The National Secular Lobby is a newly formed group to address the issues involved in Australia's supposedly secular society and the role of religion influencing gov decisions.
What immediately comes to mind in that is the Australian Christian Lobby which appears is linked at the hip to the present gov. Who could forget the conga line of gov far right christians introducing defeated amendment after defeated amendment to the marriage equality bill that passed parliament last month? All of them designed to introduce discrimination in to Australian law at a federal level to override state anti-discrimination laws. The unelected and unrepresentative Australian Christian Lobby was of course pushing hard for this, even going to the unheard of measure to write it's own discriminatory marriage inequality bill in an effort to replace the consensus bill that was before parliament. A religious overreach if ever there was one.
The religious freedom review will report back to parliament early this year. However it comes at a very inopportune time for religion almost immediately after the findings of the royal commission into child sex abuse, which saw the commission proclaim that 7% of Catholic priests were paedophiles. One would think that the public would be against churches being a law to themselves and wanting even more freedom to do so.
Now the National Secular Lobby has suggested that churches in Australia should be taxed like everyone else, and are in fact presently avoiding $20 billion a year in tax. Why not? Not taxing churches goes back to the 17th century when the church of England was born, the crown saying it wouldn't be taxed. It's an anachronistic law not belonging in modern Australia clear on the other side of the world from England three centuries later.
And also that the religion shouldn't be allowed to put it's discrimination into Australian secular law, which is what it will be trying to do in the religious freedoms review. It's time to increase the separation of church and state as religion is increasingly at odds with the large majority of public opinion. Religion needs to have less power in the public sphere, not more. The majority of Australians don't agree with them and don't want their rules invading our lives. It not justified, particularly that it's the secular society they live in that gives them the religious freedom that they already have.
Rather than sinking Australia deeper into a ‘soft theocracy’, federal parliament would do better to work seriously towards the separation of Church and State, and begin winding back excessive entitlements of mainstream churches. It would include reassessing the huge sums they avoid in tax, and go a long way to alleviating the financial pressure on the great majority of hard-working Australians.
Since federation, churches of every faith pay no tax, which includes most state and federal taxes — the levies, charges and taxation imposts paid by citizens and businesses. Many of these benefits flow from 17th century English law, giving tax exemptions to the (then) newly formed Church of England. Such largess was based wholly on their charter to “advance religion.” Little has changed.
Religion avoids assessable taxes (excluding genuine charitable works) to the tune of some $20 billion each year — sufficient revenue to fix the budget deficit. All governments ignore this elephant in the room for fear of alienating the churches, but it’s a tempting idea — for hard-working men and women — to have religion finally paying their way, rather than giving them more freedom to discriminate.
Australia is one of the last western countries to have finally removed historical discrimination against the LGBTI community, when we tentatively legalised gay marriage in December last year. So why on Earth would the federal government impose new discriminations — contrived by religious lobbyists — to allow Christians in the marriage industry to refuse retail and other services to same-sex couples?
The safe bet is that Philip Ruddock’s ‘Religious Freedom Review’ will recommend further concessions to benefit a religious community already highly privileged with exemptions from anti-discrimination and taxation laws. But the Ruddock proposals will still need to play out on the floor of parliament, and defeat for the Prime Minister will be costly. That may well happen.
Such an outcome will reinforce the triumph of marriage equality, and throw into stark relief the failure to grant religion further discriminatory rights. It may even flag an end to the ‘age of entitlement’ for churches and embolden enough MPs to think seriously about breaking with 17th century tradition to begin taxing religious profits. Most certainly, that would come as welcome relief to working Australians who continue to subsidise private church enterprises through their hard-earned taxes. The AIM