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Secularism and Tribalism

Posted by Secular on October 12, 2020

Due to the pandemic, we now hear the phrase “respect the science” a lot more often. When people’s lives depend on it, they take more notice of science. With some notable exceptions, most world leaders have done their best to embrace the science regarding the pandemic.

This may be an opportunity. If we recognise science is good for us, why can’t we also embrace the science in relation to religion and climate change? Our society’s institutionalised support and promotion of religion is our most long-standing and prevalent denial of science. The denial of climate science, invariably by people on the right of politics, has sabotaged an effective policy to deal with it.

Why is science denial so prevalent? One way to look at it is tribalism. Pinker, in his book “Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress”, identifies tribalism as the main counter-Enlightenment force. He also identifies religion, authoritarianism and right-wing and left-wing ideologies as counter-Enlightenment, but these can also be understood as manifestations of tribalism.

Humans are tribal animals. It is in our genes. Successful tribes survived, others did not. Tribalism, in the form of national identity, is a celebrated part of our cultural history. Much of popular entertainment is a fictionalised and glorified depiction of tribalism. Yes, sporting team allegiance is also tribal, but it is healthy and not harmful.

In our modern globalised world, tribalism no longer assists our survival but threatens it. This is highlighted by the pandemic, where our safety lies not in tribalism (or individualism), but in working together for the sake of humanity.

Religions are the longest standing form of tribalism. Yahweh was originally a tribal god. People generally do not make a conscious decision to believe in a religion. They assume an adherence as part of their identity, and only then seek ex-post rationalisation for their belief. Most people never even think about whether their religion is true. Tribal identity trumps reason and evidence.

Another area where tribalism trumps reason is political allegiance. Pinker shows examples where if questions are de-politicised, people are able to make a reasoned decision. But if the same question is put into a known left-wing or right-wing framework, they abandon reason and follow their political allegiance. This kind of political polarisation has become dangerously extreme in the US, where alternative realities, conspiracy theories, and truly fake news are deliberately created for political purposes.

What can we do? We need to keep insisting on the benefits of science, reason and evidence. But secularists, as globalists, don’t have a tribe. It’s like herding cats, as they say.

I would like to suggest the following. Secular Party members should feel  empowered to speak up, and speak out. Call yourself a Secularist, or Secular Party member. Write letters. Contact media. Make complaints to authorities if the secular viewpoint is being overlooked or neglected. The idea is to try to create a sense of group purpose and group identity here, a sense of belonging. In joining this Party we all have something in common. Let’s try to mobilise a sense of “tribalism” here, and use it for good. Let’s have mutual trust in each other.

Here are some guidelines:

  •  The main policy of the Secular Party is to de-fund religious schools and protect children from indoctrination. That is the biggest deviation from secularism in Australia. All policies are on the web site.
  •  People have a right to their beliefs but not to impose them on others.
  • We may criticise Islam, but lay off Muslims. Attack the beliefs, not the believers.
  • Avoid right-wing vs left-wing controversies – we have supporters on both sides.
  • But we must uphold the science on climate change. It is a dire problem and must be addressed.
  • Avoid the intractable question of whether gods exist. Gods do not intervene in the real world. Religious dogma are false, scientifically and historically.
  • Morality is best determined by the universal principles of honesty, freedom, justice and compassion. No religion is required.
  • If in doubt, email us or call Ian on 0408 177007 or John on 0411 147344.

The pandemic has created the need and the opportunity to prioritise. Faith is a distortion of reality. We need reason, not faith. Secularism supersedes superstition. It should be a priority.

We have a positive message to sell. Reason and science have benefited humanity enormously and can continue to do so. Tribalism is an outdated relic. As Pinker says in concluding, the story of human progress is truly heroic, and it belongs to all of humanity. Please think about how you could help in this mission.


Yours secularly,

John Perkins

0411 143744

Secular Party of Australia
www.secular.org.au
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 3004

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Secularism and the Pandemic

Posted by Secular on September 8, 2020

At present we seem beset by so many problems, some old, some new. The dangers of nuclear weapons have been around for a long time, posing a global threat. The scourge of terrorism has affected us all, changing the way we get through airports (or used to). Anti-terror protective concrete blocks now bedeck many sites in our cities.

Climate change, as well as causing extreme weather events, threatens to put our cities under water due to rising sea levels. Climate change deniers on the right of politics have effectively sabotaged efforts to take appropriate action. On the left, the cancel culture, identity politics and social justice warriors create a major nuisance.

As well as the perennial problems of racism and inequality, our developed world economies have reached a state of stagnation where there has been no real wage growth for the last decade. Our standard of living has stopped rising.

What next? The pandemic. Our normal lives are gone, jobs are lost and we are now in the Second Great Depression. It is hard to be optimistic in the face of all this.

Yet, if you read Steven Pinker’s book, Enlightenment Now: the Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, it is impossible not to be optimistic. Given the will and the right approach, take heart, all these problems can be solved. And the key is the Enlightenment values that have improved the human condition so immensely over the last 200 years: reason, science and humanism. Not coincidentally, these ideals align exactly with secularism and the aims of the Secular Party. So let’s now consider the most topical issue.

The pandemic

The first case of infection with the virus now known as SARS-CoV-2 occurred in Wuhan in November. After almost two months of denial, misinformation and suppression, the authorities locked down Wuhan on January 23. By this time the virus had spread throughout China and overseas. While the Chinese authorities were still denying that it was contagious, despite the evidence, the US Embassy in Beijing had already issued a warning on January 7 about a new contagious disease in Wuhan.

