Part 1. Human rights that should be protected

1. This paper makes strong cases for the following rights to be observed.

Right 1. The right to freedom of belief and non-belief (people can have their belief systems as long as they are not imposed on others or result in discrimination against others).

Right 2. The right to freedom of choice in belief (belief systems and religions should not be imposed on anybody, including children).

Right 3. The right to die with dignity and live with dignity (including the option of voluntary euthanasia). 

Right 4. The right to freedom of speech (the right to access information, including that relating to voluntary euthanasia, including on electronic media).

Right 5. The right to equality (including the right not to be discriminated against by others) (including the rights of people, particularly women, homosexuals, and non-believers not to be discriminated against).

2. These rights are not protected in Australia. Arguments for their observance are developed in the following sections.

Right 1. The right to freedom of belief and non-belief

Right 2. The right to freedom of choice in belief

3. I need to make some relevant observations about religion to set the framework for my response to the issues before the Consultation. This is because most religions adversely affect human rights relating to equality and dignity. Most religions discriminate and are imposed on others. In both these respects, religions deny other people fundamental individual rights. This discrimination, and the imposition of religious values on others, must not be allowed to continue in a modern, progressive society that values equality and dignity. It is difficult to talk of religions as a whole, given that adherents to even the mainstream religions interpret the allegedly perfect religious texts differently. However, the issues I raise in this submission do seem, with perhaps an occasionalexception, to be problems for allmainstreamreligions, andhenceforAustralian society.

4. This submission emphatically makes the case that religions discriminate and that discrimination is wrong because it denies people the right of equality. That conclusion alone has significant implications for the right to freedom of belief and our society.

Why are people religious?

5. Religion, by its nature, is a faith, a belief system, and many people believe in religions regardless of what evidence there is to the contrary. Most world religions are based on religious texts written many hundreds or thousands of years ago by people with ancient, superstitious, and primitive customs and ethical systems. They had essentially no scientific knowledge, their understanding of the world was poor, and they created gods to explain what they could not.

6. Unsurprisingly, religious texts such as the Bible are scientifically flawed, and the god theories of religions are inconsistent with available evidence. Despite what religious leaders may suggest is revealed in their (allegedly infallible and perfect) religious texts, there is no credible evidence, and certainly not in the scientific literature, for gods, devils, fairies, angels, ghosts, that the universe was created, heaven, hell, a resurrection, a virgin birth, souls (something that survives death), miracles (events that are contrary to scientific understanding), or that prayers work. In the 21st century, it is delusional, by definition, to have a religious belief in imaginary gods that have characteristics or perform deeds contrary to scientific and credible evidence.

7. Further, contrary to religious teachings, men are not superior to women, heterosexuals are not more worthy of rights than homosexuals, non-believers should not be discriminated against or have religions imposed on them, and children should be given choice in belief and not have a single religion thrust on them.

The indoctrination test

8. Beliefs in imaginary beings and things are propagated mainly through indoctrination. My standard indoctrination test is the following: consider what religion people would follow if they were raised in a country of a different religion by parents who fervently followed that other religion? As an example, a Christian should consider being raised by Muslim parents in a Muslim country, and Muslims should speculate about being raised by Christians in a Christian country. Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and other religious groups should ask similar questions.

9. Would they still follow the same religion? If their answer is no, then they should question why they follow the religion that they do, because clearly their religion is subjective, and a function of their indoctrination. They have admitted that if they were indoctrinated in a different religion in a different culture, they would change their religion.

10. If their answer is yes, then perhaps they should try to objectively explain the geographical distribution of religions around the world. If a Catholic said they would be a Catholic regardless of whether they were raised by Muslim parents in a Muslim community, it should be asked why they are so special, because the overwhelming majority of children raised by Muslim parents in Muslim communities become Muslims. Children growing up in a Muslim community do not suddenly have a revelation of ‘Yes, Catholicism is for me’.

11. Many people might think that, as adults, they are making a choice about which religion is right, but this does not explain the high correlation between the religion of indoctrination and an adult’s final religion. The geographic distribution of world religions and cultures is best described by this indoctrination theory because the correlation between religion and geography (culture) is so high.

12. Those indoctrinated people who identify strongly with mainstream religions usually rely on religious leaders to tell them what to do, how to behave, what’s right and wrong, and what to believe in, rather than thinking for themselves. They would probably acknowledge that their gods proclaim that killing is wrong but also that their gods have then (hypocritically) murdered people (including children). These gods are often sexist, racist, and homophobic; a reflection of primitive society, for this is how the religion gave comfort to the primitive peoples that created the gods. Unfortunately, their modern day followers still adopt many of these primitive beliefs. In the 21st century, it is disappointing that people still consider that these gods, guilty of discrimination and atrocious acts, are worthy or worship.

