“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” (George Washington)
Life can be a rollercoaster! Most of us know the ups and downs of life and have certainly witnessed the ups and downs of political thought. However, there is one basic freedom that should never be on the rollercoaster of life and that freedom is freedom of religion and speech. It is fundamental to democracy and a foundational tenant of the Christian faith, especially the protestant faith.
What is happening in Australian society at the moment is almost unforgiveable. Various forces are moving for the restriction of religious freedom and freedom of speech and we must strongly stand against them. A basic human right is the freedom of religion and speech, a truth our Nation has fought hard in seeking to preserve.
I often hear that we are making too much out of freedom of speech and religion today. I am told these freedoms are found in all sorts of places, whether it be the opportunity to conduct community carol services, or stand on a street corner and proclaim the gospel. Certainly we should not deny that Australia is still at the forefront of religious freedom and speech and we treasure the privileges we now have.
However, it is naïve to allow these current privileges to mask the forces seeking to take away deeper privileges. I sat with a Christian school Principal the other day just before he had an interview with a major media outlet. He indicated that the first time in the Federal election he had voted Liberal because of his concerns about Labor/Greens policy that may well lead to restrictions on staff he employs and how it may impact the way his school ministers its Christian values.
This kind of concern goes much deeper than whether I can sing carols in a public space.
As a Principal of a Bible and Theological College, I advise that I am not alone in concerns about freedom of religion and speech. I believe that the return of the Morrison government saved us from a “bullet” in this regard. There is still a lot of work to be done with the Morrison government to ensure equity and freedom but at least there is potential for strong protections. We must be allowed to employ staff according to our values, and that’s all staff, not just those who lecture.
Those who attend a Bible college or a drop into a Christian ministry, will know that the person at reception is just as important as a lecturer or senior manager. They represent our values and are the face of the College. Also we must be able to accept students according to our Christian values.
We all desire that people are treated equally and we should defend everyone’s right to make their own religious and value commitments, provided they are consistent with the law.
However, Christian agencies must be able to work within their value systems otherwise they will stop being Christian agencies.
Before we went to the Federal Election, Senator Penny Wong moved a bill that went close to being passed in the Senate. I believe the bill put at risk our freedom to maintain our ethos through what we teach and to outlive our codes of conduct. Thank God the bill was defeated.
As we move forward, we should affirm the good things about the Australian community and treasure the freedoms we now clearly have but we must not be complacent. The deep freedoms of religion and speech are in danger of being lost. And the average Australian is getting this. They may well have voted for same-sex marriage but they didn’t vote for people to lose their ability to practice and express their beliefs.
The Israel Folauphenomena, including the fundraising, is evidence that Australians can see what is happening and are concerned.
In conclusion, there are a lot of quotes that come to mind when one thinks of freedoms of speech and religion.
At the top of our thoughts would be “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
For our time, I sense the words from the past echo loudly, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations”. (James Madison)
Rev Dr Ross Clifford AM is the Principal of Morling College (NSW Baptist) and author of numerous books many of which focus on Christian Apologetics. He is a Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance, President of the Asian Baptist Association, an acclaimed international preacher and speaker, a columnist in many Christian publications, winner of many national and international awards and for many years the Sunday evening Sydney Radio 2CH host. Ross is married to Bev, father and grand father.