Part 3. How could Australia better protect and promote human rights?
1. The right to freedom of belief and non-belief, the right to freedom of choice in belief, the right to die with dignity and live with dignity, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to equality (including the right not to be discriminated against by others) must be protected. Mainstream religions oppose these beliefs. Not all people follow the belief systems of mainstream religions. For these important rights to be upheld, religions must be banned from discriminating, and the clergy, the political leaders who follow their religions, and the laypeople, must not be permitted to discriminate or impose their religions on others.
2. As the clergy and political leadership have effectively worked to deny people rights, efforts should be made to effect a more tolerable and egalitarian outcome from these people. Only then can all Australians be treated equally and with the dignity that all Australians deserve. One group of Australians should never be able to impose their views, relating to how individuals should live their lives, on others.
3. There are however many issues of concern and many policies that can be instituted to ensure individuals have equality and dignity, including the rights discussed in this submission.
Issues of concern to Australians
4. With respect to an individual’s rights, there are many issues of concern, including
- that all religions believe that their religion and its ethical values alone, are ‘right’, and that they must be imposed on all other people
- that religions discriminate, are intolerant of others, and do not treat all people equally
- the distrust that religions have for each other that often results in violent conflict
- that religions are effectively imposed on children in schools, denying them the right to form their own opinions and choose their own religious belief
- the religious contentions that the world was created, imaginary gods exist, souls exist, miracles occur, and prayers work, contrary to scientific evidence
- the religious bias towards Christianity in the preamble of the Australian Constitution and that s.116 does not provide for a separation of church and state or protect non-believers
- the use of parliamentary prayers
- the tax-exempt status given to religions
- the use of discriminatory and tax-exempt religious organisations to provide government and business services for Australians
- the religious opposition to matters that would advance the human condition, voluntary euthanasia (the right to die with dignity), abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of contraceptives
- that religions and politicians have worked to ban the dissemination of information relating to euthanasia over the internet (when it is acceptable to discuss such matters in person) which unfairly censors and denies people information, affecting their ability to make their own decisions about end of life matters
- the gender, sexual and racial discrimination that is rife in religion
- the discriminatory religious attitude towards non-believers
- the use of divisive and offensive religious symbols and dress
- the use of violence, terrorism and war to defend religious beliefs
- politicians and the media consulting with religious organisation on issues unrelated to religious teaching and despite these organisations having a history of discrimination and violence.
How the Australian government can protect the fundamental human rights discussed in this paper
5. Governments can address the denial of many rights discussed above through constitutional change, political reform and strong, rational, non-partisan political leadership. A regulatory regime is required to eliminate the tax-exempt status for the non-charitable elements of religious organisations and prohibit discrimination at all levels of all organisations. Education is required, and governments can initiate this. However, religious organisations must realise that they cannot accept their religious texts as infallible truths. They must understand that equality is right and discrimination is wrong.
6. There are many options for the Australian Government and the State and Territory Governments.
- A stronger Constitution must allow freedom from religion and the right to not have religious beliefs.
- Australia should be a secular state, with full and complete separation of church and state, and a non-divisive state, where no religions are favoured.
- There should be no religious references in the Constitution, the Parliament, or material relating to any public institution.
- It should be unacceptable for individuals and private and public organisations to discriminate and impose religious views on others.
- Religions should not be exempt from discrimination laws.
- The right to not have religious beliefs must be reflected in all jurisdictional frameworks.
- Religions should not be favoured any more than other organisations of people with similar interests.
- Children must be given choice of religion at school.
- The non-charitable elements of religions must pay tax and must be accountable in a democratic way, as, for example, companies are to their shareholders.
- Any religions that discriminate and that are imposed on others must not receive any government funding; indeed, they should not be permitted to do so. Other religions that do not discriminate, that are not imposed on others, and that might receive government funding, must still be accountable.
- The government should realise that it is dangerous to vest power in religious leaders who are not elected and not accountable.
- Australia needs politicians with greater moral fortitude to stand up to organised religion.
- Abortion and homosexual marriage should be permitted.
- Laws should be enacted to permit voluntary euthanasia.
- Laws that deny Australians the right to discuss euthanasia issues over the internet should be repealed.
- Equality means that discrimination against people must not be permitted.
7. In addition, the government needs to consider the related matter of censorship for children. Does society think it appropriate that children can read about the second-rate treatment of women, as well as the murder of homosexuals, massacres, the collection of foreskins from murdered people, atrocious murders of children, rape, incest, torture, slavery, general pillaging, sacrifice, everlasting punishment in hellfire, to name but a few horrors? If this violent fiction is unsatisfactory for children’s literature, then the Bible should be inaccessible by children. Censorship must protect children from inappropriate literature.
8. Actions on many fronts are required to ensure that Australians have equality and the rights discussed in this submission.
