Weekend Wrap for 4 June 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 4 June 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

The Catholic church has been accused of causing added trauma to a survivor after it tried to thwart his case involving a notorious jailed paedophile priest by claiming he could not have been an altar boy because he was baptised in the Anglican church, a move that delayed the case for a year. The accusation adds to a litany of complaints about the legal tactics being employed by the church in abuse cases, including its repeated attempts to permanently halt cases where paedophile clergy have died, a practice first revealed in an investigation by Guardian Australia. (29 May 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Michelle Pearse, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Christian Lobby, has delivered her first message to followers of the organisation. In her address, Pearse says that marriage equality has led to a deterioration of Australian society. Religious freedom, banning abortion, stopping pornography, and blocking transgender youth from access affirming medical care, were the priorities Pease listed on her agenda. (31 May 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is continuing to probe the role of religious chaplains in the Defence Force’s wellbeing support architecture, with questions raised this month about cognitive biases of padres. A number of Defence Force chaplains have publicly espoused views such as same-sex marriage being “bereft of the fullness” and “often quite harmful” and non-religious people suffering from being “self-deceiving”. (29 May 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Labor has been criticised for proposing to ditch a commitment to strengthening legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community, with queer advocates saying the party appeared to have “backtracked”. A consultation draft of changes to Labor’s national platform, released this week, proposes to remove a commitment from the 2021 platform to “strengthen laws and expand initiatives against discrimination, vilification and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics”. The LGBTQ+ advocate Alastair Lawrie noted the clause is to be replaced with “Labor will work closely with LGBTQ+ Australians and advocates to develop policy that meets the specific needs of the community to ensure equality with broader Australian society”. (2 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Guardian

Labor's draft National Platform – released this week to party members as part of a consultation process, describes public schools as “among our nation’s most important institutions” and says they need to be “fully and fairly funded to deliver excellent education that meets the needs of every child”. However, the new draft has removed the reference to “universal, free and secular” public education – a significant change, abandoning Labor’s long-held express commitment to secular public education in Australia. (2 Jun 2023)
Read more at the Rational Society of Australia

Around the Country

VIC: An extremism expert advising Victorian Councils has warned that cancelling LGBTIQA+ themed events because of threats from far-right groups will only embolden those trying to close down the events. Victorian has seen at least 11 LGBTIQA+ themed events cancelled in the last six months because of safety concerns for those attending, while council staff and elected representatives have been inundated with offensive phone calls, messages and in some cases, death threats. Josh Roose, a political sociologist at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation spoke to a gathering of Victorian Councils last week saying the cancellation of events was rewarding those making the threats. (28 May 2023)
Read more at Out in Perth

VIC: The Victorian Liberals have promised to repeal the state’s incoming tax hike for private schools should the Coalition win government in 2026. But Opposition Leader John Pesutto will not commit to axing Labor’s other tax measures despite opposing them, arguing his party needs to be "fiscally responsible" and assess Victoria’s finances closer to the next election. (30 May 2023)
Read more at The Age

ACT: Calvary Hospital will take its fight against a forced takeover by the ACT Government to the ACT Supreme Court next Wednesday 7 June. In a statement, a Calvary Healthcare spokesperson said that the day after the Health Infrastructure Enabling Act 2023 passed the Legislative Assembly on 31 May, it sought both an injunction and an "urgent final hearing" of its challenge to the Act and associated regulation. (31 May 2023)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly

VIC: The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, has lost an appeal to cut an almost $2 million compensation payout awarded to an altar boy subjected to what a Supreme Court judge called “horrific” sexual abuse by a pedophile priest, after being found vicariously liable for the abuse. (2 Jun 2023)
Read more at WA Today

VIC: The Andrews government has walked back plans to charge 110 high-fee private schools payroll tax and revealed the debt-busting measure will rake in less money than the Victorian budget forecast. Treasury has asked the Department of Education to model lifting the exemption threshold to schools that charge more than $10,000 a student in annual fees rather than the $8,000 originally suggested. The new policy means that many private schools will, for the first time, pay two other levies on top of their new payroll tax obligation: the mental health levy that was introduced last year and a new temporary increase to payroll tax that was also announced in the budget. (2 Jun 2023)
Read more at The Age

VIC: Police have re-opened an investigation into the school that was allegedly involved in former principal and convicted rapist Malka Leifer fleeing Australia. Victoria Police confirmed on Saturday that the Sexual Crimes Squad had resumed an investigation into possible offences linked to the ultra-orthodox Jewish girls' school. Malka Leifer was found guilty in April of 18 sexual offences relating to two former students between 2003 and 2007. She is yet to be sentenced. Leifer flew to Israel in 2008 shortly after allegations against her were first raised. The Supreme Court of Victoria found the wife of a school board member called a travel agent that night, and booked tickets for Leifer and four children to travel to Israel, via Hong Kong. (3 Jun 2023)
Read more at MSN.com

