Letters for Members of the Victorian Parliament: RE ‘inherent requirement’ test

If you are interested in writing to your local State MP to express concerns about the amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act, here are some salient points that you might include when drafting a letter of your own

 

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Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to express concerns over the proposed ‘inherent requirement’ test, that is being re-introduced by the Andrews Government.

Diversity, freedom of association, and freedom of religion, are key characteristics of our liberal democracy that are esteemed by Australians. Throughout our history Governments have valued the contributions of religious organisations, indeed society would be the lesser without them, and yet Governments have also understood a demarcation between the State and religious institutions.

The proposed Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 will cross that line, with the Victorian Government taking a role in supervising whom religious organisations may employ.

First of all, why is this legislation targeting religious groups?

The amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act will not impact any social or political groups, only religious ones.

As it stands, political parties, sporting clubs, and other interest groups have freedom to appoint persons who subscribe to the views and goals of those organisations. This is only common sense. For example, it would be unfair to force the Greens to employ a climate-change skeptic, or to expect the local Football Club to appoint a groundsman who was intent on converting the oval into a swimming pool.

It is therefore reasonable to ask, what is the motivation behind the Government focusing on religious organisations, and not others?

Indeed, this amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act is but the latest of a growing list of anti-religious measures that have been introduced by the Government over the last 2 years. I appreciate that some policy changes are being presented as fighting equality for LBGTI people, and some of this is laudable. However other policies are completely unrelated to sexuality issues, and are simply attacks on religious freedoms: removing SRI lessons from schools is one such example. And the legislation itself says its scope is not limited to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but extends to ‘differing religious beliefs’. In other words, it is no longer permissible for a church or school to reject an applicant on the basis of them adhering to a different religion. Such an idea would be laughable, except it may soon become law.

Secondly, the inherent requirement test assumes that the Government has the right to intrude on religious organisations, and influence whom they employ.

This test is a clear abrogation of one of Australia’s most basic ideals, that the State will not interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations.

Mr Andrews has stated, “Religious bodies or schools will be required to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This move counters the very notion of a pluralist society, and is setting up the situation whereby  a Government impose impose its narrow secularist agenda onto groups who do not share their ethical and religious viewpoint.

Thirdly, the test assumes that the Government, and any tribunal set up by the Government, has the expertise and knowledge to interpret the theological framework underpinning these organisations.

Again, Mr Andrews has said,

“The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.”

But who is to say when and where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job?

The legislation assumes that some jobs in a church,  or mosque, or religious school can be considered ‘religious’ and others not. This may be the case in some instances, but is the Government really in a position to decide what is inherent and what is not?

It is important to understand that this assumption is not ethically or  theologically neutral; it requires a body, set up by the Government, to interpret and impose their understanding of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity onto these various organisations. For example, in Christian thinking, the roles of gardener, administrator, and teacher are not separated into religious and non-religious work, for all are expressions of service to God. 

As it happens, many of these organisations do employ persons who don’t subscribe to the particular religious principles of the institution; that is their freedom to do so. Surely though, school boards, charities, and churches are in the best position to understand the values and needs of their organisation?

In the end, it comes down to these questions:

Is it the role of Government to interfere with the beliefs and practices of religious organisations?

Is it wise or fair to force religious organisations to employ persons who do not share their values and beliefs?

I believe this legislation is unnecessary, and will set a dangerous precedent for our future as Victorians.

I am asking that you consider voting against this legislation. I am very happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you for taking the time to hear my concerns

Yours Kindly,

Murray Campbell

Mother Teresa, Sainthood, and the Saints

Mother Teresa was today declared a saint by Pope Francis. Her many decades of work among India’s poorest in Calcutta, left an indelible mark on the 20th Century. In front of  10,000s of people at a special Vatican ceremony, Pope Francis has canonised Mother Teresa, and there are special masses being conducted in India also.

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Pope Francis proclaimed,  “After due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint and we enrol her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

One nun, working in the same mission where Mother Teresa once served, said, “We are blessed with this canonization because we know mother is in heaven and she will pray for us and she will bless us”

Sainthood is a prestigious club in the Roman Church, although no one knows exactly how many members there are, with some estimating there being as many as 10,000 Saints. This number may seem rather large, but when one takes into account that there are over 1 billion Catholics in the world today, we begin to sense exceptional character of sainthood club.

