Religion is increasingly being associated with bigotry and intolerance, yet proposed law changes discriminate against believers. According to the last census in Australia, Christianity is still the most commonly professed religion, but it is in decline, with ‘no religion’ following closely behind. In 2021, almost 44% of respondents identified as Christian, while nearly 39% said they were not religious. These numbers reflect a significant shift from a decade earlier when the figures stood at 61% and 22% respectively. This decline in Christianity is further exacerbated by proposed legislation that seeks to eliminate exemptions allowing religious schools to expel students and reject applicants based on their sexuality, relationship status, and pregnancy.
Critics argue that these proposed changes undermine religious freedom and represent an unwanted interference in society. Peter Kurti, director of the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, notes that the current push to protect certain ‘victim’ groups has resulted in a division among social groups who feel no obligation towards one another. Rather than embracing diversity, society is becoming increasingly segregated along lines of gender, religion, and ethnicity, with the government managing the response to these differences.
This weaponization of ‘rights’ and the misuse of anti-discrimination laws to suppress personal opinions rather than address genuine misconduct poses a threat to individual freedom and the rule of law. For example, activists advocating for same-sex marriage campaign for the removal of anti-discrimination exemptions, effectively imposing their views on religious groups. This growing intolerance towards Christianity inhibits the participation of Christians in public life, as many individuals and groups refuse to accept any influence of Christian morality in politics or other public spheres.
Yet, it is essential to consider the potential consequences of abandoning Christian values and traditions. Rodney Stark, an authority on the sociology of religion, demonstrates the numerous benefits of religious belief in society. Religious individuals are less likely to commit crimes, more likely to contribute to charities and volunteer, enjoy better mental and physical health, have more satisfying marriages, perform better academically, and are less dependent on welfare. Australia needs to reflect on what it may lose as a society by becoming less religious.
However, this animosity towards committed Christians is not limited to isolated incidents; it is evident in major political parties as well. Even within the so-called conservative side of politics, those critical of Christianity and suspicious of any Christian influence are growing more influential. Supporters of the Liberal Party, considered Australia’s conservative party, often feel their views are disregarded or ridiculed in favor of promoting ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusiveness.’
Instances such as Moira Deeming’s expulsion from the Liberal Party for attending a pro-life and pro-women rally, as well as the rejection of membership applications from individuals with perceived Christian views, have caused many former members to leave the party due to its departure from truly conservative values. This suppression of religious discourse and the belief that religion should be entirely private disqualifies believers from political participation and constitutes an undemocratic form of anti-religious bigotry prevalent in Australian society.
Australia’s Constitution does not justify the suppression of religious discourse in the public sphere. While it may not be practical to present overtly religious views in a predominantly secular society, equal rights to freedom of political communication should be extended to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. Discrimination against religion, as witnessed in Australia, contradicts international human rights standards that protect religious belief and practice.
In conclusion, the declining prominence of Christianity in Australia, coupled with proposed changes to discrimination laws that adversely affect believers, highlights a concerning trend towards religious intolerance in the country. It is important for Australians to reflect on the potential consequences of abandoning their Christian values and traditions and the benefits that religious belief can bring to society. Additionally, the growing animosity towards committed Christians, even within conservative political circles, raises questions about the denial of equal rights and the suppression of religious discourse. Such discrimination goes against international human rights standards and undermines the principles of religious freedom and tolerance.