Two things happened during the last week that perfectly illustrate the federal government’s position on religious discrimination in Australia.
It’s a topic they spent months focussing on last year in preference to less vital issues, like how to handle opening the country during a still-active pandemic, or whether maybe ordering some of those Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) would be a smart idea.
Firstly, Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, released the newest iteration of the Religious Discrimination Bill, thereby confirming that yeah, all those supposed protections that she’d promised regarding preventing gay teachers and students getting summarily kicked out of private schools weren’t happening after all, soz.
Secondly, a video was leaked of a Revival Camp, held by megachurch Hillsong in the Newcastle region.
The video showed a close-packed crowd of maskless congregants dancing and singing to live music, at a time when public dancing and singing in NSW is banned at all venues (even while masked, seated, and socially-distanced), owing to well-founded concerns about public safety.
With artists and venues once again taking financial and professional punches for the greater good, this wasn’t merely maddening; it was an unambiguous insult.
Especially when it became evident that Hillsong was subjected to exactly zero consequences for this breach, aside from an announcement from Premier Dominic Perrottet that he was shocked – simply SHOCKED, I tells you! – that such a thing was going on, and that NSW Police had given them a stern admonishment not to do it again.
One might assume that the Church wasn’t overly concerned about a public finger-wagging from a government clearly disinclined to do anything as gauche as actually policing their activities on public health grounds.
At a guess, Hillsong is probably rather more interested in hunting down whoever leaked that footage and doing some policing of their own.
Taken together, these two events paint a deeply unsettling picture of the state of religious thought of a certain flavour of conservative-leaning Christianity in Australia.
And it’s important, because this proposed new law isn’t about levelling a playing field or righting an existing wrong. This is about politically-connected organisations demanding the right to be exempt from rules they don’t care for, no matter the consequences.
After all, this was a bill that was promised in 2017, in the wake of legislating marriage equality following the same-sex marriage postal survey not-actually-a-plebiscite, in which gay folks were finally allowed to marry and where religious conservatives lost precisely nothing and still loudly demanded to be compensated.
And it’s worth remembering also that the postal survey not-a-plebiscite wasn’t a good-faith process to come to a conclusion on an important social question.
It was a dirty trick by the Coalition government of Tony Abbott to be seen to be doing something – about legislation that a majority of Australians supported – without actually doing it, and was deliberately designed to be non-binding in order that the government could merrily ignore the result if it ran counter to what Tony preferred.
Indeed, the only reason the Marriage Act was eventually amended at all was that the non-homophobic Malcolm Turnbull had become PM in the interim, while Abbott and other men of supposedly deeply-held principle (including deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and current PM Scott Morrison) literally scurried out of the House of Representatives so they wouldn’t have to cast a vote.
You know, because they totally respected this very important process.
That’s the spirit we see in a law that seeks to out children to their potentially unforgiving parents by permitting them to be expelled for something they can’t possibly change, and the spirit we see when a church smugly pretends that a virus can somehow distinguish between a live gig at a pub and a live gig in a Revival Camp.
There are very real issues of discrimination against people of faith in Australia, as anyone who has worn a hijab on a train, or been publicly Jewish on the internet, can attest.
Expanding the Racial Discrimination Act to accept cultural identity as being equivalent to and often indistinguishable from national or racial identity would seem to be an obvious starting point.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the main concern driving the Morrison government’s legislation.
Instead, we have a proposed law that seeks to punish and ostracise people for their sexuality, which is being supported by organisations that don’t themselves adhere to laws when they don’t suit them.
For a nation supposedly dedicated to the Fair Go, it seems distinctly un-Australian.
And in any case, doesn’t the Lord Himself detest the use of dishonest scales?
For more information visit www.andrewpstreet.com.