1. Evaluation of 1998 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Report on Article 18: Freedom of Religion and Belief
The responses to the issues that follow draw on the arguments above.
1.1 What are areas of concern regarding the freedom to practice and express faith and beliefs, within your faith community and other such communities?
1. This question assumes those answering it have a faith or religious belief. As noted in the previous sections, this is a false assumption, and probably does not apply to 30% of Australians. It is important to recognise that there is appreciable discrimination against people who do not believe in religion in Australia. This is the fault of religious organisations.
2. Why do religious schools generally refuse to recruit qualified science teachers who do not share the religious values of the school? Why do hospitals run by certain religious orders not permit women to undergo certain sterilization operations, when it may be more efficient to do so when the woman is, for example, having a Caesarean operation? Why are religious organisations permitted to run schools, hospitals, aged-care facilities and other institutions, be in receipt of public money, yet limit their services to those consistent with their own belief systems, not the belief systems of the people using their services? Why are non-charitable elements of religious organisations permitted to run businesses without paying tax? This uneven playing field is unjust, and disadvantages more efficient businesses and Australians in general.
3. In addition, if any religious organisation is in receipt of public funding, such as for schools or hospitals, it should be illegal to discriminate against any member of the Australian public. Publicly funded institutions should not show religism (discrimination based on religion). Taxpayers should not be funding discriminatory organisations.
4. In all of the cases above, non-religious people are disadvantaged. The fact that the non-charitable elements of religions do not pay tax means that other Australians, including low-income earners, pay more tax because religions do not. This inequitable distribution of taxpayer funds is discrimination against non-religious people.
5. I understand that commercial bus companies have not allowed atheists to advertise on buses, something that would not be denied religious organisations. This discrimination is unacceptable and must be eradicated.
6. Consistent with the beliefs of 70-80% of Australians, people should be able to choose if they want the option of voluntary euthanasia. Simply stated, people who are terminally ill, should be able to choose how to end their lives. However, organised religion, and religious parliamentarians, continue to deny Australians this basic individual right—they are effectively imposing their religious beliefs on other Australians. This is an unacceptable imposition of politicians’ religious beliefs (mainly Christian) on other people.
7. If people do not want voluntary euthanasia, they do not have to have it—it is voluntary. Australians must ask how many Christians, whose ethical standards allow them to worship the mass-murdering biblical God (including of children), can demand that others must not die with dignity but instead suffer with indignity. Organised religions and politicians must not deny the choice of voluntary euthanasia to people just because they oppose it for themselves, for to do so is unethical, oppressive, and an arrogant imposition of one religion on other people.
8. Australian governments have often stressed the importance in a democratic system of respect for individual conscience, with political rhetoric of the form ‘The Government regards the protection of individual rights as fundamental and inalienable’. However, this does not seem to extend to people who have different beliefs about how individuals should live and die.
9. Can there be freedom of religion and belief if people are discriminated against because of their beliefs? It is hypocritical that Christianity and Islam do not want to be discriminated against, but they discriminate based on race, sex, sexual orientation, and religion, and want the freedom to continue to do so. Freedom of religious belief can only be acceptable when it does not result in discrimination or the imposition of belief systems on others.
1.2 Have new issues emerged since this report was published in 1998 relating to expression of faith?
10. Ethical issues such as voluntary euthanasia, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the role of women and homosexuals in the churches have come much more to the fore since 1998. Religious organisations are taking a more hard line stance against all of these issues. Unfortunately, Christians, Muslims and Jews seem to have the same level of respect for each other that they have had throughout history, and their antagonism towards one another continues. These religions, because of their early childhood indoctrination and peculiar rituals, are held with great conviction by their proponents. The Christian Muslim divide seems to widen when terrorism is discussed. Religion, responsible for many of history’s great wars, continues to be a divisive element, and this needs to be addressed.
1.3 Is there adequate protection against discrimination based on religion or belief, and protection of ability to discriminate in particular contexts?
11. No. Religions practice religism; they discriminate against people of other religions and of no religion. Mainstream religions believe that those who do not obey their gods should be punished, so discriminatory behaviour is preached at the pulpit. Religions often receive public funding to provide services to Australians and discriminate when providing these services. Any organisation that discriminates should be ineligible for government funding. Australian governments cannot condone or endorse religious organisations that discriminate. Government funding for discriminating organisations is unacceptable.
12. Discrimination in particular contexts, with respect to religion and beliefs, must not be tolerated or permitted. Discrimination denies people rights, contrary to Article 1 of the UDHR. Nobody wants to be discriminated against, and unless some people are more equal than others, it is therefore unethical to discriminate against others. If religions were permitted to discriminate, then it would be equally permissible for other religions or people to discriminate against religions, or homosexuals, or Aboriginal people. This is abhorrent, and a step towards a divisive society.
1.4 How are federal and state and territory governments managing incitement to religious hatred, and the question of control and responsibility?
13. Unfortunately most federal, state and territory governments are dominated by predominantly Christian politicians. They have been indoctrinated to believe that their Christian religion is right. They might recognise but not act quickly to recognise hatred against other religions, but hatred against Christianity seems to be quickly noticed.
14. Governments are not attacking the core problems. There is discrimination, there is an imposition of one religion on others, and intolerance is prevalent. Education, a better understanding of other people, and a commitment to equal rights for all, are required urgently. Australia should be a secular state and it cannot have divisive underlying religious tones.
1.5 How well have the recommendations of Article 18: Freedom of Religion and Belief been implemented by the various state and federal governments?
15. The freedom of religion and belief should include the freedom to not believe and to act on one’s beliefs as long as they do not directly affect others. Sex before marriage, consensual homosexuality, abortion and voluntary euthanasia would thus be allowed.
16. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and of the UDHR refer to the right to freedom of thought and religion. These rights would be more commendable if they also referred to the right to non-belief. The rights refer to the right for people to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. If any worship, observance, practice and teaching of one religion results in discrimination or the imposition of one’s belief system on others, then this is unacceptable, because it places greater emphasis on the interests of one person over another. In this respect, the ICCPR and UDHR are flawed. If discrimination is acceptable in one instance, then how can it ever be ridiculed for what it is?
17. The ICCPR and UDHR effectively state that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person. People who would choose to have voluntary euthanasia are concerned about their dignity and quality of life, rather than the extension of their life if this involves unnecessary pain, suffering and indignity. Christian religious teaching, manifested through the votes of Christian parliamentarians, effectively violates the ICCPR and UDHR because governments deny those who are terminally ill the right to choose their most dignified option in dying. Clearly, people who are ‘born free and equal in dignity and rights’ should have the right to choose voluntary euthanasia and determine how they live and die.
18. Christian, Islamic and other religious teaching that discriminates against women, homosexuals, non-believers, or people not of their religion, effectively violates Article 1 of the UDHR. Religions deny women and homosexuals equality and rights, there are no female role models in the leadership groups of many churches, and women and homosexuals are precluded from the right to lead a religion.