholic Church Delivers ‘Low Blow’ to Avoid Responsibility for Child Sexual Abuse.
"The Catholic church has delivered what’s been described as a ‘pretty low blow’ in order to avoid paying compensation to survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The Marist Brothers is arguing in court that it is unable to defend civil proceedings brought by a survivor of child sexual abuse, who is known by the pseudonym of Mark Peters, because his abuser has died. ... And rather than work with survivors and make reforms, Marist Brothers is using the opportunity in an attempt to shirk its legal obligations." (11 Mar 2023)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

Events and Campaigns

Faithless Hijabi is an Australian organisation dedicated to supporting ex-Muslims who have left their religion, are holding a fundraiser on the morning of Sunday 26 March. Read more at their website.

The RSA is encouraging its Queensland-based members and supporters to email state education ministers to let the government know you oppose public schools being treated as mission fields. Read more at the RSA website.

News Corp have begun a new podcast series, "Faith on Trial", investigating various stories relating to Hillsong, including alleged exploitation of staff, questionable treatment of Hillsong college students, and the trial of Brian Houston.
Listen to the podcast here

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.

Funding for public schools has been cut in the latest budget but funding for school chaplains has been assured. A change.org petition is currently calling on the federal government to fund youth workers rather faith-based chaplains in our public schools.

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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