Sainthood is rare in the Roman Church, partly because the process is arduous and only a few hold the right kind of resume to even proceed.

Canonisation (the final process of becoming a saint) begins with death. Sainthood is only given to men or women posthumously, and generally with at least 5 years separating their death from the commencement of the process.

The process begins usually with the Diocesan Bishop opening an investigation into the life of the departed person, whereby they try to ascertain if they have lived a life that is adequately holy and deserving of sainthood. In other words, if we think you’ve been good enough, as testified to by various witnesses and documents. If this all goes well, a higher authority, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, examines the holiness, deeds, and miracles of the deceased. Following this is beatification, where evidence of a miracle must be verified, of someone who has experience miraculous healing by praying to the deceased person. If all goes well, the Pope will finally canonise or declare the dead person to be a saint.

For Catholics, Saints play an active role in peoples’ lives, this side of heaven. Millions of Catholics venerate (honour and even worship) saint, praying to saints, and allegedly experience healing, guidance, and help from these saints.

In contrast, when we read the Bible we don’t find different classes of Christian, depending on levels of holiness or miraculous deeds. Rather, every Christian is known as a saint. The word itself comes from the Greek verb, meaning, to set apart or to be holy. It is a designation that is true for every Christian, indeed the Christian life is contingent upon this work of the Holy Spirit.

“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (Romans 1:7)

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Note that the Saints are not leading churches, but a normal congregation members.

Does it really matter? Yes, it matters because it is fudging the teaching of the Bible, and it matters because it creates  false classes of Christians, and it matters because it empties the Gospel of its power by leading many people to believe in merited salvation. In the Scriptures from which Christianity forms its beliefs,  we find that saints are not spectacular Christians who should be awarded special honours; saints are the only Christians to be found in heaven or on earth.

There is no gold or platinum level club in heaven, and there ought to be no elitism in our churches. The Christian message is about God’s undeserved grace and kindness to us, and everyone has equal standing before God in Christ.

We can thank God for the multitude of ways various Christian brethren have served Christ, the Church, and the world. We would be foolish and ungrateful if we didn’t remember and give thanks for lives devoted to the service of the poor, lives spent in the service of the gospel, lives laid down in martyrdom for the name of Jesus. We may (and we must) celebrate good deeds done in love, and remember the stories of lives worthy of imitation. But “sainthood” is not the category for these stories, apart from how the Bible defines sainthood – those who know God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And should anyone be wondering, should I or can I pray to someone who is not God? Is it ok to pray to a saint? If I may respond by asking another question,  why would we want to pray to a saint? Even if we leave aside the fact that the Roman category of sainthood is erroneous, the extraordinary good news of Christianity is that Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father. If this is true, that we have freedom to enter the presence of God through trusting Jesus; we have no need of knocking on empty doors.

As the Bible tell us,

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Petition to Uphold Freedom of Association and Freedom of Belief in Victoria

I’m not usually one for signing petitions, but if you are concerned for religious freedoms in Victoria, please consider signing this petition

 

“The petition of citizens of the State of Victoria and Australia draws to the attention of the Victorian Parliament our objection to the moves by the Victorian Government under the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 to remove or restrict the freedom of faith-based schools and other organisations to employ staff who uphold the values of the organisation and to force faith-based organisations to hire staff who are fundamentally opposed to what the organisation stands for, thereby:-

(i) denying those organisations the freedom to operate in accordance with their beliefs and principles;

(ii) denying parents the ability to choose to send their children to schools that are able to give them the values based education their parents are looking for; and

(iii) undermining Victoria’s diverse, pluralist, multicultural society, which supports the right of people of many different faiths to establish institutions in accordance with their faith.”

Click on the link to sign the petition:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-to-uphold-freedom-of-association-and-freedom-of-belief-in-victoria.html

Happy Birthday!

On the way to 100 million reads! (hyperbole intended)

It’s one year since I began this blog. Blogging is a work in progress; not unlike learning to the play piano. You have to practice regularly, and as you do one discovers that there is yet more improvement to be had. 

From the vault, here are the 10 most read articles that I’ve written thus far (I’m not including pieces published in the media and other sites). A couple from the previous blog have snuck in as they continue to be read.

This list shouldn’t be  confused as being synonymous with the most significant articles from the blog, but those which have attracted the highest readership.

