Weekend Wrap for 8 October 2023

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 8 October 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 Pentecostal representative on the taxpayer-funded committee of religious clerics that oversees the Defence Force’s chaplaincy capability has described military personnel as “sheep” to be brought into the “fold” . In a sermon to Eastcoast Church in July, Pastor Ralph Estherby, the Australian Christian Churches representative on the RACS, preached on verse John 10:16-17, saying that there were “other sheep not of this fold” and that the Lord wanted to bring them into the “fold” of the church. The Defence Force is increasingly relying on Pentecostal and evangelical chaplains to provide frontline wellbeing support to Army, Navy and Air Force members, even though about 64 per cent of personnel now identify as not religious – and this is predicted to rise to 75 per cent by 2030. Pastor Estherby had, in a promotional video, told Pentecostal audiences that military chaplaincy was an opportunity for Christians to “touch people” who have no connections to churches. (5 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Hundreds of Islamic leaders will tell their communities to vote for the Voice as a way to bring Australia closer to peace and justice, launching the message after calls from other faith groups and ethnic communities to back the change. The move steps up the Yes campaign in a key community ahead of the final week of early voting, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese expected to attend a mosque in western Sydney on Friday to hear the message. (6 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Age

A Defence investigation sparked by complaints from a taxpayer-funded committee of religious clerics has exonerated a former top Navy chaplain who has been leading the push for secular reform of the military’s wellbeing support capability. Despite accusations that Collin Acton, former head of Navy chaplaincy, had breached Defence Values, undermined Defence personnel and their families’ confidence in religious chaplains, and disrespected religious chaplaincy, Deputy Chief of Navy Chris Smith found “no evidence to suggest any contravention of Defence policy or unprofessional conduct” by Mr Acton. (6 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Around the Country

ACT: Dying with Dignity ACT is considering launching legal action if the Labor-Greens government moves to deny terminally ill teenagers access to voluntary assisted dying, arguing that it is “ageist” and contrary to human rights laws to restrict access to adults. ACT chapter president Jeanne Arthur said she expected the legislation put forward by the Territory government to be consistent with human rights principles, arguing that she saw no reason why a minor who was “suffering and close to death” should be denied the same option as everyone else. Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne recently stated that due to the “complexity of its implementation” and resulting delays, a “preference is emerging to not continue pursuing” a scheme that includes teenagers. However, she indicated it would be “worth revisiting in a legislated review”. (2 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Australian

ACT: The Chief Minister of the ACT, Andrew Barr, has stated that outlawing circumcision on infant boys (in line with the recently introduced Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Act) would require a “fundamentally different” consideration of human rights, bodily autonomy and religious freedoms. Mr Barr acknowledged the “religious element” of parental beliefs on the question of protecting the rights of non-consenting boys from being subjected to irreversible and usually medically unnecessary medical interventions. (2 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

NSW: Independent MP Alex Greenwich has urged the Minns government to support his bill to outlaw gay conversion amid fears among LGBTQ groups that Labor’s promise to ban the practice with its own law has stalled following a targeted campaign by religious lobbyists. The NSW government is consulting on legislation to ban so-called gay conversion therapy, after promising before the March election it would follow Victoria in ending the practice. But the Australian Christian Lobby told its members last week the laws “have been put on pause, no doubt influenced by our phone campaign”. (4 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Age

NSW: The Minns government has performed an abrupt about-face on its plans for a bill banning gay conversion in the state, confirming it will introduce a bill to outlaw the practice into parliament this year, following backlash from LGBTQ groups who were concerned Labor was delaying the legislation. The Herald revealed on Wednesday that the Australian Christian Lobby had told members last week that Labor’s promised ban on gay conversion had “been put on pause” after lobbying from the group. (5 Oct 2023)
Read more at The Age

QLD: More VAD-qualified medical staff are needed as north Queensland doctors see a 'wave' of demand for voluntary assisted dying. The latest data from Queensland Health shows 339 doctors and nurses across the state are authorised to deliver the end-of-life service, with GPs accounting for just under a third. While the number of practitioners operating in each hospital and health service remains confidential, Dr Bader said only a "handful" of north Queensland doctors had become qualified. "There are so many caring doctors in Townsville that would love to be able to provide that additional service but they're simply unable to do so because of funding issues." (5 Oct 2023)
Read more at ABC News

NSW: Conservative right-wing organisation Australian Christian Lobby has targeted out gay Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich over his omnibus Equality Bill in NSW Parliament. Greenwich introduced his Equality Bill in the Parliament in August. The private member’s bill proposes amending over 20 laws. The law reforms include outlawing harmful anti-gay conversion practices, banning discrimination against teachers and students in schools for being LGBTQI, decriminalising sex work, making it an offence to out or threaten to out an LGBTQI partner and removing surgery requirement for trans persons to change the sex marker on their birth certificates. In a press statement, the Christian Lobby falsely claimed the Equality Bill has “a raft of obscene amendments” and would allow “all manner of degrading behaviour”. (6 Oct 2023)
Read more at the Star Observer

Commentary and Analysis

Steve Gration: Paying the 'Price': The 'no' case infected by fanatical Christianity
"An investigation into the rhetoric of proponents of the 'No' campaign reveals the erosion of the fragile constitutional foundation of the 'separation of church and state' in Australia. ... While claiming racial politics from the USA doesn’t belong in Australia, [Jacinta] Price was a 'headline attraction' at CPAC Australia 2022 and 2023, the organisation imported from the United States and linked to American third parties such as GiveSendGo whose clients include alt-right and white supremacist movements. ... In 2023, Price was the featured speaker at a fundraising dinner for Church & State, an off-shoot Pentecostalist Christian organisation. The funds raised were to ‘assist in the costs of hosting the Church and State Summit 2024’. Church and State have adopted the Seven Mountain mandate, a dominionist Christian movement." (1 Oct 2023)
Read more at Independent Australia

Paul Gregoire: A Truly Secular Australia Requires Vigilance, Asserts Secularism Australia’s Michael Dove
"The reality is that Morrison was but one of a long line of religious parliamentarians. Religious parliamentarians are disproportionately represented in what is our principal lawmaking institution. A high proportion of our parliamentarians certainly have religious beliefs or belong to the quieter undercurrent of more discrete religious believers and their influence can undermine the separation between church and state that, in theory, this country should be pursuing. The religious lobby is well resourced and well organised. And that influence needs to be counterbalanced by the nonreligious." (5 Oct 2023)
Read more at Sydney Criminal Lawyers

Events and Campaigns

The inaugural Secularism Australia Conference will be held in Sydney on 2 December 2023.
Learn more at the Secularism Australia 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 30,000 signatures.
View the petition at change.org

Reason Australia are encouraging Victorians to email the state government asking to remove prayers from Victorian state parliament.
Read more at the Reason Australia website

Have you faced discrimination at a religious school or organisation? Equality Australia wants to know!

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.

That's it for another week!

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