Weekend Wrap for 13 August 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 13 August 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

Military chaplaincy is an opportunity for Christians to “touch people” who have no connections to churches, says the Australian Christian Church (ACC) representative to Defence’s taxpayer-funded committee of religious clerics. Speaking in an ACC video promoting the role of the church’s chaplains in Defence, Pastor Ralph Estherby urges Pentecostal Christians to mobilise and “go outside of the church to make a difference” in chaplaincy roles. “That’s what we’ve seen happen in this amazing opportunity with military chaplaincy. People who would normally not be touched by a church are being touched by people who have a connection with God and hope and life, and can be given the support they need,” he says. Late last month, The Guardian reported that the Defence Force had a disproportionately high number of Pentecostal and evangelical chaplains, as revealed in new figures provided to the Senate by the Department of Defence. (7 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

A federal Labor MP has labelled the decision to expand the school chaplaincy program to give schools a choice of a secular student wellbeing officer as “one of the great improvements” by the Albanese government. In a speech to the Federation Chamber – the House of Representatives’ second chamber – yesterday, Graham Perrett said the flexibility for choice in the new National Student Wellbeing Program (NSWP) would allow schools to “cater for their specific needs and what suits their community.” (8 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Rationalist Society of Australia

A Christian-owned insurance company which backed its members joining the National Redress Scheme for child sex abuse survivors has backflipped in what has been described as a “stunning blow” to victims. ACS Mutual asked to be revoked from the scheme, meaning about 1000 religious organisations it insured will leave creating a vacuum of uncertainty for survivors considering making a claim for compensation. Greens Justice Spokesman Senator David Shoebridge said “it is a stunning blow against victims to have 900 institutions leave the redress Scheme in a single day with apparently no plan in place to ensure they all rejoin.” (10 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Daily Telegraph ($)

Around the Country

NSW: Multiple LGBTQI community groups and supporters gathered in Sydney over the weekend, protesting the Religious Vilification Bill passed by the state government earlier in the week. On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of Sydney Town Hall criticising the NSW Labor Government’s bill for providing exemptions for potentially harmful actions on the grounds of religious beliefs. The bill, which was introduced in late June, has seen LGBTQI activist groups oppose the amendment saying it does not adequately protect queer communities from exemptions. (5 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Star Observer

SA: The state government is spending $1.2 million of funding allocated for public schools under the Gonski scheme on an advertising campaign spruiking five technical colleges it promised to build if elected, it has been revealed. South Australian opposition spokesman, and former education minister, John Gardner said it was an "extraordinary decision" to divert the funding away from its purpose. "This money is supposed to be going to teaching and learning in our public schools, and instead it's going on ad campaigns and TV ads for a Labor election promise." (7 Aug 2023)
Read more at ABC News

VIC: The Catholic church is seeking to challenge a legal ruling in Victoria that would allow the father of a choirboy to sue for damages over allegations of child sexual abuse by Cardinal George Pell. The father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, filed a claim against the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne and Pell. He claims to have suffered nervous shock after learning of allegations that Pell sexually abused his now deceased son in the mid-1990s. The Catholic church tried to be excused from proceedings by relying on the Ellis defence, arguing the father could not sue because he was not the direct victim of the alleged abuse. In August 2022, the supreme court justice Michael McDonald ruled that the law allowed claims from alleged secondary victims, including the boy’s father. (8 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

ACT: A public hearing will be held to examine whether the ACT government should hold an inquiry into its controversial takeover of Calvary Public Hospital. In July, the ACT government took over ownership and management of the facility in Canberra's north, and is planning to build a new $1 billion hospital at the site. A private member's bill that would effectively compel the ACT government to hold an inquiry into the acquisition was referred to a federal Senate committee for examination by Queensland LNP senator Matt Canavan. The motion was passed with the support of the Greens. (9 Aug 2023)
Read more at ABC News

SA: Adelaide City Council’s Tuesday night meeting was disrupted after a councillor was temporarily expelled for breaching a ban on reading aloud a Christian prayer. Councillor Henry Davis has been protesting a change to council’s meeting procedures – first enacted in April – whereby the Christian prayer is no longer read aloud by the council CEO at the start of meetings. (9 Aug 2023)
Read more at InDaily

NT: Many Alice Springs faith leaders are urging worshippers to back an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, saying it's a crucial opportunity for healing and reconciliation. A referendum later this year will decide whether a proposed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice should be enshrined in the constitution. (9 Aug 2023)
Read more at ABC News

ACT: Catholic teachers in the ACT are set to become the highest paid in the country amid the crippling skills shortage facing the sector, with pay rises that will see graduates earning almost $85,000 a year, effective immediately. The announcement of a 9.2 per cent pay increase in a single year for Canberra teachers is expected to heap pressure on the NSW government, which is facing intense backlash from unions over botched pay negotiations. The NSW Teachers Federation has accused the Minns Labor government of “an act of betrayal” after it announced a 2.5 per cent cap on teacher wages from their second year in the job. The ACT government in May announced significant increases to public teacher pay, with graduates to be offered more than $91,000 a year. However, the wage rises will not come into force until 2025. (10 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Australian

NSW: The NSW government’s plans to ban gay conversion therapy will be expanded to include making it illegal to change or suppress a person identifying as trans or gender diverse. Attorney-General Michael Daley has confirmed the government is pushing ahead with its own new laws, rather than backing independent MP Alex Greenwich’s bill later this month. A leaked discussion paper, however, shows that the government wants to make illegal any activities attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and this would be elevated to a crime if these practices were likely to cause harm. It also proposed to criminalise taking someone out of the state to participate in conversion practices. (11 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Age