Commentary and Analysis

Louise Milligan, Mary Fallon, and Jessica Longbottom: The extraordinary legal tactics institutions are using to fight compensation claims by abuse victims.
"Five years after the historic Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse wrapped up, survivors like Matt who are now seeking civil compensation are being thwarted by extraordinary legal tactics rarely seen before the inquiry. Legal reforms made it easier for victims of institutional child abuse to seek justice, but now a fierce new battleground is emerging as organisations at the centre of the claims push to have some cases thrown out altogether. Permanent stays are only granted by the courts in exceptional circumstances, when a case is considered so oppressively unfair to one party that it's an abuse of process. But plaintiff lawyers say they are now seeing them being threatened and awarded regularly. Four Corners has seen stays sought or threatened by a range of institutions, including the Scouts, wealthy private schools, Catholic religious orders and dioceses and even the State of Queensland, who argue they cannot be guaranteed a fair trial." (29 May 2023)
Read more at ABC News

ABC / Four Corners: Hiding Behind Tombstones: The new legal tactics blocking justice for survivors.
"Five years on from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, survivors seeking compensation in civil claims are being thwarted by extraordinary legal tactics that they say make their quest for proper compensation harder than ever. This powerful investigation reveals the extent to which some of the institutions will go to, say survivors and their lawyers, to save money." (29 May 2023)
Watch the full episode at ABC News

Cherie Gilmour: The Hillsong experiment is over. Christianity was never meant to be cool.
"On May 19, four-part documentary The Secrets of Hillsong premiered on Hulu, featuring fallen Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz. It expands on Vanity Fair’s 2021 investigative article, which did a deep-dive into Lentz’s abrupt firing from Hillsong following his extramarital affairs and the depth of dysfunction within the church including Brian Houston’s alleged cover-up of his father’s paedophilia, which returns to court in June and which Houston denies. ... These spectacular falls from grace from people in prominent positions seemed to be happening with alarming regularity. Was it reflective of human nature, or was it indicative of a larger culture that promoted image over integrity?" (30 May 2023)
Read more at The Age

Alastair Lawrie: The ALP has cut back on LGBTIQ policy commitments in its party platform. Again.
"With the next ALP National Conference coming up in Brisbane on August 17-19 2023, this week the Party’s national policy forum released its draft Platform for public consultation. Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ policy commitments it contains have been pared back even further than the already-limited 2021 offerings... It is difficult to comprehend why previous ALP support for vilification protections has been axed in the current political climate, with TERFs and neo-Nazis rallying on the steps of Victorian Parliament, Christian Lives Matter rioting in Sydney, Mark Latham being Mark Latham, and escalating violent threats against local councils hosting Drag Story Time events (and LGBTIQ community events more broadly). What makes this axing even worse is that, just two pages later, under the heading ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’, the 2023 draft Platform actually retains its previous commitment from the 2021 Platform for Commonwealth religious vilification laws..." (31 May 2023)
Read more at alastairlawrie.net

Tom Tanuki: Victoria Police are failing to 'protect' the LGBTQ+ community.
"It's telling that Victoria Police, which has the capacity to protect queer-friendly public events, is repeatedly recommending that they be cancelled instead. ... Actual physical resistance to queer-friendly youth events in Australia has remained minimal. A gaggle of groomer neo-Nazis with a big banner, surrounded by VicPol chaperones; a ragtag assortment of cookers too discordant to even counter-protest properly. They aren’t matching up to the tenor of their coordinated online threats. Let’s hope VicPol stop letting them win; let’s hope they start protecting the LGBTQ+ community instead of contributing to hiding it away." (3 Jun 2023)
Read more at Independent Australia

Events and Campaigns

An upcoming SBS documentary sees Walkley Award-winning journalist Marc Fennell return to the world of Pentecostalism – 17 years after he ran away from the religious movement. In the show, the self-professed “dirty heathen” investigates how Australia produced one of the world’s most successful and scandal-plagued megachurches, Hillsong. The Kingdom premieres on June 8 on SBS On Demand and June 11 on SBS at 7.30pm.
Read more at the New Daily

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

Just.Equal has created a tool to enable people to email Tasmanian MPs to urge them to support the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute's proposal to prohibit conversion practices.
View the tool at Just.Equal

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.

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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