gathering storm against religious freedom

The Gathering Storm Against Religious Freedom

16 April 2024

7.3 MINS

There is a gathering storm against religious freedom in this country, and it’s about to break not only upon Christian churches and their schools, but also any private individual who holds to traditional opinions on matters of sexuality and gender. And my own observation is that most Christians, while having a reputation for being aware of these issues, are actually sleep-walking into a crisis.

This is because at both a Federal and State level, legislation is now being discussed — and in some cases has already passed — that forbids people from teaching, counselling, employing and witnessing on issues relating to gender and sexuality.

What’s more, if section 38 of the Religious Discrimination Act is rescinded, which provides schools with the ability to preference teachers of the same faith when hiring staff, then from that moment, it’s basically “game over”. For after that, Christian Schools will continue to exist, but they will only be ‘Christian’ in name only. This is because, as Nietzsche once correctly observed with respect to “New beliefs in the old house”:

The overthrow of beliefs is not immediately followed by the overthrow of institutions; rather, the new beliefs live for a long time in the now desolate and eerie house of their predecessors, which they themselves preserve because there is nowhere else to go due to what Nietzsche refers to as ‘the housing shortage.’

The Australian federal parliament is likely to consider a Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB) that would seek to provide essential protections for religious individuals and organisations. It should be clarified however, that the draft legislation for the ALP’s RDB is significantly worse than the Morrison Government’s RDB proposal in 2022. This is because the Albanese government’s RDB is being packaged as a double-deal with amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) in order for the ALP to be perceived to giving rights to both religious and LGBTIQ+ groups.

However, the proposed RDB leaves out important protections for churches and religious schools and adds vilification laws, also known as ‘hate speech’ legislation. These changes are not only weak protections against the changes being made in the SDA; they are also potentially harmful by pitting one religious group against another.

Living Among Lions

This growing religious challenge and immediate legal threat in 21st-century Australia bears an uncanny parallel to what the Biblical Daniel famously endured in Babylon (circa sixth century BC). Significantly, at the 2023 General Assembly of Australia (Presbyterian), the Assembly unanimously resolved the following statement on religious freedom:

The Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCA) supports a general freedom of religion in which all people are free to express religious convictions, or lack of such convictions, both privately and publicly, individually and in association with others. This recognizes the dignity of all people made in God’s image and that true worship of God and faith in him cannot be coerced by human authorities.

Further, the PCA believes that:

Christ is the head of the church, and the state has no right to intrude on the doctrine, discipline or worship of the church. The state does not have the authority to enforce or direct religious beliefs and ethics.

The General Assembly of the PCA has subsequently called on governments at all levels to protect freedom of religion as broadly as possible, including the freedom of religious institutions to pursue their mission consistent with their convictions and the freedom of individuals to express religious convictions in public discussion and the workplace. It also called on governments to include in legislation, where appropriate, protection of genuine conscientious objection.

While Presbyterians have taken this stand, other churches are also starting to prepare themselves for what it will mean to obey God rather than man. But what if Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act is rescinded — as it is expected to be — then it could easily result in a growing civil disobedience that is in no one’s interest. As John Calvin wrote in the final paragraph of his magisterial Institutes of Christian Religion:

But since this edict has been proclaimed by the heavenly herald, Peter — “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) — let us comfort ourselves with the thought that we are rendering that obedience which the Lord requires when we suffer anything rather than turn aside from piety. And that our courage may not grow faint, Paul pricks us with another goad: That we have been redeemed by Christ at so great a price as our redemption cost him, so that we should not enslave ourselves to the wicked desires of men — much less be subject to their impiety (1 Cor. 7:23). [1]

How have we come to such a strange — although not historically unprecedented — situation? No doubt there are many reasons for the lack of awareness and the confusion on this subject. But here is a brief historical summary as to how we have arrived at our present situation:

Sex Discrimination Act

The Australian Law Reform Commission recently handed down a report under strict reference from the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, recommending that the federal Government should remove section 38 of the SDA, which would:

  • Prevent religious schools from insisting students respect the doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings of their religion.
  • Prevent religious schools from preferencing teachers of the same faith when hiring staff.

The Religious Discrimination Bill

The Morrison government failed to bring in a RDB when five liberal party backbenchers crossed the floor and voted against the bill, which would have:

  • Protected the rights of religious organisations to employ staff according to their religious principles.
  • Protect individuals from being unfairly discriminated against based on their religion.

Opposition Attorney-General Senator Michaela Cash recently revealed the Albanese Government has put forward religious discrimination reforms — which she has not been allowed to share publicly — that contained “substantial changes” to the Coalition’s 2019 legislation. These reforms will likely be revealed in conjunction with the Government’s position on the ALRC report.

Conversion Therapy Laws

Legislation banning conversion practices has already been passed in Victoria, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory — while Tasmania and South Australia are considering reforms.