NSW: A prominent mental health expert has warned that doctors might be scared to work with gender-diverse and transgender people if a NSW ban on conversion practices is too heavy-handed. Professor Ian Hickie, a co-director at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, said he supported extending a ban on conversion practices to protect trans and gender-diverse people, but warned there could be “unintended consequences”. “When you make an area very legalistic, people do become reluctant to practise in that area, and this is already a highly polarised and contested area,” Hickie said. “We need to encourage more people to be engaged and willing to work with the evidence as it evolves.” (12 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Age

Commentary and Analysis

RMIT ABC Fact Check: ABC Promise check: Legislate to prevent religious discrimination and vilification, while allowing schools to preference religious staff and protecting students and teachers
"After the previous Coalition government decided to shelve its Religious Discrimination Bill in the months before the 2022 election, then opposition leader Anthony Albanese vowed to protect people from vilification and discrimination on the basis of faith. ... He added that Labor would 'act to protect all students from discrimination on any grounds' and 'protect teachers from discrimination at work, whilst maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff'. The promise aligns with the Australian Labor Party's 2021 national party platform, which stated that the party 'believes that people of faith deserve the same human rights, equality, respect and safety as every other Australian'. ... Fact Check will consider this promise to be delivered if Labor legislates to prevent religious discrimination within its first term. Here's how the promise is tracking..." (7 Aug 2023)
Read more at ABC News

Brian Morris: Psychopathic link to Climate Denial
"Is it time to mount a public campaign to cajole all political parties to psych-test their candidates before endorsement? Or will they continue to put more chameleons into parliament, with their penchant to lie, cheat, and defraud? Think Robodebt, endless funding rorts, and Morrison’s 5 ministries. But why stop with a psych test? Surely it needs to be coupled with a basic science test – simply, 'does the candidate accept that Homo sapiens evolved from a common primate ancestor, over several million years?' ... Fundamentalists have no concern for the climate crisis as Revelation tells them the world will be 'consumed by fire.' This includes politicians, media personalities, and influencers who say 'what crisis? It’s all a myth.' But deluded fundamentalists put all progressive social policy is at risk, not just action to save the planet on climate, and the global pollution of land, sea, and air. They also strive to overturn same-sex marriage, VAD (voluntary assisted dying) and to again outlaw abortion – empowered by the US Supreme Court on Roe vs Wade." (7 Aug 2023)
Read more at the AIMN

Emily Baker, Echo Hui: The Tasmanian Buddhist spiritual group being accused of operating like a cult
"For decades, an eccentric spiritual group based in Hobart called Holy Tantra Esoteric Buddhism has enjoyed public support from Tasmanian and Chinese politicians, who speak in glowing terms about its contributions to the community. We hear from Holy Tantra insiders who describe the group not as a benign religious organisation, but as operating like a cult." (9 Aug 2023)
Watch video at ABC News

Philip Mendes and Marcia Pinskier: Malka Leifer, the school board and the legal consequences of failing to report child sexual abuse
"In April 2023, a Melbourne court found Malka Leifer, the 56-year-old former principal of the Jewish, ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School, guilty of 18 sexual offences including rape and indecent assault committed against two female students from approximately 2003-08. Leifer is due to be sentenced on August 24, 2023 which would appear to bring existing criminal hearings to a close. However, in early June 2023, the Victoria Police announced that they would reopen an earlier investigation into actions allegedly taken by members of the Adass Israel School board and other community members to facilitate Leifer’s sudden flight from Australia to Israel in March 2008. That departure enabled Leifer to avoid justice for nearly 13 years until she was finally extradited to Australia in January 2021 following 74 separate court hearings." (10 Aug 2023)
Read more at Australian Jewish News

Rob Stokes: Old churches could be the answer to our prayers for new housing
"The impact of COVID-19, rising secularism and demographic change mean many congregations established a century ago have dwindled to the point of closure. Just as shopping malls have superseded local shopping strips, so too have campus-style worship centres replaced many small, centrally located local churches. ... Faith-based organisations originally acquired land and buildings to meet a community need. Declining and changing church attendance has created an opportunity for churches to serve the community in new ways. While there is a surplus of religious buildings, there is a chronic deficit of housing – especially for the people least able to afford homes without community support." (10 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald

Renae Barker: Why a Queensland court overturned a ban on religious knives in schools
"The Supreme Court of Queensland last week overturned a law banning children from bringing “knives” to school for religious reasons. This will allow Sikh students, parents, and teachers to carry a ceremonial dagger known as a “kirpan” at schools in Queensland. ... What made the Queensland law particularly egregious is that not only did it prohibit the freedom of religion of a small and vulnerable minority, it did so deliberately. The only religious or ethnic group in Australia that habitually wears a religious or cultural symbol that resembles a knife are Sikhs. The law was therefore directly targeted at Sikhs. The Queensland case highlights the needs for Australia’s secular legal system to recognise the adverse impact of law on religious and cultural minorities." (10 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Conversation

Events and Campaigns

The ABS has opened up phase two of their 2026 Census topic consultation. Please consider making a submission supporting the introduction of a filter question.
Make a submission at the ABS 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 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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