Discrimination and the imposition of religious views denies equality

13. People who have been indoctrinated in a religion cannot argue from reason that it is right, because if they had been raised elsewhere they would have followed a different religion. They are not philosophically wedded to any one religion. This also means that objective argument cannot be used to justify or rationalise an ethical system based on religion, as religion is subjective. This lack of objectivity means it is particularly important that religious people do not impose their religious views on others by physical, emotional, legislative or other means.

14. Why is this so? Should people have the right to impose their religions on others? For many religions, Christianity included, doing so would be hypocritical. Christians would not wish Islamic or Jewish, or even non-religious (atheistic and agnostic) beliefs, habits or customs to be forced on them. It is hypocritical and unethical for Christians to do unto others what they would not want others to do unto them.

15. This statement can be made more general, more universal. The same weight should be given to the views, values or interests of others as one gives to one’s own interests. This is the most fundamental ethical principle. It follows that the values of any one individual should not be forced on others and that all people should have the same rights. This principle guarantees in theory that all people have equal dignity and rights, as reflected in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’

16. An individual should have the right to express and adopt their own religions and belief systems. As a fundamental human right, people should be able to believe what they will, to the extent that it does not interfere with other people’s human rights. However, this right is denied people if organised religion is imposed on, discriminates against, or oppresses them.

17. Furthermore, for there to be a right to freedom of belief, there must be freedom of choice in religion and belief. There cannot be freedom if there is no choice. No religions and no one religion can be favoured.

18. A denial of choice is a denial of a freedom and a denial of a right, whether it be in religion or politics. Freedom of choice in belief is rarely the situation in Australia for children, where even in government schools, religion, usually Christianity, is being imposed on others by stealth and by childhood indoctrination before people’s analytical skills are fully developed. Freedom of education does not occur because children are not given choice in religious education; more often than not they are indoctrinated in one religion from an early age.

19. Nobody would like to be discriminated against based on sex, religion, sexual preference, colour, race, language, genome, disability, marital status, etc, and therefore religions should not discriminate against others. Religious organisations teach discrimination (their religious texts and church practices discriminate against women, homosexuals and non-believers) but then often complain when its victims voice vehement objections.

20. Sex discrimination in Christianity and Islam is as abhorrent as racial discrimination was in South Africa (or anywhere). Discrimination is wrong because it denies people rights and unfairly affects their interests. Discrimination is abhorrent and should not be tolerated in religion or any aspect of society.

21. While it is important to respect the right of all to believe what they wish, honouring any gods that commit foul deeds should be discouraged and deplored, lest it affect how people behave in society. For example, on a Sunday, indoctrinated religious people can say with total conviction, ‘God killed people in the Bible because he is good and just, God punishes those who do not believe in him, sex before marriage is wrong, contraception is wrong, God believes men are better than women and so women cannot assume positions of leadership in the Church, and as homosexuals are worthy of punishment they cannot join the priesthood’. The next day, perhaps in their public service job, they might try to advocate the opposite view: that all murder is wrong, people have freedom of belief, condoms should be used, and that women and homosexuals should be afforded the same rights as others. The perception, and most probably the reality, is that religious indoctrination lays the foundation for a person’s true beliefs—discriminatory beliefs that deny equality and that are clearly unacceptable in a secular, modern, multicultural and progressive Australia.

22. Would Australians have confidence that public servants with these religious views would treat unmarried bisexual pregnant women as equals of other candidates at interview? Would we have confidence that religious Prime Ministers or politicians could divorce themselves from their indoctrination and make informed and objective decisions about the role of, for example, women in the workforce or gay marriages, or make an objective decision about whether they should legislate for voluntary euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, if perchance it conflicts with their belief systems? Some politicians and the clergy are still making feeble attempts to justify discrimination on the basis of sexual preference by speaking out against gay marriages.

23. Do Australians think the clergy’s views on these matters are made objectively? Even if politicians and the clergy could demonstrate that they could treat people equitably and make public policy decisions based on evidence, their analytical skills have been severely compromised and the perception is that they do not do so.

