Despite various recent moves to the contrary, such as secular humanism and the new atheism, the overwhelming majority of mankind both now and throughout history has been religious. Human beings are essentially religious creatures, and the desire to transcend the physical world is an ever-present longing.
Thus the freedom to worship and follow one’s religious convictions is a vital part of any modern democratic society. The mark of a truly democratic and free society is the way it allows for such religious freedom. While there are limits here – as with everything – generally speaking, religious freedom is an important human right.
But throughout the West we are witnessing a war on religion. Religious freedom in many areas seems to be shrinking, not expanding. Secular humanism and leftism are a big part of this. They are increasingly turning religious folks – primarily Christians – into second class citizens. The Canberra Declaration has always campaigned against this form of religious persecution.
We are seeing more and more restrictions on religious freedom and expression, and much of this is done under the guise of “hate crimes,” “hate speech” and the like. Often to simply stand up for one’s religious convictions will be deemed to be hateful, bigoted and intolerant.
Thus we find an ever-escalating war on so many forms of religious practice and expression, in particular on things like Christian teachers, pastors, bakers, florists, photographers, educators, and so on. Often the assault on these religious freedoms are coming from radical sexual activists who not only are pushing their agenda on the rest of society, but want all who differ to be silenced.
The recent homosexual marriage debate in Australia is a case in point. Often the attempts of believers to express their thoughts on this matter in the public arena were shut down, or at least attempts were made to keep their voices from being heard.
Venues were often denied such persons, public meetings were often mobbed by activists who wanted them gone, and various forums for public expression were closed to many. Much worse was when various outspoken Christians were actually taken to court by the militants.
Consider just one case – of many: back in 2015 a transgender Greens political candidate dragged Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteus before the Anti-Discrimination Commission because the Catholic Church dared to publish and distribute a booklet saying marriage is between a man and a woman.
When the heavy hand of the law is dragged in by the activists to silence those of a religious persuasion who happen to have a different view on things, you know we are in a real bad way. Bullying, intimidation and ugly anti-Christian bigotry is sadly now becoming the norm.
Of course to offer such concerns is not to say that all religions and religious beliefs are the same or share some sort of moral equivalence. Some religions, or at least aspects of them, can be incompatible with freedom, pluralism and democracy. For example, religious practices such as honour-killings or polygamy obviously run counter to the values of Western democracies and thus must be countered.
But generally speaking the free society extends as much latitude as possible to various religious traditions and customs. Yes, the balancing act can be difficult to achieve, but it is vital that we try. And none of this has to do with some vague separation of church and state.
This is about the right of religious individuals to freely share their values and points of view in public. Indeed, it can be argued that everyone is religious in a sense, with some overarching set of values and commitments. The US Supreme Court even once ruled that secular humanism is a type of religion.
And with the great majority of Australians still claiming to be religious, a genuine democracy will give them as much freedom to speak and worship as it will to those with no clear religious beliefs. The attempt to shut down religious discussion and crack down on religious practices and values is very worrying indeed.
The Canberra Declaration will fight for the right of religious freedom. As mentioned, there can be some limitations here, but the general principle of freedom of religious speech, conscience and worship must be upheld and fought for. The old saying certainly applies here: ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’
When forces are at work to curtail religious freedom, then we must resolve to stand strongly for the right of religious people to coexist in society, even in an increasingly secular society. As with free speech in general, freedom of religion means that some people might be offended by what another person says or does.
But that is how a democracy seeks to function. Banning everything that offends – in this case, religious beliefs and concerns – is not how we save a democracy but how we destroy it. As George Orwell once put it, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
If certain people are offended when a Christian or a Jew for example publicly defends their faith tradition on things like marriage and family, they have to learn to live with it. Seeking to shut down and censoring such speech and beliefs puts us on the road to the end of democracy and freedom.
There is desperate need to rise up strong faith communities who are committed to freedom. The Canberra Declaration is an active, caring, growing community of people who have a vision to see Australia’s Judeo-Christian Values revitalised for the greater good of all.
We need your help to campaign for religious freedom and reinvigorate the Judeo-Christian ethic in our nation. Every voice counts in this campaign.