Respect missing from religious freedom debate

Bill Shorten, left, and Scott Morrison at the National Press Club last week (ABC News)

How can we have a civilised discussion about hell, sin and religion when we disagree with, or are even offended by, the views of others, asks Debbie Cuthbertson. Source: The Age.

The discussion of religion on the campaign trail this week doesn't provide a very good guide.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison cried foul this week after Opposition leader Bill Shorten questioned whether he believes gay people would go to hell, labelling it as a cheap shot at his religious beliefs.

Today, Wallabies player Israel Folau will learn if his career is over, when an independent panel will deliver its verdict about his fitness to play rugby professionally after he posted on Instagram his sincerely held belief that eternal hellfire awaits drunks, adulterers, liars, thieves and, yes, homosexuals if they did not repent.

The issue first entered the political campaign when the leaders were asked about it during the National Press Club debate last week.

Mr Shorten said Folau was entitled to his views and shouldn't suffer an employment penalty for holding them but was concerned about the "hurtful impact" of his public statements.

Robyn Horner, an associate professor in theology with the Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry at the Australian Catholic University, said controversial topics shouldn't necessarily be avoided in debates about religious views, but should be discussed respectfully.

"I would say just be a decent human being and be courteous and respectful," she said.

"I wouldn’t say that people can’t talk about things, but you need to always think about the person, and in the end the value of the person and respect for the individual is important.

"In the Catholic tradition, you'd talk about the principle of common good, and you’d talk about human dignity, so that putting gay people in a particular light in the public eye isn’t very respectful of their dignity."

However, Associate Professor Horner said some people may be less likely to express their religious views about topics when societal attitudes had largely changed.

– Debbie Cuthbertson is a senior writer at The Age.

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Election campaign goes to hell over religious debate (The Age

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