Archbishop appears before Ruddock’s Freedom Panel
By Monica Doumit
Freedom of religion is not simply or even principally about the freedom to worship in church, synagogue or mosque, nor is it protected by ensuring only that ministers of religion are not forced to conduct same-sex weddings, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP told the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom.
Religious faith, he explained, was something that was a 24/7 concern for believers, who wanted to be able to enjoy related freedoms such as freedom of speech and freedom of association as believers, and to transmit their faith to others through their actions.
The Archbishop illustrated for the expert panel how freedom of religion extends to areas such as education and employment, the provision of health and welfare services, and freedom of speech, and urged the panel to consider these areas when assessing the implications of same-sex marriage.
Archbishop Fisher described the noticeable move away from the ‘healthy secularity’ enjoyed in Australia to a ‘militant secularism’ that seeks to push religion into being a very private act of worship, with no purchase on the public lives of believers and no influence on polity, economy or culture.
The push, the Archbishop said, posed new threats to religious freedom for people of faith.
Asked by the panel for evidence, the Archbishop gave recent attempts to remove religious freedom protections in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as highlighting sections of the submission from the Equality Campaign that have sought to use the change in marriage law to advocate the winding back of existing protections for religious freedom.
He also spoke to the panel about the risk of activists deliberately trying to cause controversy, noting that St Mary’s Cathedral had already received multiple phone calls from ‘provocateurs’ asking to book the Cathedral for same-sex weddings.
The Archbishop spoke with a reduced expert panel, as only two of its five members were presents for the hour-long meeting. The panel is due to provide its report to Government by 31 March.