Weekend Wrap for 9 June 2024

Welcome to the NSL Weekend Wrap for 9 June 2024, where you can catch up on the latest secular-related news from around the country.

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At the National Level

Consultations with religious groups will help to inform whether the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reformulates the religion question at the 2026 Census, a Senate estimates hearing has heard. Head statistician Dr David Gruen told estimates that the ABS would make a decision on the religion question later in the year “on the basis of the evidence that we get from the test and from consultations that we have with religious groups”. In September, the ABS will test a newly formulated question proposed for the 2026 Census, with the wording changed to remove the bias that presumes all respondents have a religion. In recent weeks, Catholic Church leaders have been lobbying the Prime Minister, calling on the government to intervene in the ABS testing process and reject the proposed new religion question. (5 Jun 2024)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

Around the Country

NSW: Activist group Pride in Protest have written to Cumberland City Council following the controversial ban of a same-sex parenting book, saying the ban’s reversal is only one step in tackling homophobic extremism. In an open letter addressed to Mayor Lisa Lake and Deputy Mayor Ola Hamed, whose family received threats for supporting the overturning of the ban, the group expressed strong concern for “the number of extremist bigots who also flocked to the meeting, and the drag story time ban which remains in force.” “This extremism saw organised bashings of queer people following World Pride, and a Nazi-backed campaign against drag queen story time,” the open letter continues. “Overturning the book ban is just, but will be only one step in dealing with these issues.” (1 Jun 2024)
Read more at The Star Observer

NSW: Murray Norman, a prominent lobbyist for scripture in New South Wales' public schools, is leading efforts to influence education policies through his position on the state government’s Faith Affairs Council. Mr Norman has long been heavily involved in lobbying for Special Religious Education (SRE) through various entities. He is the head of lobby groups Better Balanced Futures and Faith NSW. Better Balanced Futures has focused its lobbying activities on advocating for SRE. Faith NSW, described online as a new peak body to advocate the “common interests” of the state’s faith groups, launched in October last year. On the Faith Affairs Council, he is officially the representative of Inter-Church Commission on Religious Education in Schools, which facilitates consultation and cooperation between Christian churches on SRE matters, and provides representation to the Department of Education’s SRE Consultative Committee. (3 Jun 2024)
Read more at the Rationalist Society of Australia

ACT: The ACT has passed voluntary assisted dying (VAD) legislation, becoming one of the last Australian jurisdictions to do so. The scheme is set to come into effect on November 3, 2025. The vote has been decades in the making, after the federal parliament lifted a 25-year ban on the ACT and Northern Territory legislating on voluntary assisted dying in December 2022. The ACT's laws differ from others, with health professionals such as nurse practitioners — in addition to doctors — able to assess, advise and support those accessing voluntary assisted dying. More than 100 amendments were introduced during a lengthy debate in the Assembly over the past two days, after an inquiry into the scheme handed down a number of recommendations in February. (5 Jun 2024)
Read more at ABC News

NSW: NSW Premier Chris Minns has formally apologised on behalf of the government to people convicted of homosexual acts, 40 years after the state decriminalised gay sex. The premier said, on behalf of the state, he apologised unreservedly to those convicted under the discriminatory laws and "recognises and regrets this parliament's role in enacting laws and endorsing policies of successive governments' decisions that criminalised, persecuted and harmed people based on their sexuality and gender". Mr Minns also acknowledged "there is still much more work to do to ensure the equal rights of all members of the LGBTQIA+ community". (6 Jun 2024)
Read more at ABC News

Commentary and Analysis

Census21 – Not Religious?: Census21 campaign responds to church leaders’ call for government interference
"The Census21 – Not Religious? campaign has raised concerns with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese about the Catholic Church's calls for the government to interfere in the work of reformulating the Census religion question. In a letter to Mr Albanese and Assistant Minister Andrew Leigh, our spokesperson Michael Dove said the Census21 campaign supported the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) testing of an alternative that would 'undoubtedly increase the accuracy and meaningfulness of Census data'. In recent weeks, Catholic Church leaders have been lobbying the Prime Minister to reject the proposed change to the religion question that would introduce a filter question and remove the inherent bias in the text of the question." (2 Jun 2024)
Read more at the Census21 website

Marcus Middleton: Archbishop warns to never take religious freedom for granted
"Speaking on Friday to the Sydney Catholic Business Network, Archbishop Fisher noted it was exactly one-year to the day since the ACT Government “forcibly acquired the Church’s land, operations and staff with, to date, zero compensation” and spoke of the battle against faith being fought on multiple fronts including the areas of health, education, sports and culture. In a packed room, the archbishop painted a dystopian picture of a future where faith leaders might have to email homilies or sermons to a ‘Religious Safety Commissioner’ for approval." (2 June 2024)
Read more at The Catholic Weekly

