In the wake of public consultations around Australia’s shockingly ill-considered religious discrimination bill, groups of concerned Australian secularists have joined forces to keep the bill from becoming the law of the land.
The coalition includes national organizations like the Rationalist Society of Australia, the Atheist Foundation of Australia, the Council of Australian Humanist Societies, the National Secular Lobby, and the Australian Skeptics, as well as atheist and humanist groups representing major cities and states.
Close to the heart of their campaign sits the Hon. Michael Kirby, a former Justice of the High Court and patron of the Rationalist Society of Australia. Although a practicing Anglican himself, Kirby calls secularism “one of the greatest gifts that the British gave us in Australia” and has spoken vociferously about the harms the bill could cause if passed.
In an op-ed for the Sydney Morning Herald, he invoked the harsh divisions within American politics as a cautionary example.
Instead of acting as a shield to protect people’s religious beliefs, this bill would be a sword to harm those with different beliefs. It will encourage the bigots and those who hide behind religious claims to pursue an agenda of hate.
This bill has been conceived for internal political ends — a dangerous foundation for law on such a subject. If the law passes, I predict it will result in a rise of religious intolerance. But also an increase in anti-religious hostility to replace the more relaxed, live-and-let-live tradition of modern Australia.
We are witnessing the rise of the religious right in the US. We can do without it in Australia.
Such concerns about the irrevocable loss of Australia’s “live-and-let-live tradition” led the campaign to adopt a succinct and simple slogan: #DontDivideUs.
One could argue that the fact that conservative groups in Australia are pushing and praising this sweeping legislation — as a response to 2017’s marriage equality legislation, no less — shows that Australia is already divided.
But to enshrine the right to discriminate, even at the expense of another’s human rights, would deepen already-existing divisions started by people who think the rules of their faith should apply to everybody else.
As Rationalist Society president Dr. Meredith Doig points out, the last census revealed that Australians without religion are the country’s largest “faith” group, with 30% of Australians identifying themselves as non-believers. And as Justice Kirby demonstrates, it’s not just atheists and secular humanists who think the bill is a bad idea.
The #DontDivideUs campaign stands a decent chance of mobilizing enough popular support to make their voices heard.
The question remains whether those in the halls of power are willing to listen.