Weekend Wrap for 23 April 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 23 April 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

Failed Warringah Liberal candidate Katherine Deves has announced that she’ll be putting her name forward to replace Senator Jim Molan, who passed away in January following a long battle with cancer. Katherine Deves was picked by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison to run for the North Sydney seat of Warringah at the 2022 election, but her outspoken views on transgender youth have been credited with destroying the Liberal’s campaign in that electorate. (16 Apr 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth

Defendants who swear a secular affirmation are more likely to be found guilty by religious jurors than those who swear on a book of scripture like the Bible or Koran, a groundbreaking new study has found, leading to calls for the religious oath to be abandoned. Juror bias over religious oaths should be investigated, and potentially scrapped if a correlation between an affirmation and a guilty verdict is discovered, according to former Federal Court judge Tony Pagone KC. “It certainly should be looked at,” said Mr Pagone, who was a Federal Court judge from 2013 to 2018. “Unconscious things play on your mind in a way they should not play on your mind.” (18 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Australian

All Australian schools should be fully publicly funded, free of charge and open to all students, according to a bold new school funding model proposed by two education experts. In their report, Choice and Fairness, a Common Framework for all Australian Schools, researchers Chris Bonnor and Tom Greenwell say the funding overhaul would cost taxpayers an extra $8 billion a year but boost academic equity and achievement. Private schools could continue to be independently owned and operated and could prioritise enrolments for families from faith backgrounds. But, the report says, private schools that want to keep charging tuition fees or to exclude certain students would not receive any taxpayer funding at all. (19 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

The Rationalist Society of Australia has called on the Albanese government to review laws that exempt religious charities from having to comply with the financial reporting obligations and governance standards that apply to other charities. The RSA raised concerns that "potentially billions" of dollars were going unreported in the Australian economy. It was confirmed recently that 94 per cent of Basic Religious Charities (BRCs) – 7,719 out of 8,210 – utilised the exemption in relation to providing financial information. Under laws passed in 2012, BRCs – which qualify for charity status solely for ‘advancing religion’ – do not need to lodge financial details or comply with other governance standards required of other charities. (19 Apr 2023)
Read more at the Rational Society of Australia

A review of religious exemptions for educational institutions has been granted an extension by the federal government, prompting a call for the inquiry to include all faith-based organisations. The Australian Law Reform Commission is reviewing how federal anti-discrimination laws apply to religious schools. A final report was due in April but because of the large number of submissions, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the reporting date had been extended. Mr Dreyfus said the extension would give the commission more time to consider exemptions for educational institutions in federal anti-discrimination law. (21 Apr 2023)
Read more at the New Daily

One thousand health professionals – most of them doctors and including leaders in geriatric and palliative care – have united to oppose a states’ push to allow telehealth appointments for voluntary assisted dying. The states, all of which now have VAD laws, are seeking an exemption from the Philip Nitschke-era federal ban on the use of phone or internet to “counsel or incite” suicide or “promote” suicide methods. States and VAD advocates argue the federal law frustrates access to VAD for regional patients with limited access to local doctors and specialists. The issue is listed for discussion at the April 28 meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General, in Darwin, led by Queensland and supported by other states. However, the 1000 medicos – including past senior figures in key professional bodies – have penned an open letter in The Weekend Australian warning it would create “great hazards and injustice”. (22 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Australian

Around the Country

VIC: High-fee Presbyterian boys’ school Scotch College says it disagrees with the church’s view that sexually active heterosexual or LGBTIQ+ students should not be school captains. In a letter to the school community, college council chairman Alex Sloan said the school did “not tolerate discrimination towards our staff or students, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy”. The school encourages every student to take leadership positions without discrimination, he said. (17 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

VIC: Parishioners and powerbrokers alike have paid tribute to beloved Catholic priest, social justice campaigner and media personality Father Bob Maguire, who died on Wednesday, aged 88. Maguire’s charity work, advocacy for the poor and wicked sense of humour made him a popular figure in Melbourne and across Australia. His family said Maguire died at Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne on Wednesday morning. (19 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

TAS: LGBTIQA+ advocacy group Equality Tasmania has called for more regional councils to follow in Meander Valley Council's footsteps and fly the rainbow flag on May 17 (the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia). Councillors Anne-Marie Loader and Ben Dudman led the successful push, which was supported by a seven-to-two margin. Equality Tasmania president Rodney Croome applauded the gesture and said it would not go unnoticed by community members. (20 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Examiner

ACT: The ACT government became embroiled in a dispute with Canberra's Sikh community earlier this month after it abruptly took down dozens of flags bearing a symbol of the faith, fearing they might be interpreted as a statement of public support for an Indian separatist movement. The issue was eventually resolved on Friday last week after the ACT government sat down with Sikh community representatives. However, the dispute left some in the Sikh community unhappy. (21 Apr 2023)
Read more at the ABC