A Charter of Rights
9. If a Charter of Rights is developed, then the rights discussed in this submission must be protected. If they are not, then Australians will be deprived of equality, dignity and human rights.
10. There must be equivalence in rights between belief and non-belief in religion, and people, including children, must have the right to choose their religion. The right to not believe in religion must be protected. People must be permitted to have the right to freedom of belief, but not if this is imposed on or discriminates against other people. The right for individuals, of sound mind and body, to determine and choose how they should live, and in cases of terminal illness, how and when they should die with dignity, must be protected. Individual liberty must not be constrained. There must also be a right of free speech to debate rights, religion, euthanasia, and all other issues amongst intelligent adults, without banning the dissemination of information relevant to individuals from dissemination by electronic means. People should have the right not to be discriminated against, which means that the right to equality in all aspects of Australian society should be enforced.
Education, religions, and the media
Educating religious leaders
11. Religious leaders and people must be educated to learn about religious freedom and the ethical merit of freedom of choice in developing belief systems. However, if education teaches that women are the equal of men and consequently should be able to hold leadership positions in their church, this is contrary to religious leaders’ firmly entrenched belief systems, so it is unlikely that they will not accept it. Perhaps the Australian Human Rights Commission could take a lead in making people more aware of relevant rights, including those that have been raised in this submission.
12. The Qur’an teaches that members of other religions should be fought ‘until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere’. The Bible similarly teaches that those not of the Christian religion should be put to death, or at least destroyed. Most churches preach to their members that people not of their religion are sinners, who will have everlasting punishment in hell—not really a basis on which churches can have sensible interfaith dialogue. Many religious people deny the literal interpretations of their religious texts, but fundamentalists do not. Perplexingly, it seems impossible to obtain perfectly clear interpretations of the alleged perfect religious texts.
13. It would seem that Christians and Muslims, but also Jews, have the same level of respect and interfaith understanding for each other that they have had throughout history. While religions are ostensibly making efforts to be conciliatory, it is probable that under the surface, their antagonism towards one another continues. By discriminating against each other they deny rights to other people. Most religions do not treat others as equals; most religions do not treat others with dignity.
14. It would be wonderfully uplifting if the leaders of the different mainstream religions could join hand in hand and call for a better world. They could announce that there would be freedom and equal rights for all, the cessation of all discrimination and religious hostilities, that religions would now pay tax like other organisations, that divisive religious practices would be eliminated, that no religion’s gods or beliefs are better than any other gods or beliefs, that allow other people to discuss matters contrary to their religious teachings, and renounce all references in their religious texts that undermine equality and advocate punishment for people who are not of their religions. That would be a start. Otherwise, religions indulge in a childish, fruitless and divisive game of ‘join up, our religion is better than your religion’. Australian politicians can unite on certain issues, and a proclamation to this effect by religious leaders would surely be beneficial if Australians are to be treated equally—surely the most fundamental of human rights.
15. Politicians could work towards the constitutional and legislative changes that are required. They must speak out for individual human rights and show the leadership that Australians desire and expect of them.
The role of the media
16. The media has a large impact on issues in contemporary society. On rights issues, reporters must ask the hard questions. The clergy should not be revered, rather they should be challenged. Why do they discriminate? Why do they force their views on others? It would be uplifting if a respected TV reporter were to question the Pope, or even a Cardinal, on how he (it must be ‘he’) can:
- justify a ban on the use of condoms in third world countries
- oppose a reasonable abortion at the expense of the right of the woman to determine what is right for her own life
- ask terminally ill people to repeatedly vomit their own faeces when in the final stages of colon cancer rather than permitting the individual right to die with dignity (voluntary euthanasia)
- deny the use of embryonic stem cells for research, resulting in hardship or disability for many
- justify the existence of a god or soul when there is no scientific evidence, denying people rational explanations
- advocate that others, not of his religion, should have everlasting punishment in hell (when there is none), which is true cruelty
- discriminate against women, homosexuals, non-believers and others, denying people the right of equality
- justify imposing his religious views on others through political force
- deny freedom of choice in religion
- worship God, who according to the Bible, kills children
- justify why his and other religions should receive favourable tax status over other Australian organisations.
17. Some reporters might consider such questions as impolitic, but the questions need answers. The media should actively challenge religious leaders about their lack of action on the uplifting statements in the previous section, for example, why don’t religious leaders announce the cessation of all discrimination in their organisations? It is simply unacceptable that these discriminatory organisations should be permitted to exist in society.
18. Many Australians donate a great deal of money to religions, and religions must be accountable for this money. It is unacceptable that organisations in receipt of so much Australian money should have such atrocious and discriminatory ethical standards. People and the media must consider issues in greater depth, and ask the hard questions, if our society is to become more tolerant, less divisive, fair and equitable for all Australians.