AUSTRALIAN PRAYER NETWORK LAUNCHES CONTINUOUS PRAYER FOR PLEBISCITE
The Australian Prayer Network has today launched a season of continuous prayer through until the proposed Postal Plebiscite concludes on November 7 or the High Court declares the Plebiscite to be unconstitutional and puts an end to that process. The continuous prayer will be undergirded by our extensive National 24 Hour Prayer Watch which has been running continuously for some 17 years and which has several thousand members. Others who are not members of the Prayer Watch are then free to join in prayer every day for as long as they wish and at any time of the day their schedule allows. Each week prayer points will be issued through this newsletter to prompt prayer, however we encourage each person to pray as the Holy Spirit leads them individually. Churches are welcome to use the prayer points in their Sunday bulletins to encourage prayer by all members of their congregation.
Whilst much of the activity around the Plebiscite will centre around political activism, we believe as a Prayer Network we are in a unique position to engage in the spiritual battle for our nation with the same-sex marriage issue being the vehicle through which that battle is currently being fought. We do understand that many of our members may also wish to add their hands and feet to their prayers in taking action to support the battle “on the ground”, so the Australian Prayer Network, as a member of the Coalition for Marriage, is pleased to point you to ways that you will be able to support the “No” vote in the plebiscite in practical as well as spiritual ways. For this purpose we are pleased to announce the launch of the Coalition for Marriage website at www.coalitionformarriage.com.au
At that website you will be able to register for regular updates, contribute towards the fighting fund for the “NO” campaign, volunteer to assist in a number of ways and generally contribute to the campaign to preserve marriage as a permanent union between one man and one woman. This battle which is coming to a climax, is clearly the most important battle we have ever faced as a nation with the future of the freedom of belief and speech we have enjoyed as Christians for more than 200 years teetering on the edge. Make no mistake if we lose this battle our long held freedoms will be lost and the Christian values which have been the bedrock of our society will be taken from us forever. Please do not underestimate the consequences of this battle but neither fear the battle itself, but look to the One who will fight on our behalf. We can only do so much but He is able to go where we cannot, providing we do all He asks of us to defend our nation. Let us all put our shoulder to the wheel whilst at the same time confessing our desperate need of Him and placing all our reliance on Him to secure the ultimate victory.
This week’s prayer points are:
* that God would give us as His people, and through us to others in this nation, a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Let us pray that we will not settle for man’s hearts desires but that we will yearn for the promises in His word that our relationships, especially that of marriage, will truly reflect His love for us as His people and His Church.
* that in this battle we would not see people as the enemy, but become wise to the enemy’s divisive and destructive schemes. Help us to stand as one in His presence declaring His victory against the enemy’s plans and schemes and binding every attempt of the enemy to ensnare those who do not yet know Him into the enemy’s evil web of compromise and destruction.
* that those who represent us publicly in this campaign as His prophetic voice to our nation, would be given Godly wisdom in what to say and how to say it, so that it pierces hearts with truth and minds with revelation, whilst at the same time leaving those who oppose our position, who are vulnerable and emotionally fragile, unhurt in the debate.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has launched an attack on the push to legalise same-sex marriage, warning that a failure to protect religious freedoms will expose many Australians and faith-based institutions to the risk of “harassment and coercion”. Archbishop Fisher has warned that religious schools, hospitals, charities and welfare agencies could be jeopardised by a Yes vote for same-sex marriage. Launching the church’s campaign, the archbishop laid down battlelines for the No case by linking the redefinition of marriage to broader community concerns about issues such as the contentious Safe Schools program. The push to broaden the debate is supported by some Coalition MPs, including Tony Abbott and Nationals senator Matt Canavan, who have issued statements about a march of political correctness and the preservation of marriage as an institution for the bringing up of children.
“It’s a pity that there is no settled position on the protections that should be available if same-sex marriage goes through,” Mr Abbott said. “The advocates of change should always be required to make their case.” The attack by Archbishop Fisher pitches the Catholic Church in a heated battle against Labor and key backers of the Yes campaign, who say there is no need for same-sex marriage to be accompanied by stronger religious protections for faith-based institutions. In a statement, Archbishop Fisher said the exercise of “free religion” would be curtailed and religious protections canvassed so far had applied only to ministers of religion and civil celebrants, a group representing only a “tiny proportion” of believers. “What protections will be offered to people who work for church-run institutions such as schools, hospitals and universities?” he said.
