Equal Opportunity legislation supposedly seeks to enhance the rights and freedoms of people, regardless of background or belief. When the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was introduced in Victoria in 2001/2, though, it actually limited freedom of speech, protecting the rights of some at the expense of others, particularly Christians who affirm the biblical claim that there is no way to Heaven but through Christ. Freedom of speech as long as it is the right speech! More recently, the Safe Schools program has been sugar-coated as bullying prevention, with advocates attacking those who warn of its shameful deception. To further damage reasonable debate, the ideal of separation of church and state is often cited while new laws pass almost without a whimper. It is more important than ever to dispel the myths that often surround them.
Myth #1: Freedom of religion means freedom from religion.
For a society or its politicians to decide the nature of freedom and to presume that certain individuals’ rights can deny the rights of those with contrary beliefs is ludicrous and illogical. For example, Christian organisations’ current exemptions from the Equal Opportunity Act very reasonably permit employment of people who share conservative values, but these exemptions are under threat.
A current push to remove such provisions would advocate the prospects of potential employees with no faith whilst infringing the rights of faith-based organisations and their adherents to determine a preferred culture and practice. This practice infringes no law other than deciding who should represent churches or Christian schools and influence their operations. It is a bizarre and egregious over-correction.
Members’ and clients’ interests are at grave risk of being trampled in a case of political correctness gone mad. This is one which, by extension, would so oppress such organisations as to potentially render what was distinct as extinct.
Myth #2: Discrimination is abnormal.
Are people’s rights to be protected if they want to play squash with a tennis racquet? Surely a squash club, and the World Squash Federation if necessary, would ‘squash’ any such ridiculous notion. Litigation on such a matter would be frivolous (and expensive) because the very nature of a sport would be under threat. However, when our moral tide turns to bring repeated attacks on the objective values of faith, the situation is not so black-and-white. This is despite the fact that governments are actually unqualified to adjudicate. Truth becomes arbitrary and relativism normalised when it suits society’s purposes.
It seems, then, that discrimination is only tolerated in objectively-defined aspects of employment such as job skills, and also in other areas of life in which there is widespread agreement over standards most people want to consider acceptable. The difference in the stifling power of equal opportunity legislation is where it is applied more subjectively without warrant, such as in proposing that an atheist should be able to teach Mathematics in a Christian school or that an agnostic finance administrator should be permitted to manage church accounts.
Who determines that faith should not matter here? By what authority does objective truth cease to be revealed and start to become relative? And do not the dozens of exemptions and exceptions to the current Equal Opportunity Act actually show that discrimination is just a normal part of life, anyway?
Myth #3: The actions of individual Christians invalidate Christianity.
Is all marriage a bad idea because people get divorced? Are we to be suspicious of all supermarkets because one store manager mistreats his employees? Legislation changes that restrict the Christian faith seem to reflect a soured perception of Christianity, often because of the sins of a few paedophilic priests, or perhaps due to the rantings of militant atheists.
Christianity has been the bedrock of greatness for many Western nations. Declining adherence to churches, for whatever reason, flies in the face of many who are still turning to faith. Christianity’s miracles, its power to change lives, and its unassailable truth have still not been invalidated by science, archaeology or history, despite beliefs and arguments to the contrary. Ironically, while democracy that wants to govern for all people offers certain protections against authoritarianism, it is dictatorial politicking that actually hides militant agendas under a cloak of prejudice.
Myth #4: Separation of Church and State means faith should stay out of politics.
The modern idea of separation of church and state derived from John Locke, a seventeenth-century English philosopher who believed that individual conscience should be protected from government regulation. This influenced the development of the U.S. constitution. Thomas Jefferson later clarified that separation of church and state only existed to protect the freedom of expression of faith, believing that the state should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
Today, we have the reverse, where governments are legislating against such freedoms and simultaneously rejecting the right of the Christian voice to act as a social conscience grounded in the higher authority of Scripture.
I am a strong advocate of Christians campaigning for change through graciously-articulated assertions that avoid militancy and judgmentalism. Christians should be known more by what (and who) they are for, rather than against. However, it is easy either for busyness or a fear of intimidation to silence the sleeping giant of faith that is sadly less-well defined or defended than ever before. Being armed with front-foot confidence to champion biblical values against increasing social bias, we can recall the famous words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”