Federal

Jul 10, 2018

Could religious extremists pave the way for a bill of rights?

The push for legislative protection of religious freedom could be a way to achieve a bill of rights that Australia so desperately needs.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

bill of rights james paterson

Senator James Paterson

Conservatives averse to a bill of rights are correct to be wary of the push to entrench religious freedoms in Commonwealth legislation. It stands as the best opportunity to override resistance within both sides of politics to an effective bill of rights.

The case put forward by some Liberals for protections for freedom of religion has an innate flaw (and, as James “Desperate for Preselection” Paterson’s humiliation by Hamish Mcdonald yesterday shows, has been argued badly; we await the inevitable letter of complaint from Mitch Fifield). The rights of the religious remain entirely unaffected in Australia; what has been rolled back is the irrational and often superstition-based impact on others of the actions of the religious. The incoherent limitation of marriage to heterosexuals, harassment of women seeking to legally access reproductive health services, the enforced agony imposed on the terminally ill by bans on euthanasia, the desire of members of churches to cover up rape and abuse, are all irrational attacks on the basic freedoms of others, not innate rights acquired simply because one believes a certain set of supernatural claims. Actual religious freedom remains unimpinged; the “freedom” to impose it on others is all that has been damaged.

Nonetheless, if we’re going to participate in the fiction that religion and its expression are under threat in Australia, there are potentially significant benefits. The strongly religious often make strong advocates for freedom, and not merely for themselves; an attempt by Islamophobic Knesset members to ban the call to prayer in Israel was opposed by ultra-orthodox Jewish MPs who feared such a ban would be used against them as well.

Some advocates are ahead of the game on this and understand that religious freedom should be part of a broader rights framework. The Australian Federation of ­Islamic Council’s Rateb Jneid argues that religious freedom is being undermined but the best protection is the enactment of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a bill of rights. Article 18 of the Covenant deals with religious freedom. The very next article, as it turns out, deals with freedom of expression and the freedom to share information.

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Conservatives participating in the “religious oppression” fiction will be keen to confine legislation to religious protection — perhaps oblivious to the fact that it won’t merely be Christianity that gets protected, but that’s their problem — but once protection of specific rights is legislated, it becomes harder to oppose protecting other rights. In particular, it is absurd to argue religious freedoms should be protected and political freedoms should not. A protection of religious freedom could provide the thin end of the wedge to establish a de facto (OK, well, de jure) bill of rights in Australia.

Such a bill of rights, of the kind the Americans and Europeans have had for so long, is sorely needed. In the absence of an effective parliamentary opposition to the government’s police state agenda, entrenching protections that establish significant hurdles to further attempts to erode basic rights — such as the freedom to reveal the criminal conduct of our intelligence agencies and its cover-up — is one of the few viable strategies to resist where the Liberals and Labor want to take us. All power to the fundamentalists and conservatives who want to truckle to them. They could be doing more good than they realise.

Do we need a bill of rights? What should it look like? Let us know what you think by emailing [email protected].

21 comments

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21 thoughts on “Could religious extremists pave the way for a bill of rights?

  1. TheRabidHamster

    James Paterson the righteous 17 year old IPA aperatchik, has he ever worked a day in his life? Discuss:

    1. Bill Hilliger

      Yes he has probably worked for organisations that espouse the fairy icon Jesus.
      Freedom of religion, nah, we hard working Australians who do not accept or believe in fairy tales, want an Australia where we have and enjoy freedom FROM RELIGION.

      1. margaret handasyde

        RIGHT ON BILL, freedom FROM religion is a HUMAN RIGHT!.

      2. Iain the Observer

        Freedom of religion without freedom from religion is merely Theocratic Tyranny.

    2. Mick Radelaide

      He used to work for that Confederacy of Dullards known as the Institute of Public Affairs. His ‘work’ mainly consisted on showing up on The Drum spouting Neo-Liberal garbage.

    3. The Curmudgeon

      Oh for the days when you had to be sixty to even consider a run for the Senate.

  2. Nudiefish

    If James Paterson ever had an original thought it was shouted down by hate-filled IPA drones squatting on the public square of civil society.

    1. TheRabidHamster

      He looks like one of the German nihilists out of “The big Lebowski”.
      I wonder if he has a ferret and is familiar with their catch-cry “I f*** you up”?

