Secularism and the Equal Opportunity Amendment

At the end of last year, the Baillieu government was unexpectedly elected. One of the most disturbing proposals to come forth from this new governments has been proposed alterations to the Equal Opportunity Act. For the Victorian Secular Lobby the most significant changes are exemptions to the Act for religious bodies and schools.

“No film” call by abortion clinics


ABORTION clinics are calling for the state government to crack down on protesters who have started filming women as they enter and leave clinics.

Doctors who work at the East Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga clinics said protesters had been filming and photo-graphing patients in recent months while others continued their attempts to talk women out of terminations.

The protesters were also now taking babies and toddlers with them to protests.

A nasty little idea that seeks to enshrine prejudice


A nasty little idea that seeks to enshrine prejudice

THE changes to the equal opportunity laws are really about giving so-called faith-based organisations privileges over the rest of us, but not just to reject or sack workers whose “lifestyle” they disapprove of (“Minister’s error sinks equality law change”, The Age, 27 May). It also allows them to deny services to those people.

Curriculum head warns against axing religion


THE man in charge of Australia’s national curriculum insists there is no problem with the way reli-gious instruction is taught in Vic-toria, and warns that any moves to axe religion classes could drive parents out of the public system and into private schools.

Professor Barry McGaw, the chairman of the national curriculum authority, told The Sunday Age: “I don’t see anything wrong with a special religious instruction that operates precisely on [the current] grounds. If we deny any place to religion in public education and wish to make it entirely [secular], we are actually basing it on a particular world view.

“And the problem with that is that religious parents might opt out of the public school system, and that would not be a good thing.”

Religious instruction classes, 96 per cent of which are Christian, involve volunteers teaching the doctrine of particular religions for 30 minutes per week in state primary schools. The program has become controversial, particularly since Evonne Paddison, the leader of Christian group Access Ministries, was reported as saying it provided a “God-given open door to children . . . to go and make disciples”.

Many who oppose the lessons, including academic Anna Halafoff of the Religion, Ethics and Education Network Australia, propose an alternative - introducing a new academic subject to teach children about the world’s religions as part of the curriculum.

The education union’s Victorian president, Mary Bluett, agrees, saying it would be appropriate to include a subject on religion on the soon-to-be-introduced national curriculum.

Professor McGaw, however, said there were no plans to develop a separate subject on religion.

Instead, he said, he was comfortable with the current model, known as SRI, or Special Religious Instruction.

However, another curriculum expert, Tony Taylor from Monash University, who examined the Access Ministries curriculum, concluded it was “primitively anti-educational . . . a crude form of missionary
indoctrination that went out of style in the 1950s”.

“Mainstream Christian schools would be mortified if this kind of ludicrous, inappropriate and exasperating garbage was found in their classrooms,” he said.

Access Ministries has defended its course partly on the basis that it has received no complaints about volunteer instructors trying to convert people.

Making religious education an academic subject on the national curriculum would require the state or federal ministers for education banding together and asking for it.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said that “there hasn’t been any push from Victoria or the other states” for such a subject.

Mr Dixon said he supported SRI, and if religion were to be taught as anacademic subject he would prefer it to be “as part of culture and part of language”.

Ms Halafoff said this reflected the attitude at the national level, and the Religion, Ethics and Edu-cation Network Australia was meeting with an adviser for federal minister Peter Garrett in July.

“Because the national curriculum is on the verge of being introduced, we really need to have this discussion,” she said.

From: page 22.

Hockey, Shorten join forces in royal commission snub

FEDERAL and state governments have poured cold water on holding a royal commission into child abuse, despite growing calls for one at a state inquiry.

Labor and Liberal frontbenchers Bill Shorten and Joe Hockey questioned the potential effectiveness of a national investigation into child abuse on Friday.

Mr Shorten, the Employment Minister, said organisations should be required to report abuse to police and those involved in covering it up should be exposed, but told 3AW he was ''not convinced that having a royal commission is going to fix the faults''.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said it would be ''ridiculous'' to have a royal commission into the Catholic Church, and that sexual abuse was much broader than the church.

Mr Hockey, a Catholic, said a royal commission would further ''traumatise'' victims. ''I have friends who have been victims … What they want to see is for it to stop and for the wounds to heal,'' he said.

Premier Ted Baillieu said: ''We believe the parliamentary inquiry has already demonstrated its value.''

Their comments came before New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell announced that his state would launch an inquiry into a senior police investigator's allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy in the Hunter region.

Most witnesses who have testified at Victoria's inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations - child abuse researchers Monash University professor Chris Goddard and University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson are among those who gave evidence - have endorsed calls for a royal commission. The inquiry was called in April after years of campaigning by victims' advocates.

The inquiry's chairwoman, Georgie Crozier, has said the six-member committee enjoys all the powers of a royal commission, but victims groups have long criticised it as inadequately resourced to handle the widespread problem.

Broken Rites' Dr Wayne Chamley, who testified on Friday, said the victims' group had supported calls for a national commission for 16 years ''because this crosses borders, it doesn't stop at the Murray. You've got to bring and put under oath all the bishops and archbishops and former bishops and all the vicars-general and ask what was going on.''

The Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, said a judicial inquiry or royal commission would have dealt with the issue better than a parliamentary inquiry. ''There is a very strong need for victims to feel heard,'' he said

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Religious Leaders Back Marriage Equality

Since 2004, the Marriage Act 1961 has defined marriage as "the union of a man and a woman" and law expressly declares that unions between same-sex couples entered into outside the country are not to be recognised as marriage in Australia.