24. There is danger in religious belief systems adversely affecting how people reason and how our society can grow and evolve. Organised religion can have deleterious effects on society. If organised religions preach scientific, ethical or other wrongs, either overtly or stealthily, and discriminate against others then these wrongs will eventually be propagated. Women, homosexuals, non-believers (including atheists and agnostics) and others who are not favoured by gods or priests are discriminated against and oppressed, often by stealth. Women, homosexuals and non-believers are disadvantaged because they are denigrated and denied rights by religions.

25. When was the last time a woman or homosexual was allowed to lead their Christian or Islamic church? Discrimination means they are not afforded the human right of equality.

26. The world has a long history of religion-fuelled hostility, which is a logical consequence of thousands of years of religious discrimination, denial of rights, intolerance of other religions, and religions imposing their beliefs on others. Only when people can believe freely in what they will, religious discrimination ceases and religions no longer oppress or impose their religious values on others, can Australia and the world move confidently on a track towards a tolerant, less divisive and more egalitarian future respectful of human rights.

A hypothetical religion

27. A case has been made that belief and religions should only be permitted when there is right to freedom of choice in religion, and when they do not discriminate, are not imposed on others or otherwise deny people equality, dignity or other fundamental rights.

28. Please consider the following scenario. What if a new religion were to be established tomorrow in Australia, and an inspired person drafts a religious text that reflects the perfect views of their new and perfect God (and it seems most religions need to have a god or two to be competitive, but there are exceptions). The newly drafted religious text includes the following verses attributable to the new God.

  • An Aboriginal person should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit an Aboriginal person to teach or to have authority over a non-Aboriginal person; the Aboriginal person must be silent.
  • Any Aboriginal person who is arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the priest who represents your God must die.
  • An Aboriginal person who works on God’s holy day will be put to death.
  • If a person has sex with an Aboriginal person, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own hands.

29. The above verses are racist, abhorrent and disgusting. They deny Aboriginal people rights. Such a religious text would be treated with the contempt that any racially discriminatory text deserves. The proponents of the new religion would say that God moves in mysterious ways or that the text is not meant to be taken literally. Neither explanation conceals the underlying racism.

30. The astute observer would realise that these verses have been extracted from the Christian Bible and reworked to substitute the phrase ‘Aboriginal person’ in biblical verses that condemn women, non-believers, a person who works contrary to God’s laws, and homosexuals[1]. If the newly drafted religious text is disgusting, then so is the Christian Bible, with its racism, sexism, religism[2], homophobia, and particular nastiness. However, Christians do not seem to comprehend that the Bible represents the uneducated and far from enlightened views of primitive people, and serious belief in such discriminatory values is unworthy of civilised society, and a modern, secular and progressive Australia.

31. The right to freedom of belief is important. However, if belief systems, including those in the mainstream religions, deny other people their rights and are channelled through organised religion that involves discrimination and the imposition of primitive ethical values on others, then these belief systems are unacceptable. Religion that discriminates and imposes itself on other people should be considered similarly to a newly drafted religion that discriminates against Aboriginal people: unworthy of a following and worthy of contempt.

32. If no change is made to the current human rights regime in Australia, then Australia is effectively condoning discrimination. A new religion that discriminated against Aboriginal persons would be no less discriminatory than mainstream religions such as Christianity and Islam. Discriminatory religions must not be allowed to exist.

Religion in Australia

33. Many Australians are not religious. The 2006 census showed that 18.7% of Australians had no religion (a trend that has been increasing), the same percentage as that of Anglicans in Australia. Further, it is reasonable to assume that the 11.2% of people who did not address the census question are more likely to be of no religion. That is about 30% of Australians have no or little desire for religion, and based on trends from previous Census results, this figure will increase in the future. Atheists, or better perhaps the term rationalists, broadly, are people who happen not to believe in a god or gods because there is no evidence that any gods exist[3].

34. People with religious beliefs should have the same human rights, and no more, than others in society, including people who are not religious or who otherwise choose to believe in things only when there is credible evidence. No person or religious organisation should discriminate unfairly, oppress or denigrate others, or impose their religious views on others, including on atheists or non-believers. To do so is to deny people the fundamental rights of equality and dignity.

The right to non-belief

35. The right to freedom of religion and belief should include the right to not believe and to act on one’s beliefs as long as they do not directly affect others. Sex before marriage, consensual homosexuality and other consensual sexual behaviour, abortion and voluntary euthanasia would thus be allowed.