  3. Administrator

    “Could religious extremists pave the way for a bill of rights?”
    Well, no other approach has succeeded. But no, the way to a bill of rights is outrage from the centre of society.
    If this objective were to be approached from any extreme, our feds would run a voluntary poll, spending our taxes telling us “It’s all about God!” And achieve delay for another half-generation.
    The need for a Bill of Rights is desperately needed to counter the Police State agenda. This agenda is run against all ordinary citizens by those elected to represent them. The agenda has been advanced because our elected representatives have (with the exception of some Independent Members) sold their souls to the Party machines.

    1. Bill Hilliger

      Meanwhile our freedoms are being taken away during this current parliament; and guess what, most of the people responsible for taking away our freedoms are religious people, who pray to and believe in fairy tale icons.

  4. Dog's Breakfast

    The follow-up I’d like to see to this story is ‘what laws currently in operation would be shot down by the High Court (or lesser courts) if there was a Bill of Rights.’

    I can think of a few which from a layman’s perspective would have to be in trouble, but I’m no lawyer. What I’d really like to see somewhere down the track if Collaery and Witness K being able to sue the government for harassment, and getting paid heaps from it.

    James Paterson, mass without substance. Physically impossible or not?

    1. thelorikeet

      Given the High Court has effectively vacated the field of protecting the rule of law (especially in its public interest immunity decision) there is little hope it will suddenly convert. There is no longer a bulwark (Crikey! Aside?)

  5. Hunt, Ian

    It is so good to see recognition of the fact that freedom of religion cannot be supported as the freedom to act as you think your religion requires but only the freedom to act as your religion requires, so long as that is just to others.

    Unfortunately, I think Ruddock’s report will not recognise this qualification on religious freedom. It will still think it’s OK for regions schools to unjustly dismiss teachers who are perfectly capable of teaching what the school wants, since their private life should be respected. A religion is entitled to say that it’s ceremonial practices are run as their religion directs. There is nothing unjust in their employment of people who fit those requirements. It is up to members of a religion to change their ceremonies as they want. But schools or charities are another matter.

    I hope that any demand for unjust freedoms will lead to a general bill of rights, which will recognise, as the US bill fails to do, that freedoms have to be balanced against each other and limited to allow other freedoms to be pursued as they should be. This will mean that our bill should not be set in stone.

  6. Djbekka

    Heh, heh, heh.
    A backdoor to a Charter of Rights!
    Let’s do it! Have a look at the one Canada brought in last century – a good starter.

  7. Bob the builder

    At last, in Hamish McDonald, we have a Radio National presenter able to conduct forensic interviews in clear, concise language rather than trying for puerile Karvelas-type gotcha moments or conducting supine pseudo-“balanced” interviews.
    Thanks for the link Bernard!
    Certainly showed up Paterson as the illogical, ideological lightweight that he is.

  8. AR

    Apart from preventing the religiously deluded from impinging on sane people in the public sphere, it is far more crucial that the indoctrination of children with sick & evil ideas be recognised as child abuse at least as damaging as physical abuse.

  9. Damon

    Thanks for the heads-up on the interview with James Paterson. Listening now. Hilarious.

  10. Arky

    Yeah, if you believe that this would lead to a bill of rights that was not subordinate to national security legislation, dream on.

    Also, “Such a bill of rights, of the kind the Americans … have had for so long”

    That’s done a lot of good for them, hasn’t it? Doesn’t protect them from even more onerous national security laws than we have, but hey- it helps ensure nothing can be done to prevent their horrific gun culture, helps ensure nothing can be done to stop out of control hate speech…. what precisely does America get out of their bill of rights that isn’t hypothetical?

    1. Administrator

      Good points you make Arky,
      The US Bill of Rights includes the Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. This provision was created in strong reaction against 1766 British general search warrants authorising the search of anyone, anywhere in the enforcement of British taxes on all imports into the American colonies.
      Yet now the pendulum has swung to the other extreme and the private communications of everybody, American or not, are routinely trawled by “security authorities” so numerous that they tread on each others’ toes. And yes, Australian governments have rushed to grab similar powers and to abuse them. Read the second police interview of Dr Haneef, 13th and 14th July 2007 at AFP Headquarters in Brisbane, for example, with warrants obtained by lies and solitary confinement without charge. By the way, it was ABC Four Corners which exclusively interviewed Dr Haneef, greatly to the ire of then Attorney General Ruddock. Ruddock’s government engineered a settlement with Dr Haneef to conceal the damages.
      Let’s say Australia had a Bill of Rights, even one so simple as to create a cause of action in Australian courts for breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That would make a difference, not just hypothetically.

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