“Will teachers be free to teach church teaching on marriage or will they be forced to teach a more politically correct curriculum? Will employers of church agencies be free to choose staff in sympathy with their church’s teachings? Will Catholic welfare agencies be required to provide marriage preparation or counselling for same-sex couples on pain of being dragged before anti-discrimination tribunals?” Archbishop Fisher also rejected arguments the legalisation of same-sex marriage would not have broader consequences. “Many people believe re-defining marriage won’t affect them,” he said. “I would say they need to take another look, it will affect every Australian. “In countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised, those who believe in traditional marriage have been harassed or coerced into complying with the new view of marriage. It would be extremely naive to think that won’t happen here.
“Things will only get worse if marriage is redefined without adequate protections being first put in place.” He challenged political leaders to explain whether a vote for same-sex marriage would result in the entrenchment of the Safe Schools program, that familiarises students with transgender concepts, and prevents parents from objecting to its content. “Will children in government schools be subjected to propaganda in favour of same-sex marriage and gender fluidity such as the infamous Safe Schools program?” he said. “Will parents be free to take their children out of such classes? Will church schools be expected to toe the line also?” The refusal of the Senate to pass legislation to hold a compulsory plebiscite forced Malcolm Turnbull to hold the $122 million voluntary postal ballot to be overseen by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the legality of which is being tested in the High Court.
Bill Shorten, while opposed to the ballot on the grounds it could expose gay and lesbian couples to hate speech, has committed to the Yes campaign and told parliament “We cannot sit on the sidelines”. The ballot will be conducted from September 12 to November 7, with the Yes campaign urging younger voters to enrol before the cut-off deadline of August 24. A result will be determined by November 15. Labor has slammed the attempt to broaden the battlefront over same-sex marriage, with opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus rejecting arguments the change would impinge on personal and religious freedoms. “The No campaign knows the only way they can win this fight is to make it about topics other than marriage equality,” he said.
Senator Canavan challenged same-sex marriage advocates to bring forward legislation ahead of the postal ballot to reveal how religious freedoms would be treated in any shake-up. “Those advocating change need to show how they are going to protect religious freedoms,” he said. “I’ve never seen proposals to protect the freedoms of Catholic schools and Catholic hospitals or other religious institutions beyond those involved in weddings ceremonies.” A report by a parliamentary committee on the government’s draft same-sex marriage bill found in February that “evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced”. “Things will only get worse if marriage is redefined without adequate protections being first put in place.”
CHURCHES LAY OUT PLEBISCITE FEARS TO THE PRIME MINISTER
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, and leading Catholic officials have written to Malcolm Turnbull demanding that any proposed bill on same-sex marriage be released before Australians are asked to vote on the issue. With the Senate rejecting for a second time the government’s preferred option of a compulsory attendance plebiscite, the first salvos have been fired in a campaign to derail the people’s postal vote, which will begin within five weeks. Opposing forces in the debate are lining up against the government, with church and Christian schools lobby groups demanding religious and freedom-of-speech protections, both during the public debate and in any bill on gay marriage that is put to the parliament should a “yes” vote be returned.
Religious figures have raised concerns directly with the Prime Minister about voter fraud, religious protections and public funding for the campaign. A senior government source confirmed that a letter had been delivered to the Prime Minister’s office and several cabinet ministers, signed by Archbishop Davies and delivering a series of blunt questions that he said the government had yet to answer. A similar letter is believed to have been received from senior leaders of the Catholic Church. “This timeframe is inappropriately short, particularly given there remain a number of unresolved questions concerning the postal plebiscite process,” Archbishop Davies wrote. The leading national yes lobby, Equality Campaign, and the Human Rights Law Centre said they were waiting to assess what legal challenge might be mounted against the plebiscite when more details were released.
“If and when we proceed with a legal challenge, it will be considered and based on the details yet to be provided by the government,” said HRLC co-chair and director Anna Brown. The government released further details which include confirmation that the question to be put to Australians would remain the same as proposed under the plebiscite model rejected by the Senate. It will ask: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has confirmed that he had signed an advance of $122 million to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to begin the first phase of the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. The ABS will begin to post envelopes on September 12, with returns to close on November 7 and a result to be confirmed on November 15.