  • Makes it illegal to intentionally pray, counsel, or give medical advice with the intentional purpose of converting someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Provides a civil pathway for “survivors” to take legal action against organisations previously involved in conversion practises.
  • Tasmania has released draft legislation that would make it a criminal offence to “attempt to change or eradicate the sexual orientation or gender identity” of a person in a way that causes physical or mental harm to the recipient. [2]

Queensland Anti-Discrimination Bill

Following a 2021 parliamentary inquiry into hate crimes, discrimination and vilification (Building belonging: Review of Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1991), a draft bill was recently introduced to Queensland’s parliament by the Labor government. The Bill includes over 30 changes to legislation, including:

  • Clause 29 of the Bill, which will allow a religious body to employ people from their own faith only “if participation in the teaching, observance or practice of the religion concerned is a genuine occupational requirement of the work”
  • Clause 84, which says it will be illegal for a person or group to engage “in a public act that a reasonable person would consider hateful, reviling, seriously contemptuous, or seriously ridiculing of the other person or group” on the basis of the other person or group’s protected attributes – “age, disability, gender identity, race, religion, sex, sex characteristics or sexual orientation.”
  • Clause 85, which says that “a person must not, in a public act, engage in conduct that incites or is reasonably likely to incite hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule” of another person or group of persons on the basis of their protected attributes.

NSW ‘Equality’ Bill

The Equality Bill was introduced to the New South Wales parliament in August 2023, and will be decided in 2024 while currently undergoing a public inquiry.[3]

  • As it stands, the Equality Bill will make 80 changes to 20 different pieces of legislation, including 52 amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act alone.
  • The bill seeks to remove provisions in the Anti-Discrimination Act that allows faith-based institutions to teach their own doctrines on gender and sexuality. [4]
  • The bill also permits a child under 16 to consent to medical treatment, such as gender transitions, against the desires of their parents — so long as a doctor believes that “the child is capable of understanding the nature, consequences and risks of the treatment and the treatment is in the best interests of the child’s health and well-being.”
  • The bill also seeks to protect sex work, making it equivalent to race and disability, and will remove limits on the provision of prostitution, including solicitation outside a school or place of worship.
  • The bill will also legalise commercial surrogacy, including surrogacy of women in developing countries overseas.

The Rise of ‘Christian Atheism’

We certainly now live in strange times. Even renowned atheists such as Richard Dawkins have started to identify as being a ‘Cultural Christian’! Dawkins recently took it upon himself to state publicly — on Easter Sunday of all days — that “he prefers to live in a country based on Christian principles and would not want the UK to become an Islamic nation”.

We should be glad that Richard Dawkins has now realised that the Christian faith plays an important role in the well-being of our lives and government. And he doesn’t want it to be replaced with something else. But once you get rid of Christianity, the world has to operate from a completely different moral framework.

I think that Richard Dawkins has finally concluded that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t have the kind of benevolent society that we now enjoy if we attempt to destroy the Christian principles on which much of our social fabric is based. Thankfully, he has suddenly realised that it’s going to be replaced by something else, and he doesn’t like it.

What Australians need to understand is that Dawkin’s awakening is important. He now realises the truth of that basic principle of science, namely that nature abhors a vacuum. As Nietzsche wrote in Twilight of the Idols:

In England, after every little emancipation from theology [Christian], people have to regain their respectability in a terrifying manner, as moral fanatics. The rest of us see things differently. If you abandon the Christian faith, at the same time you are pulling the right to Christian morality from under your feet.

I think Dawkins has a very valuable insight into what is taking place in modern intellectual Western thought. He has now realised that we can’t have it both ways. As T.S. Elliot wrote back in 1939, “If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.” Less than a hundred years later, and we are sadly starting to see in Australia just how prescient Elliot’s warning was.

[1] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol 2. (Westminster Press), 1521.

[2] It is likely that the final bill will include practices like “support, assist, care and guidance” and will go even further if there is a Labor and Greens minority government in the upcoming state election. Public consultation for the bill finished on February 16, 2024.

[3] The NSW parliament decided on 13/03/2024 to refer the Bill to the Committee for inquiry and report by 03/06/2024.

[4] For example, religious schools will be required to show that their actions are “reasonable” if challenged in court. This might include teaching the traditional Christian view of marriage in schools, directing teachers not to teach views contrary to the faith, or refusing to employ teachers who also engage in sex work or produce pornography.


Originally published at AP. Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava.

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  1. Hannah 16 April 2024 at 8:41 am - Reply

    “Discrimination is wrong… unless it is to Christians” – Australian government

    There was a really interesting article on LGB website, saying that conversion practises did not happen in Australia today and the bill was just trying to enshrine trans ideals into the law.

    • Jillian Stirling 16 April 2024 at 8:57 am - Reply

      I wrote my local member stating that but to no avail

  2. Jillian Stirling 16 April 2024 at 9:00 am - Reply

    It is indeed very disturbing. Generally churches seem silent, with the exception of the Presbtyterian church.

  3. Warwick Marsh 16 April 2024 at 9:32 am - Reply

    Thank God for my good friend Rev Park Powell. Thank God also for the Presbyterian church a bulwark of truth and obediance to the word of God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Jim D 16 April 2024 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    What a beat up about nothing. Active Christian here, chair of my church, and keen biblical scholar. No-where in the bible does it ask us to judge anyone, or hate anyone, for anything they feel or do which does no harm. Please feel free to point out to me where the bible asks us to publicly decry the love of one human for another – where these humans are both consenting adults on equal power footings? There is nothing in the legislation which is forcing you to be gay. Just go and live your best Christian life, stop judging, love everybody, look after everybody, and you will be demonstrating God’s love right here on earth – doing far more good for Christianity than spewing this guff.

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