Why Women Should Be Concerned by the Religious Freedom Push

By the age of 9 I was struggling at my local public school, and my parents, a railway clerk and dressmaker decided that I needed to be moved to one of the local private schools, at a huge sacrifice to themselves, for which I am forever grateful.

By grade 5, I started at Westminster School in Adelaide and received the educational and pastoral care I needed to get me through schooling and on to university.

During my high schooling, as Dad has finally become a junior manager towards the end of his working career, there was an opportunity for him to take a significant promotion, moving to Broken Hill.  This was only the middle of the 1970’s, but in the end they could not.  I would have needed to be moved into the boarding house, at significant extra cost, but as mum was married, she would not have been able to work in Broken Hill and reverting to one income make the move not financially sustainable.

Religion and women have always had a challenging place, particularly as more religions are run and managed by men.

As a Christian man, I am grateful that I am a member of the Uniting Church, that has recognised that women to have a leadership role in the Christian tradition, and currently our national President is a Women, and now living in NSW, our General Secretary is a woman.

There is currently a major debate underway in Australia around the need for religious discrimination law or religious freedom laws, which I prefer to call religious privilege laws.

The push for these laws is a continued push back from conservative religious elements from the marriage equality laws, and more recently from the dismissal of Israel Folau from Rugby Australia over his infamous comments about amongst other things that homosexuals will end up in hell.

Many religious organisation want to continue with their existing legal right to be able to exclude LGBTIQ kids from their schools (which are significantly funded by the secular society), and to sack teachers of mathematics, English, or office staff and gardeners who are LGBTIQ even though they may make no comments around their orientation in their workplace environment.  As a gay Christian I do find this very distasteful, as it seems to go against the principle teaching of Jesus, the central person of the Christian faith, who brought the faith down to two key principles, Love God, Love one another, with no * with a list of exclusions at the bottom of the page.

The conservative Christian leaders in my mind are currently focusing on LGBTIQ people, because they are at the margins of society, don’t really affect people in the mainstream, and unfortunately many people in the broader society think that now there is secular marriage equality, all issues of LGBTIQ equality have been solved, which unfortunately is not the case, schools is but one example.

Unfortunately, the LGBTIQ community is exhausted from the marriage equality debate, we don’t have a lot of resources, which plays nicely into the timing of the Government and conservative religious organisations.

So why should women be worried about religious freedom?

In an article by Dr Kevin Donnellyof the Australian Catholic University, in “The Catholic Weekly, the Melbourne Archbishop is quoted with a section, “Based on natural law and the inherently moral and spiritual truth evidenced by religious faith Bradley [a Law Professor at Notre Dame University in the USA – another Catholic institution], as does Sydney’s Archbishop Fisher, argues religious freedom should be treated as a positive right essential to human flourishing.”

I contend that the push for positive rights by the conservative Christian groups, currently focused at the LGBTIQ community, is the back door entry point to then work on reversing women’s rights that have been won, but really only over the last century.

So where could this positive religious freedom go in relation to women, a church could if they wished say that within the tenants of their faith

  • Women could not be Principles of Schools as women can not be superior to men.
  • Women may be denied the opportunity to teach high schools classes as boys have moved to men and women can not teach men.
  • Should it be found out that a women has had an abortion they could be removed from any role.
  • Women could be limited to nursing in hospital as that is the role of a women and not a doctor.
  • Women could not be the head of any religious organisation as women can not be superior to men
  • Women when they are married need to leave their jobs as their role is to nurture their family.

It is only in the mid 1970’s that my father could not take on a promotion because my mother would not be able to work.  That was an unwritten secular rule, but those within faith communities can develop old rules that could once again be used to roll back women’s rights.

The above list might be seen by some as extreme, but they were in existence not that long ago.

The pushback on LGBTIQ people by some communities of faith is the trogon horse some religious leaders are looking for.

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