Religious freedom must be protected by legislation

Fr Frank Brennan SJ (Facebook)

Freedom of religion might not be fashionable, but that’s all the more reason for it to be protected by legislation with judicial teeth, writes Fr Frank Brennan SJ. Source: ABC Religion and Ethics

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

A decade ago, the newly elected Rudd government set up a national human rights consultation. I was privileged to chair the consultation, which recommended a national Human Rights Act. Neither side of politics was much interested in this suggestion. The more conservative religious leaders were strongly opposed, believing that religious freedom might be better protected by parliament without legislation being subjected to judicial oversight for compliance with human rights generally. Ten years on, they might have cause to think differently.

If religious freedom is to be better protected in future, it is necessary that religious citizens develop a more coherent position on the utility of comprehensive national human rights legislation being enacted and implemented consistent with the complexities in federal-state relations.

It is also necessary that religious citizens and their leaders show more regard for the right to equality and equal treatment of others, especially those who have suffered adverse discrimination from religious people and organisations in the past. And it’s necessary that the human rights academy accord universality and indivisibility to all human rights including the fundamental right to freedom of religion. Some rights are trumpeted by the mainstream media and the academy; others are not. Freedom of religion might not be fashionable, but that’s all the more reason for it to be protected by legislation with judicial teeth. It’s time to advocate and demonstrate that all rights — including freedom of religion and the right to equality of treatment — are universal and inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.

Fr Frank Brennan SJ AO is Professor at the PM Glynn Institute at the Australian Catholic University and research professor at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture. This is an edited extract of the Barry O’Keefe Memorial Lecture delivered by Fr Brennan last week.


Do we need new laws to protect religious freedom in Australia? (ABC Religion and Ethics)

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