8 July 2016
Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, argues in the Fairfax press: “Every member of our society should be free to live without fear of discrimination. This includes being free to practice their religion, as guaranteed by section 116 of the Constitution.”
Wrong, While the Constitution states: e Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”, those responsible would not accept that all religious beliefs should be tolerated.
The reality is not all religions are peaceful and tolerant and it’s clear that some religious practices and beliefs are un-Australian.
The Hindu caste system discriminates against’ “untouchables”, and the system of dowry — when husbands demand money and gifts from their prospective wives’ families — still leads to violence and death.
Best illustrated by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book Heretic, it’s also true that Islamic fundamentalism is inherently violent. While arguing that the majority of Muslims are “peaceful and law-abiding”, Hirsi Ali cites multiple examples of unacceptable religious practices.
Based on her own experience as a child growing up in Somalia, Hirsi Ali describes the widespread practice of female genital mutilation and arranged marriages.
And her experience is not unique. According to the World Health Organization “more than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia”.
In England, Prime Minister David Cameron admits “20,000 children are still at risk” and one Australian organisation suggests up to “three girls a day are born in Australia who are at high risk”.
Hirsi Ali also writes that in Pakistan those who blaspheme against the Prophet are “punishable by death”, in Saudi Arabia “churches and synagogues are outlawed”, in Iran “stoning is an acceptable punishment” and in Brunei under sharia law, “homo-sexuality is punishable by death”.
It’s clear not all religions support and protect the rights and freedoms we take for granted.
Instead of cultural relativism, so much favoured by the cultural Left, we should acknowledge that some religious practices are beyond the pale and that Western, liberal democracy based on the Westminster system, and Christianity underpins our political and legal systems. The Constitution’s preamble refers to “Almighty God” and parliaments around Australia begin with the Lord’s Prayer.
Concepts such as sanctity of life, commitment to the common good, the separation of church and state and free will owe as much to the New Testament as to the Enlightenment and political philosophers such as John Stuart Mill.
While there is no doubt Western culture and Christianity are far from perfect, as argued by Arthur M. Schlesinger, “the crimes committed by the West have produced great movements to end slavery, to raise the status of women, to abolish torture, to combat racism, and to advance personal liberty and human rights.”
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University.