April 7th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Free trade agreements leave us even more dependent on China

EDITORIAL Why Russia re-elected Vladimir Putin

CANBERRA OBSERVED Empty seat last vestige of minor parties' party

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals take power but plan for none for SA

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM General protection gives a false sense of security

PHILOSOPHY AND CULTURE On celestial politics

GENDER POLITICS Trans ideology awash with big money from big biomed and big pharma

REGIONAL AFFAIRS Taiwan stands up to Beijing's bullyboy tactics

CINEMA Outstanding film follows St Paul to his death in Rome

HUMOUR An Appetite for Diamonds: Porphyry Volpone investigates

MUSIC Power playing: Technique v musicality

CINEMA Peter Rabbit: More Bugs than Beatrix, but lots of fun

BOOK REVIEW We're doomed; but we're not alone

BOOK REVIEW Subcontinent set for Asian century


NATIONAL AFFAIRS The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

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General protection gives a false sense of security

by Robin Speed

News Weekly, April 7, 2018

Dr Augusto Zimmermann in the News Weekly of March 10, 2018, seeks a clear protection from the many and varied real and pressing attacks on religious liberty and freedom of conscience. He wants a general protection, not merely exceptions to anti-discrimination and other laws. Presumably what he wants is a Commonwealth act of Parliament that expressly provides that all have the right to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. In this I think he is mistaken.

In his 1904 book Heretics, G.K. Chesterton observed that the right to religious freedom granted by man had done more to suppress religion than had any persecution.

Many years later, in his 1936 Autobiography, he returned to the theme and wrote that, when granted by man, freedom of religion was “supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice, it means that hardly anyone is allowed to mention it.”

Is Dr Zimmermann correct or is G.K. Chesterton, or are both correct for different times? I would suggest that Chesterton is correct for all times.

To have a “human right” there must exist a human who has a right to something from another human or humans. When the United Nations Human Rights Council speaks of “human rights”, it refers to a right of a human to something from other humans; for example, the right of one human being not to be discriminated against by another human being.

The right must be an obligation on other humans; for without obligation there is no right, merely an expectation or hope.

As God does not have obligation in the sense of matching rights, the reference to rights is a reference to a right that one human being has from another human being.

Where there is a right to something and a matching obligation, there is a consensual agreement or one imposed by law: to speak of human rights as if they were independent is therefore meaningless.

Where a human right is claimed but the matching obligation is disputed, there is no human right at all but an exception for certain humans; not necessarily for all. It is in this area of dispute that reference to “rights” breaks down.

There is nothing in the Bible, and in particular nothing in what Christ said, that confers this right to freedom of religion or any other right. (References in the Bible to “righteousness” are to God’s righteousness, and not to any “rights” granted to man.)

Free will is one of the most sacred truths of Catholic theology; it reflects man’s dignity as a human being. Free will necessarily involves freedom of religion under God. We are free to choose what we will, including belief in God. It is not a “right”. Adam was created by God and free to eat all things; but he was warned that, if he ate of the tree of knowledge, he would be separated from God.

Freedom cannot be prescribed, otherwise it is not freedom. But what can be prescribed are specific restrictions on freedom.

The “right” of a human to religious freedom is not a right dependent upon grant or administration by another human. To call this a “right” inverts the positions, and leads to endless confusion.

Let us not forget that freedom of religion is an essential part of our free will. It does not owe its source or legitimacy to man.

I suggest that, when push comes to shove, a provision in an act of Parliament purporting to confer a general protection of religious liberty and freedom of conscience is worth little. But worse than that, it gives a false sense of security when the fact is that the act can be amended or revoked at any time by the will of man and may have the effects G.K. Chesterton warns against.

In my view, in form and substance, we have to fight for exceptions to specific statutory attacks.

Robin Speed is president of the Rule of Law Institute of Australia.

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