36. Why

  • do many religious schools generally refuse to recruit qualified teachers who do not share the religious values of the school?
  • do publicly funded 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?
  • 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?
  • are commercial bus companies permitted to ban atheists from advertising on buses, something that would not be denied to religious people or organisations?
  • are non-charitable elements of religious organisations permitted to run businesses without paying tax, which disadvantages more efficient businesses and Australians in general?

37. Discrimination is incompatible with equality. Currently, Australians are not equal.

38. In all of the cases above, non-religious people are disadvantaged. The fact that the non-charitable elements of religions do not pay their share of 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. Low-income earners pay tax but religions do not. This is inequitable and wrong.

39. Religious organisations in receipt of public funding, such as for schools or hospitals, must not be permitted to discriminate against non-religious Australians. Publicly funded institutions should not show religism (discrimination based on religion). Taxpayers should not fund discriminatory organisations.

International agreements

40. 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, it can never be ridiculed for what it is—a denial of equality.

41. Christian, Muslim 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, homosexuals and non-believers equality and rights. There are no female role models in the leadership groups of many churches, as women and homosexuals are precluded from the right to lead mainstream religions.

Problems with the Australian Constitution

42. The Australian Constitution has problems that deny Australians equality.

Section 116

43. Section 116 seems to be a perfunctory effort to stipulate that there should be a separation of church and state in Australia and that Australia should be a secular society[4]. These are noble objectives, but the Constitution does not achieve them.

44. Section 116 is a denial of legislative power to the Commonwealth, but it does not ensure separation of church and state and does not offer any protection for those who do not believe in supernatural/imaginary gods. If religions are exempt from paying tax under the Income Tax Act, then this legislation favours religions over other groups of people, including over those who do not have a religion. This undermines the perception of a separation of church and state. The separation of church and state must be enshrined in the Constitution if there is to be right to freedom of belief and non-belief.

45. Section 116 does not prohibit religious schools, in receipt of public funding, from discriminating against well-qualified (usually science) teachers who have no religion. The Constitution does not, but must, protect individuals against discrimination by private-sector organisations, including organised religion if all Australians are to have the right of equality. Inequality through discr imination, because of religious belief, is abhorrent and unacceptable.

The Constitution’s preamble

46. Aside from s.116, there are other religious problems in the Constitution. When one religion is favoured, the right to freedom of religion or belief is compromised.

47. The Constitution’s preamble requires a more secular approach because it effectively discriminates against non-Christians. Although the preamble has no legal force, it contains a reference to the Christian God. There is no perception that Australians will treat other belief systems and non-believers/atheists with the same rights as Christians, given that the Christian God has such prevalence in the Constitution, albeit in the preamble. It is subservient, irrelevant and demeaning that the preamble says we are humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God. It is undignified to humbly rely on anything if, as a nation, we are to forge our own identity and determine our destiny with pride. The words ‘Almighty God’ may have some meaning for Christians and religious people, but it is gobbledegook to those who are not. Some may argue that the reference to God should reflect the historical nature of Australia’s early white Christian-based society, but this constitutes a denial of Aboriginal belief systems and of the multicultural and desirably secular nature of modern Australia. The Christian belief in God does not deserve a place in a legal, and political, document. While many people might choose to follow the Christian religion, it is wrong and divisive to include such religious perspectives in a Constitution belonging to all Australians.

48. If Christians do not think that reference to Almighty God in the preamble is discriminatory, what would they think if a reference to Almighty Allah, Thor or Zeus were substituted, or even added to the preamble? Imagine the outcry. The Christian response would be that there should be right to freedom of religion, but only if it is Christianity. This attitude is unethical. Equality is right and discrimination is wrong.

49. Simply stated, the Constitution is no more a place for a religious statement than the Bible is for noting our humble reliance on our Prime Minister. The Constitution should aim to be inclusive of all Australians, rather than divisive.

Separation of church and state

50. Australia’s Head of State is the Queen of Australia, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a position that is very relevant to the church, although it is mostly symbolic. The problem that there is not a full separation of church and state begins here. Australia’s Head of State should have nothing to do with religion. The perception is all wrong. When Australia becomes a republic or before, there must also be a separation of church and state in Australia.

51. As noted above, s. 116 of the Constitution does not require that there be a separation of church and state or that non-believers have the same rights as believers. This must be rectified. If it is not, religions will continue to be favoured, discrimination will occur, and Australians will suffer the consequences. A secular Australia means that there can be a right to freedom of belief and non-belief.

Political and legal problems

52. There are political and legal elements of society that unfairly favour religion or a religion. Why should people with like belief systems and interests have any more rights in government or public institutions than people who have the same sporting interests, such as members of a tennis club?