Commentary and Analysis

Martin Ingle: I was taught sex before marriage is a sin. I’m still dealing with the fallout.
"My experience aligns with what we know about sexuality and mental illness. We know, for instance, that attempts to suppress sexual thoughts only increase them. We know that where there’s abstinence-only sex education there are actually higher rates of teen pregnancy. That’s aside from the immeasurable long-term psychological harm of these lessons. They were drummed into me, and my body still knows the beat. The Presbyterian Church’s statement last week is many things: out-of-touch with reality, weirdly invasive, sexually dysfunctional, and impossible to enforce. How on Earth would they intend to keep tabs on whether a teen is sexually active? How do they hope to prevent teens from having sex? Probably the single most infuriating thing about this is the sheer gall of organisations who have for decades been responsible for the systemic sexual abuse of children, still proclaiming authority and control over a child’s growing sexuality." (17 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

Daniel Cash: I’m Melbourne Grammar’s school captain and I’m gay. The Presbyterian Church would have me sacked.
"The Presbyterian Church of Australia has declared its right to refuse school leadership opportunities to students based on sexuality or premarital sexual activity. This comes in response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of discrimination laws. The Church has reasoned that, in the case of discriminating against students based on sexual preference, gay students 'would not be able to give appropriate Christian leadership in a Christian school which requires modelling Christian living'. I write this as captain of Melbourne Grammar School. I write this as someone who is gay, a fact about myself which I cannot change. I also write this as someone confused – surely 'modelling Christian living' is not well exemplified in the practice of exclusion or discrimination?" (18 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

Kerrie O'Brien: Maverick, irreverent priest had staunch commitment to helping those in need.
"The trouble, at least for the church, was that one of their best-known priests helped all people, marrying gay couples and divorced people whose former marriages had not been annulled. [Father Bob] Maguire backed many others not afforded recognition by the church and conducted funerals for people who had fallen foul of the law, including a handful of Melbourne’s gangland figures such as convicted drug trafficker and alleged gunman Victor Peirce in 2004. Maguire’s approach was that these people too warranted ministering. He also supported the idea of female priests. This brought him great accolades from the community – his work was often seen as the embodiment of Christian values – but set him on a path of conflict with his employer. Over the years, there were significant clashes with church hierarchy, and George Pell in particular, whom Maguire accused of wanting to remove him to enforce his highly conservative view of Catholicism." (19 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

Hamish Macdonald: The first Scots College kid who tried to shame me turned out to be gay himself.
"Sydney’s Scots College lays claim to supporting “every boy at every stage of development to become a confident, well-grounded young man of integrity, who will, in turn, reinvent his world”. It is therefore both surprising and disappointing to see the school tying itself in knots trying to explain and justify the Presbyterian Church’s faith-based stance which unquestionably amounts to discrimination against some of its own students. The Presbyterian Church and the school broadly say they are acting in the best interests of children, but I don’t see much evidence that either has consulted or learnt from the experiences of those who are going through – or have been through – this institution and are gay. I write this now to give some perspective as to what it is like to be developing inside an institution where these discriminatory views and cultures prevail." (20 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

Van Badham: Catholics like me grieve for Father Bob and for his larrikin, radical faith.
"Whatever theatrics he may have engaged to entertain his audience, Father Bob was a ruthlessly honest man. His criticism of Catholic church hierarchy, of church hypocrisy and of the infamous Archbishop George Pell cost him institutional support and eventually even his parish. It’s in deference to the spirit of Father Bob’s honesty that I’ll admit here, I look at the dominant public character of modern Australian Catholicism that’s now without him and see no shred of the battler faith I was raised into. This remnant institutional Catholicism concerns itself with the defence of elite private schooling, advancing the practice of bigotry and prayer services for protectors of the abominable. No wonder Catholics like me are more likely to tie a solidarity ribbon to a fence of a church than go to Mass in one." (20 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Simone Fox Koob, Amelia Adams and Laura Sparkes: Seeing witches: The cult-like church and the crash that rocked Victoria.
"When truckie Mohinder Singh allegedly complained he was seeing witches and shouldn’t drive, his boss prayed with him then sent him out on the road. Four police officers died. ... A joint investigation between The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes can now reveal that Simiona Tuteru, also known as Simon, the trucking boss who prayed with his employee, was a dedicated senior leader and former pastor in a small but devout Pentecostal church which former members have compared to a cult. The investigation into The Potter’s House Christian Fellowship has revealed a disturbing picture. Operating across suburban Australia and with roots in the US, former members say the church has an unhealthy level of control over the lives of its followers." (22 Apr 2023)
Read more at The Age

Events and Campaigns

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.
View the petition at change.org

Adelaide residents can email the city council expressing their support for the proposed removal of prayers from council meetings. Get contact details from our new page on current opportunities for action.

Catch up on the RSA's latest webinar, featuring Dr Jennifer Bleazby speaking about the teaching of creationism being commonplace within religious instruction programs in Australian public schools.
Watch the webinar at the RSA's 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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