A core value, deep in the Australian psyche, is that of giving everyone a “fair go”! Born out of the struggles of our convict past, a “fair go” protests against injustice, is suspicious of authority, and flaunts a larrikinism mocking conventional forms. It is the advocacy of a level playing field for everyone, along with the opportunity to pursue fair endeavours. Although not everyone receives a “fair go”, Australia has developed a multi-cultural and multi-faith society and identity, that values difference and diversity as foundational to what it is to be Australian.
Religion In A Secular Society
We are a most secular country, Tasmania particularly so. The 2016 Census revealed Tasmanians are the least religious people in the country with only 53% claiming religious affiliation. For the first time in Census history those associating themselves with Christianity are a minority (49.7%). Further research (NCLS) reveals less than 15 per cent of these are connected to a church, with fewer attending with any regularity.
Australia has always been self-consciously secular. Our Constitution, drafted in a day when almost all claimed to be Christian, expressly states that the Commonwealth cannot make laws to “establish any religion”, “impose any religious observance” or “prohibit the free exercise of any religion.”
When the Constitution was drafted no one anticipated the secular society we live in today, and no one foresaw the relentless drive by some to reshape Australia without religion at all. Today we witness a growing intolerance, and decided lack of “fair go”, when it comes to people’s religious beliefs. The critics of religion are increasingly deliberate and incessant in their determination to eradicate all religious freedom – particularly for Christians.
This is why the Salamanca Declaration and its statement on Liberty is important. It states,
Every person has the right to worship God individually and in a faith community. The worshipper has this liberty as a God-given freedom. It entails freedom of conscience, and freedom to speak, gather, worship and generally act in accordance with the beliefs of their faith community. Those with religious convictions share the common democratic liberties which guarantee the freedom to publish, express, or proclaim their views in order to help shape our democracy.
The Danger We Face
The constant attempts to silence Christians and relegate them to the sidelines is far from the value of a “fair go”. We are in danger of losing the freedom to disagree, and the freedom to hold and express religious beliefs contrary to the prevailing mantra of the progresssives.
Constant pressure is felt in areas such as community services, families, healthcare and education, with calls to eliminate religious exemptions.
“How can we ever hope to live in a truly democratic society when secularists maintain their demand that people with a religious perspective not be able to claim a right to engage in the public square agitating about laws on issues such as voluntary euthanasia, same-sex unions, abortion and discrimination in employment?”
The tactic most favoured is name calling, and the favourite term is “bigot”. Although, to be a bigot is to have an irrational hatred for a person simply because they belong to a certain category. Today, one is automatically branded a bigot if you disagree with the prevailing narrative of one of the progressives. Interestingly, when they disagree with me, they assume they are principled.
This is the paradox we experience – ideas and concepts with a biblical or traditional Christian foundation are being pushed out of the public square, while at the same time there is an ongoing intrusion into the lives of people of faith, and presuming to define their beliefs for them.
Despite the rhetoric, many who call for tolerance and a “fair go” are those who aim to silence, threaten, humiliate and penalise all who do not share their values. The Salamanca Declaration calls on Australians to hold true to our values, advocating for a cultural pluralism where all religions are free and all people respected.
It is in this context that we are right to argue for liberty, and continue to advocate for the Aussie value of giving everyone a “fair go”.
Rev. Stephen Baxter
Superintendent of The Tasmanian Baptist Union