Parliamentary prayers

53. The Christian prayer at the beginning of each sitting day in Parliament is as antiquated and discriminatory as the Constitution’s preamble. Parliament is not a church, and should not be imposing religious values on parliamentarians. Most Australians would vehemently oppose the use of daily prayers in schools, universities and hospitals, yet there are daily prayers in Parliament.

54. If I were a parliamentarian, I would be extremely offended that I must observe a prayer from a belief system that is not mine, and particularly given that this religion is the cause of such intolerance and discrimination, including against women, homosexuals and non-believers.

55. The perception of a separation of church and state seems a spurious concept when daily prayers occur. It is unethical to impose Christian prayers on others when Christians would vehemently reject other religions’ prayers. Can people imagine the outcry from well-known Christian parliamentarians if a prayer to Allah was substituted for the Christian prayer, even if it occurred on a pro rata basis according to religious numbers? Christian leaders (in religion and politics) hypocritically do unto others what they would not permit others to do unto them.

Chaplaincy program

56. The National Schools Chaplaincy Program is an attempt by the government to indoctrinate children in religion. Chaplains are expected to provide general religious and personal advice, comfort and support to all students and staff, regardless of their religious denomination, and irrespective of their religious beliefs. This is not compulsory, but the government is spending public funds to promote religion by stealth in the school system. This is unacceptable. Through denial of religious choice and the presence of mainly pro-Christian chaplains, the government hoped to promote Christianity in schools. It is unlikely that the government would have funded the chaplaincy program if the only chaplains available were non-Christian.

The taxation system

57. Australian religions are exempt from Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax and possibly other taxes. Religions can invest their money tax-free and cross-subsidise any of their ‘business’ activities. Colloquially, Australians call this a lurk, and they do not come any bigger. If estimates that churches’ annual turnover of $20 billion per year are in the right ballpark, Australia could be forgoing well over a billion dollars per year in taxation revenue. Governments and politicians must question why religions are permitted to bank billions from their tax breaks; billions that governments could be using for the benefit of all Australians, especially during economically challenging times. Religions are not treated equally to other organisations, and consequently their members are favoured over other Australians.

58. The Roman Catholic Church is the wealthiest non-profit organisation in Australia and one of its largest organisations, with approximately 180 000 employees. Yet it runs schools, hospitals, aged-care facilities, employment services and many other businesses without paying tax that other Australians would pay. Non-religious Australians find it difficult to establish schools, hospitals etc when their religious competitors do not pay tax. Religions are effectively cheating ordinary Australians. If some of that taxation revenue forgone were instead spent on Australia’s poor and needy, on education and health, on medical and scientific research, on climate change, on energy efficiency, on improving the lives of Australians, and on foreign aid, Australia would be much better for it.

59. Nobody really knows what religions do with their money (perhaps propping up the rich parent religions overseas), as they are not accountable. The tax-exempt situation for religions is clearly discriminatory and unacceptable. It is quite extraordinary that this religious discrimination has existed for so long. Religions must not be exempt from any taxation and they must be accountable. This is fundamental if Australians are to be considered as equals.

60. Both major parties support daily Christian prayers in Parliament. Religions are tax-exempt and lack transparency. This is religious discrimination at the highest level. There can never be a right to freedom of belief, non-belief and religion if the Constitution and daily prayers send a pro-Christian message and the taxation system has a religious bias.

Religious influence on government

61. Religious or faith-based groups have undue influence over government. Australian governments in all jurisdictions have been reticent to introduce social change. The rights of homosexuals to marry, the rights of terminally ill people who seek voluntary euthanasia, the rights of women seeking abortion, and the use of embryonic stem cells in research are some contemporary issues that have been opposed for religious reasons. These issues have majority support in the community and do not directly affect other people. However, the number of religious politicians seems disproportionate compared to the proportion of religious people in Australia (perhaps 8% of Australians are regular churchgoers).

62. Politicians, through legislative action, should forbid organisations, including religions, to discriminate against particular groups of Australian people, such as women, homosexuals and non-believers. However, with few notable exceptions, politicians have been reluctant or lack the moral fortitude to stand up to the organised religions.

Right 3. The right to die with dignity and live life with dignity

63. Voluntary euthanasia is the right to die with dignity and end one’s own life in a painless manner and so avoid pain, suffering and indignity. People should have equality and dignity in life, and in how they end their life. The right to live life with dignity is very much understood and by all, but it must be complemented by a right to die with dignity. The right to die with dignity is the last dignified decision that many people would like to make in their lives.