Rodney Croome: Tasmania shows there's nothing to fear from stopping bias in faith schools
"Some Tasmanian politicians and religious leaders are not telling the whole truth about discrimination in faith-based schools. There is currently a campaign to scuttle the Albanese Government's proposal to ban discrimination against LGBTIQA+ teachers and students in faith-based schools. The proposal is based, in turn, on a recommendation from the Australian Law Reform Commission that was handed down in March. Those leading the campaign against the Federal Government's proposal say that preventing discrimination will stop schools selecting staff and students who conform to their values. They say the identity of religious schools is at stake and have labelled the proposal an "existential threat" to such schools. But what they fail to acknowledge is that Tasmanian law has prevented such discrimination for 26 years without any discernible problems." (3 Jun 2024)
Read more at The Examiner

Brian Greig: Religious freedom has become a catchword for what is discrimination
"In May, shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash wrote an opinion piece in these pages that claimed Australia was losing its religious freedom. The senator said she had meetings with faith leaders who “feel they are under attack by the States”. Curiously, nowhere in that article did the senator spell out exactly what these “attacks” were, or give examples. Equally, faith leaders talked only in vague terms about wanting to “maintain their ethos” and ensure that teachers “model their values”. I suggest the reason Senator Cash and those who promote these arguments use camouflaged language is because the truth is too revealing." (3 Jun 2024)
Read more at The Nightly

Susan Carland: These chilling voicemails prove Islamophobia is thriving – despite one senator’s callous dismissal
"In light of the established facts, [Shadow Minister for Education, Senator Sarah] Henderson’s comments were astounding. But what was most revealing was the denial of any instance of Islamophobia while condemning antisemitism. ... Henderson’s comments were revealing because they were so adamantly singular. Like Islamophobia, antisemitism in Australia is a documented, growing reality. So why was the senator denying not just a rise in Islamophobia, but its very existence? Stating that even raising Islamophobia was implying a 'false equivalence' with antisemitism is the revelation. Apparently, there is one true and serious bigotry warranting attention, and a pretend one. And this suggests her engagement with antisemitism is less a genuine and overarching commitment to a cohesive country without bigotries that negatively impact all Australians, and more a callous political posturing." (4 June 2024)
Read more at The Age

Ben White, Lindy Willmott and Madeleine Archer: Voluntary assisted dying laws have been passed in the ACT. Here’s what happens next
"The Australian Capital Territory parliament passed its voluntary assisted dying law yesterday by 20 to five. The ACT now joins the six Australian states, all of which have their own voluntary assisted dying laws. Like the states, the ACT law will begin after an 18-month implementation period. So eligible residents will be able to access voluntary assisted dying from November 3 2025. This leaves only the Northern Territory without such a law. The NT government has appointed a panel to investigate the issue that is due to report next month." (6 Jun 2024)
Read more at The Conversation

Paul Collins: Religion and the census
"Apparently, the ABS listened to Census21 – Not Religious? because a further media release from the group praised the Bureau for taking ‘on board the public’s concerns (i.e. Census21’s concerns) regarding the biased nature of the religion question and the desire for a more acceptable evidence base to support public policy and funding decisions relating to religion’ (December 29, 2023). There’s the nub of their argument; it’s really about ‘funding’ faith groups and churches in their ministries of education, social welfare, health, aged care and many other services they provide. In the end these arguments come back to wanting to push religion out of public life." (8 Jun 2024)
Read more at Pearls & Irritations
(Note: this article asserts that the proposed 2026 census religion question will include a 'No' box but not a 'Yes' box -- this is incorrect.)

Gerard Henderson: Goulburn school strike strategy would fail today, as it did in 1962
"The Goulburn school strike of six decades ago is in the news again because of the discussions between the Albanese government and members of the Catholic hierarchy over the foreshadowed religious discrimination legislation. On June 1, [journalist Joe] Kelly reported that Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher had told a meeting of the Catholic Business Network that he was hearing suggestions that the church should 'do another Goulburn (and close its schools) if it was denied by legislation the ability to take religion into account with respect to employment and ethos'. However, Fisher recognises that such a strategy might backfire. Moreover, it also would rob the community of needed services. Correct. The Goulburn strike was symbolic. State aid was gained due to the operation of conventional politics. It is likely that politics will result in a stalemate – for the moment at least – due to political opposition to the government’s proposals." (8 Jun 2024)
Read more at The Australian

Events and Campaigns

Join Andrew West and a panel of experts for a special recording of ABC RN's The Religion & Ethics Report, on Thursday June 27, 2024. The focus of the program will be educating a diverse Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Catholic education system is the largest provider of learning outside of Australia's government schools — and enrolments into Catholic schools continue to grow. But within the schools themselves, over 40 per cent of students who attend are, in fact, not Catholic. So why do parents — religious and non-religious — decide to send their children to religious schools? The recording will take place from from 5:45pm to 7pm in the Civic Gallery in PHIVE, Parramatta Square.
Learn more and register at ABC Religion & Ethics

Griffith University researchers are exploring Registered Nurses’ and Nurse Practitioners’ willingness to participate in Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD).
Read more at The Lamp

Support Independent MP Kate Chaney's proposed laws dealing with the “telehealth problem” preventing access to timely voluntary assisted dying across the country. Contact your federal MP and senators here.

The Australia Institute are calling on federal parliament to pass truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech. View the petition at The Australia Institute

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

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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