Michael Kirby, a former High Court justice in Australia, recently expressed in an interview his concern that the nation wasn’t doing enough to protect the separation of church and state, arguing that freedom from religion was in danger under the current government.
… [former High Court justice] Lionel Murphy often said to me, when we talked about the Constitution, that our Constitution in Section 116 gives protection for freedom of religion, but it also gives protection for freedom from religion, and it’s important to understand that one of the greatest gifts of British constitutionalism to Australia was the principle of secularism in the public space. And I don’t think the problem in Australia in recent years has been so much protection of religious freedom as protection for the people who don’t have a religion or who ask that religion doesn’t butt into the ordinary citizenship, and that is the problem.
Among the reasons Kirby gave to justify his fear were the government’s failure to release a report by former Attorney General Philip Ruddock — the Ruddock Report — which addresses religious freedom following Australia’s marriage equality vote.
According to leaks from the document, which was put together by people with no direct connection to the LGBTQ community, it says religious schools should be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ students and staffers, even in areas where there are greater anti-discrimination laws for the community at large. (While religious schools in the U.S. are allowed to discriminate in these cases, the law isn’t so clear-cut in different parts of Australia.)
Kirby praised the United States’ Constitution for explicitly protecting against the “intrusion of religion” in the government via the Establishment Clause. The irony, of course, is that the Religious Right in the U.S. has been exploiting that rule (or trampling right over it) for decades with little consequence. There is a national religion in our country no matter how many conservative Christians falsely claim they’re being persecuted.
His point, though, is that any multicultural nation shouldn’t be pushing the beliefs of a particular faith — or faith at all — on the entire nation. Especially when the fastest growing religious demographic in the country is No Religion.