64. 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.

65. 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.

66. There are many elderly Australians who, in the absence of legislation, are choosing to take control of their lives and develop their own end of life options. Elderly people are seeking information on their options for a peaceful death, either travelling overseas to acquire suitable lethal drugs, making use of overseas legislation (in Switzerland in particular) that permits euthanasia, or attempting to manufacture drugs to have something in the cabinet—just in case their illness worsens.

67. These people are everyday Australians, who are taking matters into their own hands to ensure that they do not have unnecessary pain and suffering if they have a serious terminal illness. They are denied the right to determine what is best for themselves. They are denied the right to determine what is right for their body. They are denied the right to die with dignity. This is unacceptable.

Physician assisted death

68. Physician-assisted death occurs in Australia despite it being illegal. About one third of doctors have provided medication with the intent of hastening the end of life. About 80 per cent of Australians support euthanasia, the administering of a lethal dose, at the request of a terminally ill patient, to hasten death. According to Tony Jones on a recent Q&A program, 90 per cent of the audience supported euthanasia. A guest on the program, opposition shadow minister Tony Abbott, did not; as he argued that while we might feel for our fellow human beings, there will be a slippery slope where there will be all sorts of pressures on all sorts of vulnerable people. There is no slippery slope. Experience overseas indicates that legislation does not result in increased death rates; in fact, the trend is slightly the other way. Our politicians, our legislators, can draw the line in the sand about what is and what is not permitted. Unfortunately many politicians, particularly those who have been indoctrinated by religion, are burying their heads in the sands of denial.

Angelique Flowers

69. It is difficult to comprehend how many politicians could ignore, or at least fail to act in response to, the incredibly moving and very sad story of Angelique Flowers, the 31 year old writer who recently died after years of Crohn’s disease and then agonising bowel cancer[5]. She had palliative care, which is important, but it did not alleviate her suffering. Nobody should have to suffer to the extent she did, and vomit faecal matter at the end, but she did. That she had to suffer that way could drive many other Australians to an early demise, in fear, not of death, but of unbearable pain and suffering.

70. The Pope’s arrogant statement that the ill should pray to find ‘the grace to accept, without fear or bitterness, to leave this world at the hour chosen by God’ is meaningless to those who do not believe in a god, and to many who do. One might suspect that Angelique Flowers would have been very unimpressed, and that most would classify the Pope’s stance as inhumane. In her eloquent video appeal to Kevin Rudd, which was forwarded to him by Dr Philip Nitschke (head of Exit International), Angelique said that ‘all I want after 16 years of painful Crohn’s disease and now cancer is to die a pain-free peaceful death’. ‘Because euthanasia was banned in Australia I am denied this right…’ Further she said that ‘the law wouldn’t let a dog suffer the agony I’m going through before an inevitable death. It would be put down. Yet under the law, my life is worth less than a dog’s.’

71. All politicians should consider heartfelt appeals such as that of Angelique Flowers. We cannot, as a civilised society, continue to let people suffer when they are in the most desperate of situations. The large majority of Australians are not satisfied with the denial of the right to die and the continued intransigence and reluctance of many politicians to support terminally ill Australians. All we need is more politicians with compassion, legislative skills, and fortitude to ensure that individuals have the right to live, and end, their lives with dignity. This is a right that Angelique Flowers was denied. No Australians should have to suffer as she did.

72. I am middle-aged, I am healthy, and I am not terminally ill. People who want the option of voluntary euthanasia are usually older than me. Nonetheless, I want information on my life options and on my end of life options. My life is my life. Elderly people, with greater vested interests in end of life options, are particularly desperate for information. With every sad case that reaches the media, and in the absence of regulatory regimes, more people are seeking practical end of life solutions to terminal illnesses, which are becoming more prevalent as our population ages.

The case for voluntary euthanasia

73. 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 of sound mind, who are terminally ill, should be able to choose how to end their lives, and be able to gain assistance if they cannot do so themselves.

74. Appendix 1 provides a comprehensive case for voluntary euthanasia—the right to die with dignity. I have highlighted key statements in this appendix. 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.

75. It denies people the right to practice their own belief that euthanasia is right, because the clergy and politicians force a Christian ethic upon them. This is unacceptable.

76. 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.

77. Organised religions and politicians must not deny the right for people to choose their end of life options. People who oppose voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill people because they oppose it for themselves, are being unethical, oppressive, and are arrogantly imposing their religion on other people. This denies terminally ill people the right to choose what to do with their own lives.

