Religious freedom falls victim to flawed rights approach

Archbishop Julian Porteous (ACBC)

After listening to Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous at a recent conference in Brisbane, anyone with a serious interest in human rights would have been profoundly depressed, writes Chris Merritt. Source: The Australian.

Archbishop Porteous spoke to the Samuel Griffith Society on religious freedom, a concept that has fallen victim to this country’s deeply flawed approach to fundamental rights.

Instead of protecting all rights, parts of the human rights industry seem to believe they have a responsibility to attack some fundamental rights in order to protect a handful of others that have the backing of statute. They have forgotten that none of our rights is absolute.

Human rights have been around a lot longer than any Australian parliament. Yet many in the rights industry conduct themselves as if the only ones that matter are those set down in statute – as if politicians gave us our rights. This shows a wilful ignorance of 800 years of common law rights and freedoms.

In 1776, long before the US Bill of Rights had been drafted, Thomas Jefferson recognised in the US Declaration of Independence that rights already existed.

What happened to Archbishop Porteous shows that the rights industry in this country could benefit from a good dose of Jeffersonian jurisprudence.

In 2015 the Archbishop explained the well-known Catholic doctrine on marriage in a widely distributed booklet. That prompted Martine Delaney, a transgender activist and Greens candidate, to complain that she felt offended.

“In the face of a strong and at times emotive presentation of the alternative view, I felt it was incumbent on me as a bishop to explain the Church’s teaching,” Archbishop Porteous told the conference. “I felt I had every right to express the teachings of the Church.”

Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission disagreed and found that Archbishop Porteous and his fellow bishops had a case to answer.

Delaney withdrew her complaint but the damage was done.

“It remains an unresolved issue because we do not know what the law may determine in my particular instance. So what it has done in Tasmania is it does have this chilling, silencing effect on people who hold a traditional view about the nature of marriage,” Archbishop Porteous said.

This incident is an extreme example of a structural problem that might well be addressed when the federal government outlines the results of Philip Ruddock’s inquiry into the protection of religious freedom.

Chris Merritt is The Australian’s legal affairs editor


Silencing alternative opinions is an offensive affront to human rights (The Australian

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