FEDERAL ELECTION 2016: GREENS MAKE RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AN ISSUE
“Bishop jailed for excluding gender ideology from classroom”; “Muslim parents required to enrol children in gay-friendly program”; “Hindu teacher who said marriage between man and woman fined for hate speech” — such might be the headlines if the new Greens policy on religious liberty and “heteronormative bigotry” were ever to become law. Some Greens policies are very attractive to many religious believers and other idealists; for example, with respect to the environment or refugees. So they are all the more confused by recent moves to push our new groups of religious believers to the margins. Religious liberty is set to become a major issue in the forthcoming election. Parents send their children off to school each day expecting their minds to be nourished and their safety guaranteed.
But the Greens want $32 million spent on a so-called Safe Schools program that is neither nourishing nor safe, and want churches, schools and parents charged with discrimination if they fail to conform. They’ve challenged other parties to make similar announcements. The Safe Schools program as originally published was controversial; it was somewhat amended after a review and may be defunded after the election. But some favour continuing to fund the revised version and the Greens want the unreformed version imposed on all. This proposes that children be taught that sex is about the outside body but gender about how you feel inside; that it’s up to you to choose your gender and how you express it.
They also believe that children should play-act as if they were LGBTI adults; that they should feel free to dress in the school uniform of the opposite sex and use their bathrooms; and so on. It also denounces examples of “heteronormativity”, such as people asking if a baby is a boy or a girl. And it’s all being badged as an anti-bullying program, needed to protect kids from the hateful bigots that occupy our schools. Ironically, some of the loudest advocates of this “anti-bullying program” are set to engage in some big-time bullying themselves. They would rather force church schools to close than allow them to teach politically incorrect things. Name-calling and belief-shaming of those who disagree with us are textbook bullying — yet these advocates call anyone who disagrees with them a “bigot” or a “homophobe”.
Another classic bullying tactic is silencing victims, and that’s precisely what the Greens want the major parties to do by paring back the few religious liberty protections surviving in our law. Greens senator and sexuality spokesman Robert Simms claims religious organisations discriminate against people based on their gender identity. He claims they can — and implies they do — sack people just for being gay and turn away needy people just for being transgender. But he gives no examples of this happening in real life. The agencies of my Catholic Church and many other churches have a long and proud record of caring for the most vulnerable in our society. Our homeless shelters, hospitals and soup kitchens would never turn people away on the basis of sexuality, and it is plainly defamatory to imply they would.
Anti-discrimination laws still allow faith-based organisations to employ people who subscribe to their beliefs and live their ethos. That is neither unjust nor scandalous. If a member of the Greens were a climate change sceptic I expect they’d be expelled; if one of the party’s candidates turned out to be anti-abortion and pro-traditional marriage, they’d probably lose preselection. That’s because the Greens are entitled to select people who represent their values. So should others be. Different countries manage the church-state relationship differently. In some places it’s a cold war, with the two sides spitting at each other from a distance and competing for people’s hearts; the state would never dream of helping church schools or hospitals financially and the churches would never dream of helping the state.
In other places it’s a hot war, with a faith institution or government trying to control or stamp the other out; again, church and state would never work together in such places. In Australia, on the other hand, we have a generous view of church state relations founded on mutual respect; each has its own areas of responsibility and methods of operating. Where these overlap, they often collaborate. This serves the common good well and is, I believe, part of the Australian genius. It is founded on mutual respect and that includes allowing a fair bit of latitude to each other. The latitude allowed to faith organisations is called religious liberty or freedom of religious belief, association, expression and practice. Some would like to abolish it after the election. I pray that Australian voters will see this for the danger that it is.
The Aurukun principal twice carjacked by children wielding machetes says the school has been forced to shut because he is no longer able to protect his teachers, as police send reinforcements to the strife-torn Cape York community. About 20 teachers were evacuated from the far north Queensland indigenous township some 3 weeks ago for the second time in a month, after children as young as six threw rocks at the school and homes, and tried to steal cars, capping weeks of unrest. The state government’s memorandum of understanding with indigenous leader Noel Pearson’s Cape York Academy to run the Aurukun school expired 18 months ago, as Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk pledged to come up with a plan to restore calm to the community.