78. It is their life, and it should be their choice in how they should live and die. A right to life should be balanced by a right to die, if that is the wish of the individual. They are both rights, not duties.

Right 4. The right to freedom of speech

79. Religions, via Christian parliamentarians, have now made it illegal to discuss voluntary euthanasia issues on electronic media, such as the internet, because the Commonwealth Parliament has legislated a ban on the electronic transmission of information about voluntary euthanasia. A ban has also been placed on the sale of The Peaceful Pill Handbook, by Dr Philip Nitschke and Dr Fiona Stewart, a book that provides information on end-of-life options. In the absence of supportive voluntary euthanasia legislation, Australians are nonetheless are attempting to download the information in this book, and attending meetings, to make informed end-of-life decisions.

80. Why should something that is of interest to elderly people be prohibited from discussion via electronic media, when euthanasia supporters talk about these issues in person or via Australia Post, if not to try to undermine the euthanasia movement? The right to freedom of speech for euthanasia advocates is being denied by politicians who want to do whatever they can to impose their religious views on others by suppressing discussion on euthanasia issues.

81. Good government policy should not be about denying the right to freedom of speech for elderly Australians. It is wrong to ban information or speech that predominately elderly Australians would use to make informed decisions about how they should live, and end, their own lives, because this forces other people’s religious values on them.

82. Barack Obama, as a Senator, correctly recognised that governments must not legislate based on politicians’ religious beliefs. Governments require a universal principle, one amenable to reason, to legislate. He said ‘Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.’[6]

83. With few exceptions, Australian politicians do not have the same ability as President Obama to separate their religious beliefs from their political responsibilities. They must understand that their religion is not amenable to reason, and must not be forced on others. Denying the freedom of speech to those supporting voluntary euthanasia is an imposition of mainstream religious views on people who are not of those religions. People should have the right to express their views, and present reasoned arguments, and not have others’ views forced on them.

Right 5. The right to equality (including the right not to be discriminated against by others)

84. As noted above (in the section ‘The right to non-belief’), there is discrimination against people who do not follow religion in Australia. Religions deny Australians equality.

85. 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—why then has the government legislated against voluntary euthanasia for those who want it?

86. Can there be freedom of religion and belief if people are discriminated against because of their beliefs? It is hypocritical that Christians and Muslims do not want to be discriminated against because of their religion while they discriminate on race, sex, sexual orientation, and religion, and want the freedom to continue to do so. If religious discrimination is not banned, then on what basis can any discrimination be ethically wrong? The right to freedom of religious belief can only be acceptable when it does not result in discrimination or the imposition of belief systems on others.

87. Australians, whether they are women, homosexuals, non-believers, or religious, must not be subjected to discrimination. It leads to fear, intolerance, and all too often to religious violence. Australians are equal, and must be treated with the dignity that equality implies.

88. Discrimination against Australians is unacceptable. Discrimination denies people equality and rights, and is contrary to Article 1 of the UDHR.

Religious agencies discriminate in delivering government services

89. Religious agencies should not deliver government services. Religious agencies follow religious texts that discriminate against others, including women, homosexuals, non-believers and people not of their religion. They impose their religious views on others, overtly or stealthily. Religious schools discriminate against teachers who do not have the same religious values. Organisations that discriminate should be ineligible to receive government funding.

90. Religion is a divisive issue and that alone should prevent faith-based agencies providing government services. Religions can gain greater exposure by providing government services, but people should not be subjected to the customs of other religions, whether it be chats about God or Allah or religious symbols on hospital walls. The imposition of religions on others should not be permitted.

91. Specialists can refer Australians requiring medical services for treatment in hospitals, many of which are run by religious organisations. Non-Catholics should not need to attend a hospital that aims to ‘strengthen and develop Catholic health at regional and national levels’. Whatever this means (and interestingly, what about the health of non-Catholics), it is discriminatory for something as fundamental as health care for Australians.

92. Religious agencies do not pay tax and have an unfair advantage in a business environment. Non-religious organisations that are intrinsically more efficient are unable to compete. If religions were to pay tax, not discriminate and not force their views on others (this is unlikely, as many religions see the imposition of their beliefs on others as their reason for being), then Australia would go some way to ensuring all Australians are treated equally.

