Weekend Wrap for 12 November 2023

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

The Parliament House petition from the Secularism Australia Conference team calling for the House of Representatives to modernise its Standing Orders and replace daily prayers with a more appropriate practice is now up to 2,900 signatures! View and sign here.

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At the National Level

Australia’s Army and Air Force could soon become outliers in not providing a secular pastoral care option for their non-religious personnel, with the United Kingdom likely to become the latest country to pursue reform of its military chaplaincy capability. Annabel Goldie, Minister of State for Defence, said earlier this year that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) had recently concluded a review into the provision of non-religious pastoral support in the armed forces. “The MOD is aware that the Armed Forces of Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands employ humanist pastoral carers (or similar). We are working to create and sustain an environment where everyone feels respected and able to achieve their full potential.” Armies in Western nations are increasingly turning to non-religious pastoral care to meet the needs of their non-religious personnel. (3 Nov 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

A Christian fellowship group which counts high-ranking military personnel among its members has been conducting an “operation” within the Australian Defence Force to counter “Satan”, who is described as seeking to “secularise the roles of chaplains”. The Rationalist Society of Australia has discovered a strategic plan on the website of the Military Christian Fellowship (MCF) detailing what the group has labelled ‘Operation Fruitful Tree 2015-2019'. It says Satan will attack Christians who work in Defence by, among other ways, directly persecuting them for their beliefs, isolating chaplains and encouraging spiritual passivity, and secularising chaplaincy roles. The group's past patrons include former Chief of Army and now Governor-General David Hurley. Its current patron is Army Major General Sue Graham. (10 Nov 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Around the Country

VIC: A lawyer representing a former schoolboy allegedly abused by a Christian Brothers’ principal says his firm litigates because the congregation refuses to settle out of court. Christian Brothers is facing fresh legal action brought by former students over separate sexual abuse claims at St Joseph’s College Junior School in Pascoe Vale and Trinity College in Colac in the 1960s and 1970s. Rightside Legal Principal Laird Macdonald — who is representing the former St Joseph’s schoolboy — said his firm issued lawsuits because the Christian Brothers and other religious institutions were more concerned with their reputation than the safety of children. “If you ask nicely they treat you with contempt, they respond to litigation.” The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found 22 per cent of Christian Brothers were alleged abusers — among the most prevalent of Catholic Church authorities. (4 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Herald Sun

WA: WA Labor’s LGBTQ wing has called on the Cook Government to deliver on its promise to reform the Equal Opportunities Act in this term of parliament, as reports emerge that the bill will be pushed beyond the next election. The reforms, now in jeopardy, included prohibiting religious schools from sacking teachers over their sexual orientation or gender identity. The overhaul of the Act has been delayed and may not be introduced in this parliamentary term, despite a promise by Attorney General John Quigley last year to introduce the bill in 2023. (5 Nov 2023)
Read more at The West Australian

NSW: The Minns government will privilege the voice of religious communities and discriminate on the ground of belief in refusing to allow a non-religious person on the state’s new Faith Affairs Council. President of Sydney Atheists, Steve Marton, was told that the government had rejected his nomination to represent the state’s non-religious and ex-religious population on the 16-member body. The outcome means that religious leaders will gain even greater influence over government policy, with the body to have direct access to ministers and be able to advise government to provide extra benefits and resources for religious people. (6 Nov 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

WA: LGBTQI advocacy groups held a rally outside Western Australia’s Parliament House in Perth on Tuesday to demand the government fulfil its promise to enact anti-discrimination laws to protect the community. LGBTQI organisations have accused the Labor government of going back on its previous commitment to introduce legislation to protect the community from discrimination. “The Government has revealed they have no intention to try and pass the much-awaited Equal Opportunity Act reform, going back on their previous commitments. Labor has no excuses for this delay while they have an unprecedented number of MPs and control over Parliament,” Queer Liberation Boorloo stated on their Facebook page. (8 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Star Observer

NSW: Catholic MLC Susan Carter has questioned the co-delivery of palliative care and Voluntary Assisted Dying in NSW health districts when VAD comes online on 28 November. In a Budget Estimates hearing on 26 October, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said VAD and palliative care could be co-delivered in certain local health districts. “When someone is asking for voluntary assisted dying as per the Act, it is important that the full suite of measures, including palliative care and other options around treatment and prognosis, are discussed,” Dr Chant said. (9 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Catholic Weekly

TAS: The Tasmanian government has agreed to back legislation to improve the national redress scheme for the victim-survivors of child sexual abuse despite being the last holdout and missing a critical deadline. Attorney-General Guy Barnett’s belated phone call with federal Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth on Wednesday ended an impasse which threatened to hold up the reforms. It came after the state inexplicably missed Tuesday’s deadline to join every other state in support. (9 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Mercury

VIC: A Victorian jury has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Catholic Church, awarding $3.3 million to the victim of a notorious paedophile after the church argued compensation should be only $250,000. The Supreme Court case is the first time a civil trial against the Catholic Church has been tested before jurors. Once the order is enforced by Justice Stephen O’Meara and interest payments are included, the compensation figure is expected to be the largest for a victim of clerical abuse in Australia. (10 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Age

Commentary and Analysis

Ben Cubby: Punishment and control: the secret handbook that rules a religion
"An investigation following an inquest into the death of Jehovah’s Witness Heather Winchester, who died in Newcastle after refusing a blood transfusion, has uncovered disturbing practices within the Australian church, including the systems for discipline, punishment and control contained in the secret rule book for church 'elders'. The church’s blood transfusion ban forces people to choose between risking death by refusing treatment or being 'shunned' – cut off from family and friends under the church’s strict rules – according to 16 former and current members of the church interviewed and the testimony of many others. Some of them believe it has cost hundreds of lives in Australia." (6 Nov 2023)
Read more at The Age

Events and Campaigns

The Secularism Australia Conference has launched a petition on the Parliament House website requesting the House of Representatives modernise its Standing Orders and replace daily Christian prayers with a more appropriate practice.
View and sign the petition on the APH website

The inaugural Secularism Australia Conference will be held in Sydney on 2 December 2023.
Learn more at the Secularism Australia website

Residents of NSW, there is a petition running that calls on the state parliament to run scripture (SRE) and ethics (SEE) lessons outside class time in NSW public schools.
View the petition at the NSW Parliament House website

The Australia Institute are calling on federal parliament to pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.
View the petition at The Australia Institute

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.

That's it for another week!

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