Religious Freedom and Media Mischief – An Archbishop Speaks

This statement from Archbishop Glen Davies is taken from his Presidential Address delivered to the 2018 Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.

In this past week, the enemies of religious freedom have been hard at work. The selective and distorted leaking of the recommendations of the Ruddock Review has been nothing more than anti-religious activism masquerading as journalism.

This week has exposed the hypocrisy of those who, during the same-sex marriage campaign, repeatedly told the Australian public that same-sex marriage would have absolutely no consequences for religious freedom.[1] Now they have revealed what has always been their agenda: to force religious schools to play by secular rules.[2]

During the same-sex marriage campaign the public was repeatedly told that same-sex marriage would have absolutely no consequences for religious freedom.

Although I am wary of commenting upon a report that has yet to be released, the Ruddock Review, after a careful and thorough analysis and extensive public consultation, has proposed a set of sensible recommendations to ensure that Australia protects all human rights, including freedom of religion.

An Imaginary Epidemic

There is, in fact, nothing objectionable in the Ruddock recommendations. But, in an attempt to scupper the Ruddock ship while still in the docks, its recommendations were mischievously misrepresented. Then ensued handwringing hysteria about an imaginary epidemic of gay students being expelled from religious schools, and this was accompanied by much ill-informed knee-jerk reaction.

Let’s be very clear. Anglican schools in Sydney do not expel students for being gay. It is an absurd proposition and it is certainly not something we asked for in our submission to the Ruddock Review. We would gladly support any amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which would clarify this. This issue was nothing more than a beat up and smoke screen to discredit the Ruddock Report and obscure the real issues.

The Heart of Freedom

What we have asked for is simply this: freedom of religion. People of all faiths and none should have the right to speak and act according to their fundamental convictions. Church schools should NOT be forced to play by secular rules. It goes to the very heart of religious freedom that religious organisations should be able to operate according to their religious ethos. Anglican schools, if they are going to remain Anglican, must be able to employ staff who support the Christian values of the school. When the Ruddock Report and the Government’s response is released, it will be time to have an informed national conversation about this. Despite the delay in its release, the report deserves due process and careful analysis before it is kyboshed by the media and ill-informed political commentators.

It goes to the very heart of religious freedom that religious organisations should be able to operate according to their religious ethos

Yet our real weapons are not political or strategic, however much we may engage in the national debate, but spiritual, requiring the whole armour of God. For it is ultimately the gospel that will change people’s hearts and minds. We must never forget that, even when Christianity is in the process of being marginalised in our society. The aftermath of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has weakened the standing of the Church in the eyes of many, and rightly so, I regret to say.

Neverthess, our allegiance to Christ should galvanise our renewed calling to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world; that people may put their faith in the Lord Jesus and find true freedom.

[1] For example – “Amending the Federal Marriage Act will not, and cannot, affect religious freedoms. Only the secular, legislative meaning of marriage will change”; https://www.mamamia.com.au/same-sex-marriage-myths/

[2] David Marr – “When faiths take public money to run schools and hospitals in the UK they have to play by secular rules”; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/11/the-right- to-expel-children-from-school-isnt-about-freedom-its-about-cruelty