It is claimed [1] that this definition reflects standards and the mores of contemporary Australia. Yet actual surveys of Australian opinion consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Australians support an amendment to the Act that allows same-sex marriage [2].

It has also been argued that marriage has never been defined other than being between a man and a woman [3]. Even if this was true - which it isn't - the limited range of freedoms imposed by past societies should not serve as criteria for justifying contemporary and future discrimination.

Others have further argued [4] that marriage exists to regulate the sexual relationships of men and women to ensure the well-being of children, a rather confusing statement to those heterosexual couples who, through choice or biology, do not have children or further children.

Representatives of the Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party coalition have consistently asserted [5] that their opposition does not constitute discrimination against same-sex relationships. With no sense of contradiction, they claim "we do not think there should be discrimination in any way, shape or form" - except that same-sex couples cannot marry.

It is a blindness or a deception on the part of our politicians that they do not recognise that prohibiting same-sex marriage is indeed discrimination.

What is left is usually unspoken; that the continuing discrimination against same-sex marriage is due to religious justifications, that in civil society particular religious definitions of marriage still holds sway, despite any claims of secularism and a separation of Church and State.

We, the undersigned, are Ministers of religion and religious celebrants who do not hold this old and discriminatory view. We oppose the continued prohibition of the right of marriage to same-sex couples and argue that it is religious discrimination to continue these laws. We call upon the Federal Government and the Opposition - and the incoming Government, whomever they may be - to make a commitment that celebrants may conduct same-sex marriages with full legal rights.


Peter Abrehart, Chairperson and Celebrant, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, Victoria
Rev. Dr. Ian Ellis, Sydney Unitarian Church, New South Wales
Rev. Mark J Dunn, St John's Uniting Church Parish Essendon, Victoria
Rev. Robert Humphreys, Uniting Church Minister, Coburg Victoria
Rev. Tony Johnson, Uniting Church Minister, Strathmore, Victoria
Rev. Peter Ferguson, Western Australian Unitarian Association, Western Australia
Rev. Dr. Robert Stringer, Uniting Church, Heidelberg, Victoria
Sri Rama Ramanuja Acarya, Sydney, New South Wales
Rev. Leanne Jenski, Uniting Church, Blackwood, South Australia
Rev. Gretchen Thomas, Unitarian-Universalist minister, Frankston, Victoria
Emeritus Professor Rev. William Loader, Uniting Church chaplain, Murdoch University, Western Australia
Bob Russell, Unitarian celebrant, Montmorency, Victoria
Josephina Jordan, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Celebrant, Mitcham, South Australia
Rev Dr Ian Tozer, Uniting Church, Pinjarra, Western Australia
Helen Bayes, Celebrant and Director of Silver Wattle, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Study Centre, Bungendore, New South Wales
Marybeth Zang, Celebrant, Pagan Ritual Group, Lilyfield, New South Wales
Rev Dr Eilidh St John, Tasmanian Unitarian Community
Rev Jed Perkins, Unitarian Universalist, Toowoomba, Queensland
Rev Kathryn Crissmann, Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Queensland


[1] Senator George Brandis, Queenland, Shadow Attorney-General.;query=Id:...
[2] 57% of respondents supported same-sex marriage in the Newspoll opinion poll of 2007, and 60% in the Galaxy opinion poll of of 2009. This are the two major opinion polls conducted on the subject in the last five years.
[3] George Brandis, op cit.
[4] Alby Schultz, MHR, Member for Hume;query=Id:...
[5] Senator Nick Sherry, Tasmania,;query=Id:... and Senator George Brandis, Hansard;query=Id:...

Victorian Secular Lobby Founded

Representatives of several secular groups met on Saturday [July 9, 2010] to initiate the Victorian Secular Lobby, as a counter to those who wish to impose particular religious values on all members of society.

Initiated by the Isocracy Network, individuals from the Progressive Atheists, the Secular Party of Australia, the Melbourne Unitarian Church, Humanist Society of Victoria, Atheist Meetup and others were in attendance. The group seeks to extend its scope of membership to include mainstream religious organisations who also support the separation of Church and State.

Convenor Enzo Reyes described conservative lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby as misrepresenting those of that faith, and excluding people of other beliefs. "They have enormous political power highly disproportionate to the acceptance of their narrow ideas. The Victorian Secular Lobby will seek to address this imbalance. Most people agree that laws should be applied with secular reasoning that respects individual and different religious beliefs."

In the upcoming Federal election the group has identified same-sex marriage rights and the National School Chaplaincy Pprogram as two particular issues that will be targetted.

"Prohibiting same-sex marriage denies the principle of legal equality. Further, it also discriminates against those religious organisations who wish to conduct same-sex marriages."

"As for the school chaplaincy program, we believe that taxpayer's money is much better spent on professional qualified counsellors", he added.

For the Victorian state election the group will be concentrating on supporting MPs who have been targetted by the Right to Life association for supporting reproductive rights legislation and supporting the teaching of secular ethics in schools.

"Abortion law reform is founded on the principle that women have the moral and intellectual capacity to make decisions about their own fertility. It has ensured that women's lives and reproductive capacity is safeguarded for their future", Mr. Reyes said.

For further information contact Lev Lafayette on 0432 255 208

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