RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: you've been let down

We’re not going to sugar-coat this: you’ve been let down.

We all have.

More than four years ago, our Federal pollies saw fit to legislate what they thought marriage meant.

And we were told that our concerns would be dealt with in due course.

Our fears about anti-discrimination laws being weaponised, about new variants of the infamous “Safe Schools” program emerging, about our basic freedoms being curtailed – all were met with derision or lip service about dealing with it “down the track”.

Well, we’re now years down the track – and a whole electoral cycle has passed with another Federal Election looming.

With only days remaining in Parliament, the Religious Discrimination Package was finally debated this week.

As recently as the last few weeks, when Brisbane Christian school Citipointe College came under significant fire for its stance on sexuality and gender issues, it seemed that the Government’s package – imperfect though it was – might be better than nothing.

But the package that passed the lower house of Federal Parliament in the early hours of yesterday morning was something entirely different.

The Government had already conceded a huge change to the Sex Discrimination Act, effectively moving to ban the expulsion of gay students.

Aside from being a complete red herring (where are the crowds of expelled gay students?), it was also a move that was too clever by half.

On one hand, the Government was attempting to placate LGBT activists and “moderate Liberals” by removing this expulsion ability from faith-based schools (a power granted to them in 2013 by a Labor Government – the mind boggles!).

And on the other hand, the Government sought to reassure faith-based voters that religious schools would be free, by new laws, to live out their teachings.

How on earth can these two outcomes be reconciled? The answer is obvious: in court – and we wouldn’t want to bet good money on faith-based schools being successful.

Even this doesn’t tell the full story, though. The Government thought this would be enough to secure the legislation’s passage through Parliament.

But they couldn’t stop the “moderate Liberals” – five of them – breaking ranks to side with Labor and insert yet another change.

Now, if the legislation passes the Senate, faith-based schools will also lose any say over transgender students. The consequences of this are obviously significant.

The emotive arguments which accompanied these changes were given wide coverage, but almost completely ignored was the flip side of the argument.

What about faith-based schools? What about the churches that run them? What about the plethora of Australian parents who entrust a faith-based school with their children’s education?

AFC has engaged with the process to date, trying to be pragmatic and ensure the best outcome.

We were nowhere near the best outcome – and now we’re at risk of having faith-based schools’ very purpose gutted.

Let’s be very clear: this has NOTHING to do with gay students or children suffering from gender dysphoria.

Just like so-called “gay conversion therapy” bans, these laws are designed to stifle and supress.

So, it’s time to get off the fence.

Given the insidious nature of the amended package now before the Senate, we must say an unequivocal “NO”.

It’s utterly frustrating to see our efforts over many years come to this – and that we may even need to proactively fight to prevent a worse outcome than the status quo (that is, to actively campaign against the package now before the Senate).

It doesn’t look like the package will get much airtime in the Senate anyway, but we must remain vigilant to ensure it doesn’t pass.

Where to now?

All of this leads to numerous other questions about the state of politics in this country.

What on earth is a “moderate Liberal”?

How can MPs ignore the nearly 40% of the population who said “no” to mucking around with the Marriage Act – and the even greater numbers who agree our freedoms should be preserved?

Why has honouring this promise ranked so lowly as a Government priority that it’s been debated with only days left of a 3-year term?

We reiterate: we’ve all been let down.

But now is not the time for navel-gazing. If you feel upset, or even betrayed, by happenings in Parliament, why not do something practical about it?

Why not join a political party – and have a direct say on who represents you in Canberra?

Your efforts in grassroots movements like the Australian Family Coalition will always be important, but it’s not the full picture.

Increasingly often, we face a “minutes to midnight” scenario when bills are introduced to state and federal parliaments.

If MPs have already made up their minds, our efforts will fall on deaf ears.

That’s why it’s crucial that, especially among the two parties that are likely to form government, we see more candidates and MPs who consider “family, faith and freedom” to be their core business.

There’s no doubt that most voters are more concerned with things like the economy, health, etc. The idea of “Culture Wars” seems fanciful or even ridiculous to them.

But looking at the Federal Parliament this week, those of us who realise that a nation’s foundations are of critical importance must now resolve to redouble our efforts – for the long term.

“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” – Plato.