Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 5 March 2023, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
At the National Level
Australia’s first dedicated fund to promote international LGBTQ rights will be created in a federal government move hailed by equality advocates as a groundbreaking step to reduce discrimination in the Asia-Pacific. Foreign Minister Penny Wong will use a speech to the World Pride human rights conference in Sydney this week to announce the creation of a new inclusion and equality fund to support LGBTQ civil society organisations and human rights defenders, international partnerships and networks. (26 Feb 2023)
Read more at The Age
Feeling shamed and judged, travelling hundreds of kilometres and ending up significantly out of pocket: these are some of the issues raised by women in their own words with abortion access in Australia. The stories were gathered by Monash University as part of an ongoing research project into what barriers, or enablers, there are for people seeking abortions. The team shared some of those in a submission to a current Senate inquiry that's looking more broadly at the state of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare nationally. (26 Feb 2023)
Read more at ABC News
More questions are being asked about Special Religious Education (SRE) programs in public schools after it was discovered that a teaching manual used by Anglican SRE instructors promoted creationism. The guide includes statements such as, 'Some people think there are many things wrong with the theory of evolution and that it isn’t true.' In 2009, the NSW government issued a notice reminding teachers that if Creationism and Intelligent Design were taught 'as part of any school-based program', then it must be made clear to students that they were 'not scientific, nor evidence-based'. (27 Feb 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia
The Sydney Anglican church has accused the Australian Law Reform Commission of a “double standard” for seeking to give LGBTQ+ students role models while limiting the ability of religious schools to hire by faith. The church’s submission to a review of exemptions for religious schools from discrimination law is part of a broader conservative backlash that has prompted the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to recommit the government to allowing schools to select staff based on faith. But discrimination experts have warned the commission’s discussion paper goes too far in the other direction by protecting schools’ “ethos” and exempting their religious teachings from the Sex Discrimination Act. (2 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Guardian
LGBTIQ+ Health Australia (LHA) has welcomed the Federal Government commitment to a 10-year national action plan for LGBTIQ+ health and wellbeing, alongside an LGBTIQ+ Health Advisory Group and $26 million for health research. (2 Mar 2023)
Read more at LGBTIQ+ Health Australia
Around the Country
VIC: A group of conservative Liberals are war-gaming to roll party president Greg Mirabella and the more moderate members of the powerful administrative committee, prompting fears of a conservative takeover of the Victorian division. There are fears internally that the religious right will move party policy further to the right despite Liberal leader John Pesutto’s assurances he is a progressive moderate who wants to bring the party to the centre. (24 Feb 2023)
Read more at The Age
VIC: Religious instruction has almost disappeared from Victorian state schools, as government changes to make the program voluntary and shift its teaching to outside class hours prompted student enrolments to drop by 99 per cent in 10 years. In 2013, nearly 93,000 Victorian students were enrolled in special religious instruction, in which religious groups taught students about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or the Bahá’í faith. But government changes since 2011 – requiring parents to opt their children in to classes, and then, under the Andrews government, shifting classes to lunch or outside school hours – have sapped demand, with fewer than 1000 students currently enrolled. (26 Feb 2023)
Read more at The Age
NSW: Multi-faith leaders have secured a bipartisan commitment to be able to pray and preach on matters of sexuality under proposed laws banning so-called gay conversion therapy after NSW Labor leader Chris Minns vowed to protect their rights under any new legislation. Less than one week after extracting the same pledge from Premier Dominic Perrottet, a forum of religious community leaders was assured by Minns that bans on damaging conversion practices would not impinge on their religious freedom. (27 Feb 2023)
Read more at The Age
NSW: Arts Minister Ben Franklin on Wednesday made a renewed commitment that the Dominic Perrottet government would bring in a law to outlaw so-called gay conversion therapy in the state. Minister Franklin made the commitment at the opening of the Sydney WorldPride Human Rights Conference. Franklin’s statement follows similar commitments from Premier Perrottet and Labor opposition leader Chris Minns to enact the law if elected to form the next government. Elections are scheduled to be held in NSW on March 25, 2023. (1 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Star Observer
QLD: Members of a Brisbane church spoke about using controversial religious instruction as a platform to “harvest” state school children and “disciple them afterwards”, prompting further calls for an overhaul. Video footage obtained by The Courier-Mail showed Citipointe Church West members discussing going into Brisbane schools and using the program as an “amazing mission field”. It’s sparked further calls for Education Minister Grace Grace to review Queensland’s religious instruction policy, which allows faith groups to enter schools for an hour a week to give lessons to students who have been given consent from parents. (2 Mar 2023)
Read more at the Courier Mail