The Australian Christian Schools Association is planning a campaign to ensure religious protections for schools are guaranteed, claiming neither Mr Turnbull nor Bill Shorten had offered a firm commitment to schools that their teachings of traditional marriage would be protected. The list of issues raised by Archbishop Davies in his letter to Mr Turnbull included assurances on a previous personal commitment by the Prime Minister to make public funding available to both sides under the original plebiscite. The letter asked if religious leaders would be engaged in preparation of the bill and “if a postal plebiscite is resolved in the negative, what assurances can be provided that this will be the end of the matter?” Archbishop Davies also wanted assurances that free speech would be protected during the campaign, considering activists had used anti-discrimination laws to silence church leaders.
The Opposition Leader called on the government to ensure a “civil” debate after questioning Mr Abbott’s calls for people who had concerns about religious freedoms to vote no. “The member for Warringah warned Australians to vote no in the plebiscite for reasons unrelated to marriage equality, claiming if you’re worried about religious freedom and free speech, vote no,” Mr Shorten said. Mr Turnbull responded by calling on all sides engaged in the debate to act with “responsibility and respect”. “If we’re seriously at the point where the Labor Party is saying you cannot have a vote on this issue because people will say outrageous things, then how can we have a referendum on any of the issues discussed?” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus suggested Labor would now accept the postal plebiscite, urging voters to get behind the yes campaign.
In elections run by the Australian Electoral Commission, people usually have at least seven days from the announcement of an election to get on the electoral roll. Labor MPs have urged same-sex marriage supporters to enrol to vote immediately. “We might not like it, but the marriage equality postal vote is happening, and we have to win it. Enrol now!” Mr Dreyfus tweeted.
Queensland schoolchildren will be permitted to hand out Christmas cards in the playground without fear of disciplinary action, but inviting school friends to church-run events would be discouraged, under the state’s latest religious instruction advice. A controversial education departmental edict, suggesting that schools would be required to take action against students found to be “evangelising” to their peers, has been scrapped following a backlash from religious groups and parents. The department has instead turned its focus to students “recruiting” at school, a move that has left religious groups and their lawyers confused over the Queensland government’s official policy in public schools. The Department of Education revised reviews of several religious instruction providers warns that religious instructors should not direct students to recruit other students to religious instruction classes.
“Children come from diverse backgrounds and it is important that RI instructors encourage respectful relationships,” the reviews say. “However, examples were found of students being encouraged to recruit others. RI instructors should be reminded in the notes that students should not be encouraged to recruit other students at the school.” While the backdown on “evangelising”, described in the reviews as acts such as sharing Christmas cards that referred to Jesus’s birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away or making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus”, has been welcomed, Education Minister Kate Jones has been asked to further clarify what is meant by “recruiting” in the new advice.
Following reports last month, Ms Jones ordered a meeting of the state’s Religious Instruction Quality Assurance (RIQA) taskforce, “in which it was made clear there has been no change, and will be no change, to religious instruction policy in Queensland”. “The department has now amended its previous advice that caused confusion,” she said. “The changes have unanimous support from RIQA.” In parliament, Ms Jones gave “an absolute rolled-gold guarantee” that children would not be prevented from talking about their faith, or exchanging Christmas cards, in the playground. However, lawyer Mark Fowler, who represents several religious groups and charities, said the new advice, coupled with the undefined notion of recruitment, gave rise to several uncertainties. “Is ‘recruitment’ meant to cover such innocuous statements as ‘my church youth group is fun, come along’?” he told The Australian.
The Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis welcomed the minister’s intervention but also called for further clarification. “What is meant by children not being allowed to recruit other children? Can they not invite them to a kids club being run at their church?” she said. “Principals, teachers, parents and children deserve a full explanation of what exactly the minister means by this.” The Queensland Christian Religious Instruction Network commended Ms Jones for reaffirming that Labor would continue to support religious instruction in state schools. “We are pleased students can now freely talk about whatever they like in the playground, including their faith,” spokeswoman Karen Grenning said.