Gender and sexual equality

93. Women are third-order citizens in Islam and second-order citizens in Christianity. Both situations are unacceptable. It will take some time for women to reach equality in living standards and equality of pay and rights, but only if explicit and implicit religious discrimination ceases. How can women have parity in everyday life when mainstream religions consider women unworthy of religious leadership? Most church and religious services reinforce the fact that women are unworthy of religious leadership. This discriminatory baggage is then carried into general society. With this attitude, shared by many politicians, it is not surprising that women do not reach positions of status at the same rate as men.

94. Diverse sexuality is discriminated against by many religions. Most religions seem to endorse married heterosexuality, but little else. Homosexuality is, according to the Bible, worthy of the punishment of death. It is disgusting that these views are propagated in the Christian religion and that children can read of these views in the Bible. Some would consider that Islam’s views on diverse sexuality are more severe.

95. Politicians must have the moral fortitude to ensure that Australian females are not subjugated by discriminatory religions such as Christianity and Islam. Why do Australian politicians, and the Australian public, tolerate a situation that discriminates against so many Australians? An irate politician should act on the exclamation of ‘how dare these religions treat Australian women, homosexuals and non-believers with such contempt’. That is over half of the Australian population. Discrimination is wrong.

Gender equality and religious freedom

96. Gender equality must take precedence over religious freedom. The former is ethical and does not cause discrimination; the latter is unethical if it results in discrimination. Australia cannot afford to have people using intolerance and irrationality to justify discrimination against women, or any other groups of people. If religious freedom took precedence, then any religion that discriminates against people based on race, colour, sexuality, genome, creed, religion, disability, political, sporting or other affiliation would be acceptable. Discrimination could be rife. A new religion that discriminated against Aboriginal, black or disabled people in the same way Christianity and Islam discriminate against women would be abhorrent and unacceptable. People should have the freedom to choose their own religion, but they do not have the right to discriminate, impose it on others or act on it so that it adversely affects others.

Religious discrimination

97. If religious freedom were paramount then extreme religious groups could establish themselves in Australia, as their discrimination would be no less severe in principle than Christian and Muslim discrimination against women and homosexuals (though the extent of the discriminations has varied through the ages and with different belief systems). Discrimination is discrimination, and unacceptable to those who contend that all humans should have equal rights.

98. Religious organisations’ discrimination and history of killing through crusades, inquisitions and religious wars has not deterred as many people as it should from the clutches of the mainstream religions. The power of childhood indoctrination is strong—this is why religions do it—and unless freedom of choice is provided in childhood, the wrongs, discrimination and divisiveness of religion will continue in society. Discrimination and fear of other religions leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to violent conflict, and unfortunately, this sequence has repeated itself for thousands of years.

99. Article 1 of the UDHR states that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ Religions must cease discrimination and treat all people equally to be consistent with this Article.

100. The Bible revels in telling of God’s wrath in killing. Most Australians have heard the stories. The Christian religion has killed in crusades, inquisitions and religious wars. Despite all their killing, some Christian religions then attempt to oppose abortion and voluntary euthanasia because cells or people die. Hypocrisy does not sit well with rational beings.

101. Nobody wants to be or deserves to be discriminated against because they will be denied equality. People should have the right to freedom of belief, non-belief and religion. However if their beliefs or religions discriminate against others or are imposed on others, then their belief systems are unacceptable. They cannot deny equality by doing unto others what people don’t want done unto themselves. People should have the right to freedom of choice in belief, because to impose, especially upon children, a belief system, without providing choice, is not freedom of belief at all. If we have no right to choose, we have no freedom, and we have no rights.

Part 2. Are these human rights currently sufficiently protected and promoted?

102. The rights in Part 1, usually opposed by mainstream religious organisations, are not sufficiently protected and promoted in Australia. I have outlined a strong case for each of them.

[1] 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Deuteronomy 17:12, Exodus 35:2 and Leviticus 20:13 have been reworked to substitute the phrase ‘Aboriginal person’. Numerous other biblical verses are disgusting because of their primitive ethical commentary, discrimination against women, homosexuals and non-believers, and advocacy of slavery and sacrifice. Many verses are also scientifically ‘wrong’.

[2] This word is taken to mean discrimination against people of different religions, belief or non-belief systems.

[3] The term atheist (meaning not a theist) describes what people are not, believers in gods, and atheists have a range of views on other issues. It would be more positive to categorise people by something that they are, perhaps rationalists.

[4]  Section 116 of the Commonwealth of Australian Constitution Act states that:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

[6], quoted from 31 Oct. 2008, accessed 19 Feb. 2009.


David Swanton