NSW: The Catholic church is attempting to use the death of a paedophile, who had been jailed for the abuse of 17 children, to shield itself from further civil claims from his survivors. In recent months, the church has adopted an increasingly aggressive approach to survivors in cases where paedophile clergy have died. It has sought to capitalise on a recent decision in New South Wales’s highest court that ruled a priest’s death meant the church could not receive a fair trial in a claim brought by a woman known as GLJ. The landmark ruling, which is being appealed in the high court, has prompted the church to seek permanent stays in a string of cases where clergy have died. (2 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Guardian
TAS: It's taken seven years for gay Tasmanian couple Julian Punch and Brian Doran to receive compensation ordered by Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination tribunal. Across Australia, it's up to individuals who bring complaints of discrimination to prove the complaint and to enforce any orders made by tribunals. Lawyers say changes are needed so that it's the state, rather than an aggrieved person, who takes responsibility for pursuing complaints and enforcing orders. (3 Mar 2023)
Read more at ABC News
TAS: A petition tabled by Liberal MHA Lara Alexander in Tasmanian Parliament has been labelled harmful to the trans community by LQBTQIA+ advocates. The petition asked the House of Assembly to assist gender confused children and protect the rights of parents, health practitioners and others as they seek best outcomes. Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rose Boccalatte said the petition was perpetuating myths about conversion legislation and about young trans people. (3 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Examiner
QLD: A radical feminist group operating under the banner of International Women’s Day will host a conference and rally on Saturday in protest against Queensland’s moves to allow gender self-identification on birth certificates. Former Liberal candidate Katherine Deves, who campaigned against transgender athletes in last year’s federal election, is among speakers at the conference organised by IWD Brisbane Meanjin, a self-described “left-wing women’s liberation organisation”. The Palaszczuk government’s bill, which the legal affairs and safety committee last week recommended be passed, will allow trans and gender-diverse people to change the sex on their birth certificate without undergoing sexual reassignment surgery. (3 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Australian
Commentary and Analysis
Neil Foster: Whose conscience deserves protection in Australia?
"I am presenting a short paper at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, Ninth Annual Religious Liberty Lecture and Conference, on February 24, 2023, as part of a panel on 'The Importance of Conscience'." (24 Feb 2023)
Read more at Law and Religion Australia
Adam Wesselinoff: Rift between faiths and government grows over religious schools inquiry.
"The federal government’s inquiry into religious schools is widening the rift between the government and Australia’s major faith communities, with submissions to the inquiry expressing 'utter dismay' at the inquiry's consultation paper, and predicting an 'existential threat' to faith-based education. The submissions follow remarks made on 24 February by the inquiry’s head, Justice Stephen Rothman, that earlier protests by senior faith leaders 'had very little impact' on his thinking in the inquiry. ... But Professor Patrick Parkinson, a veteran Christian legal expert who serves on the board of think-tank Freedom for Faith, said in an individual submission to the inquiry that he was in “utter dismay” after having read the inquiry’s consultation paper, which he says makes 'fundamental errors' in applying international human rights principles." (27 Feb 2023)
Read more at the Catholic Weekly
Rosie Clare Shorter and Tanya Riches: We’re told Pentecostal churches are growing, but they’re not any more. Is there a gender problem?
"The conventional narrative about Australian Christianity is that Pentecostal churches – most famously, Hillsong – are bucking the trend of declining attendance at the big denominations (such as Catholic and Anglican churches). ... But the most recent Australian Census shows a decrease in Pentecostal affiliation. Gender inequality and leadership abuses of power seem to be implicated. But more research is needed to confirm who is leaving Pentecostal churches, and why." (27 Feb 2023)
Read more at The New Daily
Miles Pattenden: Kate Forbes and the place of Christians in public life.
"The philosopher Kathleen Stock – herself no stranger to controversies surrounding toleration of dissenting views — has suggested that the whole affair, above all, is the product of a new religious investment in victimhood among activists of all stripes which makes them unable to resist a good old search for baddies to shame and shun... Nevertheless, the relevance of a politician’s religious or philosophical beliefs to their suitability for office is what matters, as Stock identifies. Should others be expected to respect their beliefs simply because those beliefs are grounded in religious traditions?" (1 Mar 2023)
Read more at ABC Religion & Ethics
Lucy Hamilton: We are not America.
"When Australian leaders say we ally ourselves with the American project because of our shared values, the shared values they imagine are now beaten to a pulp as the forces of fundamentalist religion and bigotry destroy freedom and equality across swathes of the country. When the theocratic bigots retake power in the US, with Donald Trump or a less chaotic authoritarian at the helm, the sovereignty Richard Marles has ceded to them will remain ceded. Their Spiritual Warfare–driven foreign policy will become even more our problem. Israel must be protected so that End Times can begin there: will that drive us to military action against Iran?" (2 Mar 2023)
Read more at the AIMN
Anthony Segaert: Inside the Australian Christian Lobby’s identity crisis.
"The Facebook post went up at 4.56pm on Friday afternoon. After five years as the firebrand managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Martyn Iles had some news. He had been sacked. ... 'From the feedback I’ve received, ACL has lost traction on the political forefront,' says [Greg] Bondar, who knows Iles and is praying for him. 'They need to make sure that they realise they’re an advocacy organisation and not a church.'" (4 Mar 2023)
Read more at The Age
Events and Campaigns
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.