The great figure of American history and the star character of today’s favorite musical, Hamilton, had this to say about religious freedom:
“Remember that civil and religious freedom always go hand in hand, if the foundation of one is undermined, the other will of course fall.” (Alexandre Hamilton, Full justification for Congress measures, 1774)
After a long wait, we are now considering a religious discrimination bill in our Federal Parliament, and it should be welcomed by all Australians, including the over 60% who profess a religious belief. The proposed law protects not only religious belief or activity, but also the right not to have a religious faith or to participate in religious events.
If you believe in freedom for all, then you should support freedom for people of all faiths and none. If you believe in values such as fairness, diversity, and giving people a fair chance, then you should support religious organizations capable of carrying out their work in accordance with their religious mission.
It is perfectly normal that a range of views and beliefs interact in a healthy democracy, and it is therefore reasonable to expect the laws of the land to protect each of these groups, especially if it is vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities or face hostility.
More broadly, schools are an obvious example. Parents send their children to Catholic and other religious schools for a specific purpose – they want Catholic education, and it is reasonable to protect their right to do so.
In Australia, we don’t usually talk about religious freedom in large part because we take it for granted. We are different from other parts of the world where you can lose your job, be locked up at no cost, see your children deprived of education, all because of where you go for worship. We should be thankful that we do not face such brutal discrimination.
Nonetheless, we would be a naive nation if we believed that serious discrimination based on religion does not or cannot occur in Australia. My friends from other faith communities, including Jews and Muslims, have shared stories that chill my spine – stories of real discrimination and pain caused to people in schools and to families in their communities.