Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 20 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
Australian prosecutors had argued Brian Houston tried to cover up his father's sexual abuse of a child in the 1970s. The church founder only learned of the abuse decades later and said he did not report it because the victim, by then an adult, did not want police involved. Frank Houston, who died in 2004, is believed to have used his position as a pastor to abuse as many as nine boys. (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at the BBC
Following feedback and lobbying from concerned parties (including the NSL), the Labor party has re-inserted the word 'secular' into its policy platform to specify: “Public schools are among our nation’s most important institutions and should be fully and fairly funded to deliver excellent secular education that meets the needs of every child.” (18 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
Around the Country
NSW: School principals are pushing for an urgent review of religious education in NSW public schools, warning scripture classes are disrupting the curriculum and forcing thousands of students to miss out on crucial learning time. Fewer than 15 per cent of pupils at some of Sydney’s public high schools attend Special Religious Education (SRE), according to data obtained under freedom of information laws. Strict rules prevent students who opt out of religious classes from being able to learn the curriculum or engage in any formal school activities while the lessons are being held. (13 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Sydney Morning Herald
NSW: The Catholic church is seeking to use using the death of a “prolific paedophile” priest to permanently prevent a dying Indigenous man from seeking justice for alleged abuse suffered on camping trips in rural New South Wales. Two survivors are suing the church’s Armidale diocese for the alleged abuse by notorious priest David Joseph Perrett during camping trips from an Aboriginal mission in the mid-1970s. The church is now using Perrett’s death in a bid to shut down civil cases brought by the same survivors against the Armidale diocese. (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Guardian
NSW: The Sydney Anglican Diocese has produced a new doctrinal statement on homosexuality that says the mere desire for same-sex sexual intimacy is contrary to God’s will, “an inclination toward evil” and something from which Christians seek to be liberated. The report by the Sydney Diocesan Doctrine Commission will be presented to the Sydney Anglican Diocese’s 53rd Synod next month, just as the state government consults on a bill to ban practices that seek to convert or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Age
NSW: The Anglican Church has advised its aged care homes to discourage residents from using voluntary assisted dying when NSW’s laws take effect this year, and has warned the practice could become so morally corrupting for church-run facilities that it may have to exit the industry. In a report presented to its Synod, Anglican Community Services said it would adopt a strategy of minimum compliance: residential homes would adhere to the requirements of the act, such as allowing residents access to qualified doctors, but refuse any further assistance. “The report challenges Anglicare Sydney to respectfully, in compliance with the law, seek to dissuade residents from accessing VAD by ‘deed and word’,” it said. (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Age
NSW: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party is pressuring the Minns New South Wales government to deliver on its pre-election promise to set up an advisory council of religious clerics to act as a “solutions warehouse” for faith communities. In the state’s Legislative Council in late June, One Nation MLC Tania Mihailuk accused the Labor government of abandoning faith leaders for not having established the advisory body since coming to power in late March. (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
Commentary and Analysis
John Card: LGBTQ+ discrimination bills keeping bigotry alive
"In the lead-up to the last Federal Election, the Coalition Government made its last big legislative push attempting to pass a suite of “religious discrimination” bills, which would carve out legal avenues for schools, employers and healthcare providers to freely deny service as they saw fit. Eventually, public outrage over the proposed legislation drove the crossbench and a small contingent of the L-NP's own members of parliament to force then-PM Scott Morrison to shelve his proposal rather than let a “watered-down” version make it through the House. It might have seemed like the threat this sort of bill posed had now been thoroughly exorcised away for good by the fact that Morrison and the devoutly evangelical lobbyists in his ear are no longer running the country. But more than a year later, the exact same problem has risen back up from the dead." (14 Aug 2023)
Read more at Independent Australia
Lucy Hamilton: The insurgency within the Liberal Party
"Australia is, by a strong margin, a country content to let people make decisions about our own lives. Pew reports that 75% of Australians favour same-sex marriage. Abortion is supported by roughly 76% of us. Only 8% of Australians think all abortion should be totally banned. Australians support euthanasia by at least 73%. While we have social and religious conservatives in our midst, we are content for them to avoid life choices that they find troubling or sinful. We baulk, however, at letting them impose their views on the substantial majority who don’t share their beliefs. ... The ultra conservative figures threatening to drag the Liberal Party and the country back to a monotone place are not wizened old men. Alex Antic is younger and driven. Moira Deeming is both a “conservative” martyr and an inspiration in demand at a variety of events. ... The Christian Nationalist and ultraconservative right believe this battle is existential: the authoritarian society they demand is the only model possible. We must all live within their rules." (17 Aug 2023)
Read more at the AIMN
Sonia Hickey: Brian Houston Found Not Guilty of Concealing Child Sexual Abuse
"Hillsong Church Founder Brian Houston has been cleared of accusations he concealed child sexual offences committed by his father, Frank Houston, in the 1970s. Brian Houston, who is a long time friend of former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was charged by New South Wales police in 2021 with concealing a a child abuse offence of another person, for allegedly failing to report to police his father Frank’s confession that he had repeatedly sexually assaulted a young boy who was a member of a church where he preached. ... Frank Houston was never charged with child sex offences, although at a separate hearing last year Brian Houston told the court that his father was a “serial paedophile” and that over the years a number of victims had also come forward." (18 Aug 2023)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers
Caitlin Fitzsimmons: Jeremy was 16 and depressed. A psychiatrist offered therapy to suppress his attraction to boys
"[Jeremy] Smith grew up in Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic group. Smith had known he was gay since he was 13 and told his family and close friends a few years later. After the psychiatric sessions, his parents took him to see a Catholic priest. ... The priest was “kind and sympathetic” but Smith found the focus on how he should never act on his sexual desires upsetting. After a few sessions, he refused to go back. By this time, Smith’s religious school in north-west Sydney was also involved. He remembers his tutor talking about how he must never act on his attraction to other boys, or come out, and confiding that he too had experienced but overcome similar feelings. Smith says his brush with conversion practices was only fleeting, but it left him with lasting scars. All this could soon be illegal in NSW, as the Minns government moves on its election promise to ban LGBTQ conversion practices. Labor is planning its own legislation, but could be forced to vote sooner on a separate private members bill developed by independent Alex Greenwich." (19 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Age
Mark Fowler: Parents’ challenge ‘morals’ dilemma of religious school legal reforms
"Last year the Albanese government set in process what is shaping to be the most fundamental reform of the law impacting religious schooling this country has undertaken since the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984. The Australian Law Reform Commission has been charged with drafting laws that will ensure a religious school “must not discriminate against a member of staff” but may “continue to build a community of faith by giving preference … to persons of the same religion”. Given the exercise of a preference for one person necessarily entails the refusal of another, there is a clear tension between these two requests. Whether the ALRC can reconcile that tension will determine the future of authentic religious schooling in this country." (19 Aug 2023)
Read more at The Australian
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.