The Australian Government is currently considering amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975in regard to racial vilification and free speech and they are asking for submissions by 30 April.It is therefore not surprising that the last federal Parliamentary sitting week in March was dominated by debate on the merits of free speech.
Much of the debate swirled around Section 18C of the Act which, under the Keating Labor government in 1995, made it illegal “to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race. In 2011, when Tony Abbott was Leader of the Opposition, he promised to repeal Section 18C. This was after Andrew Bolt, a columnist with the Herald Sun, ran afoul of these laws and was brought to court.
The Attorney-General George Brandis has proposed to repeal Section 18C and insert a new section concerning intimidation and vilification. Prime Minister Tony Abbott is arguing that these changes will strengthen free speech protections.
Lyle Shelton, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, therefore poses this question in his blog on 3 April, “how do you strike the right balance between free speech and creating a culture of respect for all people?”
Why can’t we allow people to have their say, even if it is odious and bigoted, and then contest those views in vigorous and free debate? And when it comes to being offended, should we set government lawyers upon our opponents or should we respond with reason and dignity?
Sadly in today’s political and judicial climate we can expect that, whilst these laws appear even-handed on paper, they could be used particularly against Christians. Speaking to this, the Canberra Declaration, which you have signed, states –
“In Australia today … freedoms are being restricted by laws which, although appearing positive on first reading, have the potential to lead to unintended and unacceptable consequences. These laws include anti-discrimination legislation, hate crime laws and legislation on religious and sexual vilification – each of which may be interpreted in a way that effectively works as a barrier to religious freedom and freedom of speech.”
According to Brendan O’Neil, a visiting editor from UK who will be speaking in Sydney this week on ‘The New Enemies of Freedom’, modern hate speech legislation was born just before World War II. A ban on hate speech helped the Nazis rise to power during the Weimar Republic of the 30s. And it was the authoritarian Soviet Union under Stalin that called for laws against hate speech to curb fascist hysteria.
Then again in 1948, when world leaders gathered to put together the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Soviet Union argued to include stipulations for hate speech in the section on free speech. The free Western nations seeing this as “extremely dangerous” were able to block this. And so we see that hate speech laws began with atheistic governments while the free West vigorously opposed them.
The story of a 74 year old professor in Sydney, whose family died in the Holocaust, gives a shocking glimpse of his first-hand experience of Nazi and Soviet tyrannies. Because of his experience, he ardently believes freedom of speech should not be constrained by laws.
In regard to the current debate on Section 18C, Brendan O’Neil wrote in the Australian, “It is surely time every hate speech law was repealed. They are a menace to free thought and speech, and the worst tool imaginable for fighting real hatred.”
The Canberra Declaration would therefore like to see Section 18C repealed completely and no new section inserted.Leaving behind any legal provision about ‘intimidation’ or ‘vilification’ will inevitably lead to a curtailment of Christian evangelism amongst members of different races or world religions in Australian society and possibly in overseas missions.
We must remember that the Gospel message is inherently ‘offensive’ to those who do not acknowledge their sin or that Jesus is the only way to God and eternal life. For this reason Christians should speak up, especially at this time, to protect freedom of speech in Australia.
If introduced, there may be few actual prosecutions under a new intimidation and vilification section, but 99% of the damage will be invisible – people will simply not speak out in fear of the possible legal reprisals if they do. Canadian journalist and free-speech warrior Mark Steyn, who was prosecuted by the Canadian human rights establishment, states that “the process is the punishment”. The Canadian Parliament has now repealed the vilification law under which he was harassed in a similar way to which Andrew Bolt was harassed.
So going back to Lyle Shelton’s question on how we can create “a culture of respect for all people”-a culture where hate speech laws are not seen as a solution to racial discrimination, we believe the answer lies in the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western civilisation. The Canberra Declaration states – “The many freedoms, advantages, opportunities, values and liberties which characterise the West owe much to the growth of Christianity with its inherent belief in the dignity of the human person as created in the image of Godand the code of behaviour that flows from this belief.”
Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi, one of the foremost Christian thinkers of today and author of ‘The Book that Made Your World – How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation“, writes, “all human beings, whether high or low, educated or illiterate, sick or poor, healthy or sick, male or female, or black or white were equal. And what made the strong and weak equal? It was … the fact that every human being was made in God’s image and therefore everyone was endowed with dignity. … The belief in the unique dignity of human beings was the force that created Western civilisation”.
When the belief in the dignity of every human person as created in the image of God is ignored and forgotten society can only resort to more and more laws in an attempt to hold things together. Please pray that God will use the Canberra Declaration to help remind our leaders in government and our fellow citizens that God has created every person in His own image and likeness. Because of this foundational truth everyone deserves a ‘fair go’!
Please pray for our Prime Minister Tony Abbott as he sets out to keep his election promise and for his right hand men, Attorney-General George Brandis (far left) and the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Eric Abetz. Interestingly Senator Eric Abetz wrote the devotion on Day 1 of the 40 Days of Prayer & Fasting which many of you are going through at present (today is Day 36!).
Human Rights Policy Branch
3-5 National Circuit
BARTON ACT 2600
Submissions received will be considered by the government in the process of finalising the amendments and a report will be delivered on 1 December 2014. Speaking up as God’s people, we can make a difference!
Yours for free speech in Australia,
David Rowsome & Warwick Marsh
PS Are writing letters and submissions difficult for you? You can get some help from ‘The Golden Sceptre’. Please see below for the excellent services they offer.
A Special Offer
We often encourage you to write letters to your MPs and to make ‘submissions’ to Inquiries. But we know some of you would love more help to get letters written AND sent!
A person who has signed the Canberra Declaration, Mansel Rogerson, has developed a ministry called ‘The Golden Sceptre’ – he generates individualised letters on behalf of subscribers. Mansel has written the following short article to explain HOW it works.
Check out the website for full details as well as some testimonials from people who use The Golden Sceptre.
The Golden Sceptre is a completely new time-saving service, designed to help Australian Christians make much more regular contact with their Members of Parliament, encouraging them to legislate more in-line with Biblical principles.
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