Weekend Wrap for 5 July 2020

The passing of the deadline to join the National Redress Scheme has put the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the government’s sights. Catch up on that and more in this new edition of the Weekend Wrap.

Don’t forget that the Weekend Wrap, which aims to help secular-minded Australians keep abreast of the latest news on current issues, is also published on our Facebook page!

At the National Level

The Jehovah’s Witnesses church, among a handful of other groups, has failed to meet its “moral obligation” in refusing to join the National Redress Scheme, said Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston (New Daily).

Before the Tuesday deadline to join the National Redress Scheme, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that any organisation that refused to sign up would face losing government funding and having its charity status withdrawn (The Age).

Catholic Religious Australia, the peak body for Catholic leaders of religious institutes and societies, described the National Redress Scheme as a “valuable pathway” for abuse survivors and said it wanted the scheme to work effectively (CathNews).

Say Sorry, a group that keeps watch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, has called for the government to revoke the church’s charity status and tax concessions.

In a video message to a university in Rome, Cardinal George Pell has said financial corruption could pose a greater risk to clergy than sexual misconduct (Catholic World Report).

The Catholic Church’s decision to disband an agency that was established to conduct audits of church entities’ compliance with child safety standards and to deliver safeguarding training has drawn praise and raised concerns (The Australian, paywalled).

Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge has dismissed concerns that the decision to disband Catholic Professional Standards Ltd and consolidate its work as part of a new national office would diminish the Catholic Church's child protection efforts, saying the concerns are “seriously mistaken” (Catholic Weekly).

Catholic Education has welcomed the decision to consolidate its professional standards response under a single national office, believing the new entity would “better support our child safety efforts” and provide streamlined support to Catholic schools (Catholic Outlook).

In the lead-up to the Eden-Monaro by-election, equality campaigners sounded the alarm about Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs, who, in a submission to the Ruddock religious freedom review, previously advocated a range of anti-LGTBTIQ+ measures based on religious freedom grounds (The Guardian).

The government’s extension of the JobKeeper payment to priests and other religious ministers raises potential constitutional problems, according to law expert Luke Beck (who is an ambassador for the National Secular Lobby) (SMH).

Christian social work advocates have criticised the Morrison government’s decision to double the cost of humanities degrees, arguing that the move would provide a “significant disincentive to young people entering the profession” (Catholic Weekly).

The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission have jointly published a report looking at freedom of religion in Australia, with a focus on serious harms faced by religious groups.

Around the Country

VIC: New analysis has revealed that government funding for students at Catholic and independent schools in Victoria has grown almost 15 times faster than for state schools during the past decade, prompting warnings that disadvantaged students are being left further behind (The Age).

VIC: Reason Party Leader Fiona Patten (who is an ambassador for the National Secular Lobby) will introduce amendments to state taxation laws to remove generous exemptions for charities accountable for institutional child sexual abuse that have not signed up to the National Redress Scheme.

WA: Documents obtained by the ABC have revealed that the Catholic Church stayed quiet on sexual misconduct allegations against Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders for almost a year before taking action (ABC).

ACT: Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has said the “right to freedom of religion is not absolute” in welcoming new legislation to ensure that information received under the seal of confession would no longer be protected (Mirage News).

WA: Catholic Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has urged clergy and lay people to make submissions to a parliamentary committee which is examining proposed amendments to extend mandatory reporting laws to religious ministers and remove the protection of the seal of confession (The Record).

QLD: The Labor candidate for Bundaberg has defended the Palaszczuk government’s decision to delay introducing voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation until after the state election and said he remained confident Labor would deliver the end-of-life option if returned to power (News-Mail).

QLD: Tanya Battel, a terminally ill campaigner for voluntary assisted dying (VAD), has released an impassioned video message, arguing that legalising VAD is “not about ending life but ending suffering” (YouTube).

QLD: Pro-life advocates have seized upon the case of a man who lost an appeal against his convictions for encouraging his wife’s suicide to make the argument that legalising voluntary assisted dying would pose inherent dangers (Catholic Weekly).

Commentary and Analysis

While the payment of enormous amounts of public money to churches and other religious institutions under the JobKeeper scheme is almost certainly unconstitutional, it’s unlikely to be challenged in court, writes constitutional law expert Luke Beck (Rationalist Society of Australia).

In a new video, leading LGBTIQ+ advocates Rodney Croome and Shelley Argent discuss the key problems with the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill and warn that the legislation will "definitely be back".

Maddie Clark writes that the protests of the Religious Discrimination Bill represent a continuation of a long history of queer activism and demonstrate that those who will be affected are not going to stay quiet (Honi Soit).

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Peter Abetz argues that opponents to the Religious Discrimination Bill are resorting to “fake examples, outright untruths and gross misrepresentations” in their desperation to stop it (ACL).

Barrister Matthew White SC examines the proposed ‘religious freedom’ laws in the context of the constitution and questions the government’s reliance on external treaties as the source of freedoms for Australian citizens (Quadrant).

In reviewing the impact of Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying law, academics Paul Komesaroff, Cameron Stewart, Camille La Brooy and Jennifer Philip argue that it appears to be “functioning reasonably well” despite some logistical and bureaucratic issues (The Conversation).

Peter Johnstone writes that reform groups in the Catholic community are rising up to push the church to address issues of good governance and the toxic culture of clericalism (John Menadue blog).

Terry Fewtrell and Andrew Phelan write that the Discernment reports, which are supposed to outline agenda for the Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church, fail to provide a coherent picture of the “real issues” confronting the church and give little confidence that a meaningful agenda will emerge (John Menadue blog).

That's it for another week!

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