Mr Pearson, chair of Good to Great Schools Australia and the Cape York Academy board, said the expired agreement would stand until the government and his organisation negotiated a more formal partnership. In a letter to parents and carers, Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy’s acting head Scott Fatnowna — the victim of two carjackings in a fortnight — and executive principal Leigh Schelks said “continued unrest caused by some young men” had forced the campus to close until July 11, the beginning of term 3. “We are no longer able to protect the teaching staff at Aurukun due to the ongoing unrest in the community,” the letter reads. “I thank all of the responsible parents and community members who support our teachers, staff and students. “I regret that this action had to be undertaken.”
After the second carjacking, Mr Fatnowna is understood to have issued a warning to the community that any more violence would cause the school to be shut. Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said children as young as six were again on the streets at 3am throwing rocks. Another group of young people tried to break into a guesthouse and steal a car. Four extra police have been flown to the community, increasing the total to 21, and allowing around-the-clock patrols. The Aurukun school campus caters for children in pre-prep to Grade Six. Until the school reopens, they will be taught by distance education from Cairns, 800km to the south, and the Aurukun Police Citizen’s Youth Club (PCYC) will provide other programs.
The campus once catered for older students, but now the nearest high school is in Weipa, three hours’ north. Some teenagers go to boarding schools in Cairns, while others remain in Aurukun. According to the latest Cape York Academy annual school report from 2014, student attendance in Aurukun dropped to 58%, down on previous years, whilst sister schools in Coen and Hope Vale registered attendance rates of 91%t and 77%. The average class sizes across the three schools dropped from 19 to 14 for Prep to Year 3, and from 15 to 11 for Year 4 to Year 7. “Designed to deliver a ‘best of both worlds’ education to indigenous students, the academy aims to close the academic achievement gap between indigenous and mainstream students, and to support Cape York children’s bicultural identity,” the report reads.
Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said the recent violence and unrest came after weeks of turmoil. “The teachers have tried really, really hard,” Mr Bates said. “But at night, every time there was a noise anywhere, they are awake and alert. Recent incidents were the straw that broke the camel’s back. The teachers said ‘we can’t live like this any longer’.” Mr Bates and Mr Pearson agree the teachers’ accommodation and school building are very run down and need to be replaced. But both men say there are deeper issues that need to be addressed. This week, the Cape York Academy began advertising for teachers at both its Aurukun and Coen campuses, saying the ideal candidates must “want to be make a real difference to young people’s lives”.
GREENS ABORTION PLEDGE OUT OF STEP WITH COMMUNITY SENTIMENT
The Greens are out of step with community sentiment on abortion with their announcement of a $15 million election pledge to remove abortion safeguards. Australian Christian Lobby spokesperson for women’s issues Wendy Francis said while the Greens were working to make abortion more accessible, people across the country were expressing deep concern with current abortion laws. “Community sentiment towards abortion is rapidly changing. In Queensland the community has expressed outrage at a current proposal to liberalise that state’s abortion laws,” Ms Francis said. “Over a two-week period 23,869 Queenslanders signed the Australian Christian Lobby e-petition – the largest e-petition in the history of Queensland.
“A Galaxy Poll conducted in Queensland last month also indicated widespread acceptance that abortion harms the mental and physical health of women. 84 per cent of those polled said they believed it was harmful and just 38 per cent supported abortion in cases where both mother and child were healthy. “In Victoria around 25,000 signed a petition and 1,500 people turned out at a Rally in Melbourne in support amending the current abortion laws to effectively reduce the number of abortions being undertaken in Victoria. In Perth more than 1,000 recently attended a rally to support improving abortion safeguards. Ms Francis said it was disappointing that the Greens seemed unwilling to work with women to ensure that they were protected and given access to the support often needed during pregnancy.
“We now know that the child in the womb is human, feels pain, that abortion techniques such as dismemberment and poisoning of the unborn child are barbaric,” Ms Francis said. “We also know that many women and their families are hurting because of post-abortion grief. “The Greens proposal to liberalise abortion laws is a betrayal of women. The Greens are failing women if the only option they can offer for an unsupported pregnancy is abortion. “What the community and women are looking for are better options than abortion, which leads to terrible consequences for mother and child.”