Also interesting is how social issues dominate the list, rather than posts which focused on theological and church matters. I suspect this is due to the fact that ethical questions have broader interest than issues facing a Christian denomination, amongst others things.

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1. 2 Straight men marry 

2. What did John Dickson say?

3. New anti-religious legislation to impact Victoria

4. Please don’t call Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian 

5. What does Bible say about Asylum Seekers? 

6. The End of Tribalism (Gospel Coalition of Australia)

7.The trouble of disagreeing with homosexuality 

9. Observations & Questions about Safe Schools 

10. Lessons in how to disagree with popular opinion 

Incoherent ‘inherent requirement’ test

Two months ago I sat in a packed room where Mr Tim Wilson MP and Rev Dr Michael Bird addressed the topic, ‘Freedom of Speech in Australia today’. During the conversation Mike Bird said that the next issue facing Victorians will be in relation to religious schools and discrimination policies. This week my non-prophetic friend was proven to be right: the Victorian Government announced that it will reintroduce the ‘inherent requirement’ test, impacting whom religious organisations may and may not employ.

The test was originally introduced by the previous Labor Government in 2010, but was removed in 2011 by the Coalition Government.

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This explanation is offered on the Premier’s website:

“The test was scrapped by the former Coalition Government in 2011, which left many Victorians vulnerable to discrimination when seeking employment with religious bodies or schools, particularly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The inherent requirements test will limit the ability of a religious body or school to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the area of employment because of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or differing religious beliefs.

The defence will be limited to circumstances where religious beliefs are an inherent requirement of a job, and an employee or job applicant does not meet the requirement because of a specific personal attribute.

The test will not force religious bodies or schools to employ people with attributes that conflict with its religious beliefs and principles. However, it will require them to demonstrate a necessary connection between their religious beliefs and the requirements of a specific role.”

This latest move from the Victorian Government is disturbing, although not surprising. I appreciate and at times laud the Government’s move to ensure particular social minority groups are protected, including LGBTI people. But one may be forgiven for concluding that some of the extreme measures have less to do with the principle of inclusion, and more about exclusion.

For example, removing SRI from schools had nothing to do with advocating sexual equality. Indeed, the list of anti-religious of measures is growing, and one can only wonder where and if Mr Andrews’ will draw the line. Over the last two years many Victorian families have come to feel as though they are being pushed away from public schools, and now it appears as though the same Government is set on invading the religious school space also, and that of any religious organisation. It is yet unclear whether Churches will be protected from this test or not.

The inherent requirement test is a deeply flawed concept:

First, the notion of ‘inherent requirement’ depends upon imposing a secularist view of religion. The test presumes a separation between what is considered spiritual work and what is not. It is surmising, for example, that a gardener or an office administrator is not doing specifically Christian work because they are not teaching the Bible, etc. This is a false dichotomy that does not exist in Christian faith, nor in many other religions. Every role is an expression of commitment to God and is a valuable part of the whole which serves a common purpose.

Second, this test wrongly assumes that because a particular role does not have a direct theological or spiritual teaching component, it therefore does not matter whether the employee agrees with the organisation’s ethos, beliefs, and vision. This is purely illogical. Why would any organisation or company employ a person who does not support the basic values and vision of that association?

Equal Opportunity doesn’t mean sameness. I’m not doubting the Victorian Government’s commitment to ‘equal opportunity’, but their paradigm of equal opportunity is flawed, and represents an ethic that is not ultimately about diversity, but about conformity.

During that cold July night when Michael Bird pre-empted Mr Andrews’ announcement this week, Tim Wilson offered an idea which deserves consideration as the Victorian Parliament wrestles with this legislation. Mr Wilson believes that the question of whom religious organisations employ is better dealt with through contracts rather than through law. He said,

“In terms of hiring and firing people, I don’t think it’s best dealt with through law. I fully accept that religious institutions have a right to preserve the environment and the value systems of people who embody those value systems.”

“It is the right of children and parents, to raise their children in the culture, traditions and customs to which they hold dear.”

Finally, the question needs to be asked, is it reasonable for a Government to determine what constitutes required religious adherence or not? Is it the Government’s role to dictate theology and ministry practice? Does the Government have the necessary skills and knowledge required to adequately understand theology and therefore make the right judgement regarding the question of what is inherent?