The Wuhan Huanan Market has been suggested as the possible source, but there were apparently no bats or pangolins in that market. However there were bat viruses under investigation at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and their security was reportedly lax.  Now, the Chinese Communist Party again seeks to deny that the virus came from Wuhan, and wants to punish Australia for suggesting it did. Australia has become much more wary about China in recent years, and justifiably so.

Even if Chinese authorities had acted earlier, we still may have had a global pandemic because the virus is so contagious. Ironically, because of the Chinese government’s surveillance capabilities and coercive power, contact tracing is easy for them, and China is now the safest place in the world from the virus.

Meanwhile we are stuck with the age-old plague remedies of quarantine and physical distancing, plus enhanced hygiene. We can be confident that, as with all past human advancement, Enlightenment values will save us, and science will come up with a vaccine. It may take another six months and we must just endure the situation as best we can. We need to learn how best to keep cases to a manageably low level.

Long after the virus is conquered, we will still be suffering the economic consequences. Like progress in other ways, we have learnt how to manage economies much better since the Great Depression. JobKeeper is a novel idea and a good one. We now also have what is called Modern Monetary Theory. It seems the Liberal Party’s “budget emergency” scare campaigns were not just an exaggeration, but a hoax. If the Treasury owes the Reserve Bank $100 billion, does it matter? If there is no inflation, probably not.

The welfare state will look after us, but to what degree will depend on politics. The closure of international tourism, the decline in international student numbers, and the cessation of immigration leave a big hole in the economy that cannot be filled.

We should open up as soon as possible. Where to start? China is now safe from the virus. Our argument is with the CCP, not the Chinese people. Let them come here and learn the benefits of two other features of the Enlightenment: freedom and democracy.

John Perkins

0411 143744

Secular Party of Australia
www.secular.org.au
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 3004

 

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Top Counter-terrorism expert recommends Prophet Muhammad

Posted by Secular on May 1, 2019

Australia’s top national security and counter-terrorism expert says that the best way to counteract Islamic extremism is to explain that this is not what the Prophet Muhammad intended. He also says that virulent, militant interpretations of the Koran are not Islamic.

Dr Issac Kfir is the Director of the National Security Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He is also Head of the Counter-terrorism Policy Centre. He was speaking about the Islamist atrocities in Sri Lanka on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report.

So, the strategic policy to deal with counter-terrorism, from Australia’s leading expert in the field, is to engage in a particular form of Islamic theology. This approach is inadequate, inappropriate and inane. It does not advance Australia’s national security. It puts it in peril. Dr Kfir should consider his position.

Firstly, public officials should not be advancing a specific religion, or religious view, as an instrument of public policy. What if, for example, Dr Kfir had recommended following Jesus, instead of Muhammad? It would be ludicrous to suggest such a thing as a solution to such a serious national and international problem.

Secondly, we take issue with the variant Islamic theology that Dr Kfir advocates. Militant interpretations of the Koran are indeed Islamic. Surely, the Islamic State has at least taught us that. When the Koran says that infidels should be beheaded (eg 8:12), it is not a “militant interpretation” to conclude that the Koran says that infidels should be beheaded. It is simply a literal reading of the Koran. Trying to interpret this as meaning something else is not a viable option for Australia’s public policy on terrorism.

Thirdly, we take issue with Dr Kfir’s recommendation that Islamic militants should follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet was a person who, according to legend, engaged in murder, insurrection, and mass beheadings and had a six-year-old wife. Recommending Muhammad as a role model for counter-terrorism is not a policy that Australia’s top expert on counter-terrorism should advocate.

What all this indicates is the malign power that religious modes of thinking have, even in areas where they have no place. It is as if religious views are sacrosanct, especially Islamic views, and are beyond any criticism or even rational evaluation.

We believe this must change. Public policy analysis must be objective, rational and evidence based. People are entitled to religious views, but these must not interfere with the public duty of officials.

Finally, effective deradicalisation measures must involve questioning entrenched beliefs. It may be suggested, for example that the Koran and other religious texts are of doubtful origin and need not, or should not, be taken literally. Those who have more doubt about their beliefs are less likely to act on them.

If ever there was an issue that demonstrates the need for more secularism in Australia, this is it.

Secular Party of Australia

Contact:
Harris Sultan 0434 421199
John Perkins  0411 143744
Senate candidates, Victoria

Secular Party of Australia
www.secular.org.au
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 3004

Links:
Transcript
http://www.secular.org.au/wp-content/uploads/ABC_Religion_and_Ethics_Report_24_4_2019.doc
ABC web site
https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/religionandethicsreport/sri-lanka/11043624
Audio
https://abcmedia.akamaized.net/rn/podcast/2019/04/rer_20190424.mp3
Dr Issac Kfir
https://www.aspi.org.au/bio/isaac-kfir

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Being ex-Muslim is not anti-Muslim

Posted by Secular on February 7, 2019

Melbourne Conference, Saturday 9 February, 2019

If you leave a religion, it is because you don’t believe in it any more, or don’t like it. That does not necessarily mean that you have animosity towards all those who still believe in the religion. Those who remain probably include your family and friends, your loved ones. Those ties remain.

However there is animosity towards those who renounce Islam. Those who leave are  castigated, shunned, or worse. The penalty for leaving Islam is death, in Saudi Arabia and twelve other countries. The beliefs that give rise to such imperatives are worthy of criticism. This does not mean that all Muslims should be blamed. It is the beliefs that are the problem.

Many ex-Muslims face this dilemma. They don’t like the bigoted rhetoric that targets their former co-religionists. But they want to be able to exercise their human rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

What we should always strive to do, is to distinguish between the beliefs and the believers. Religious beliefs should never be beyond critical examination. If religious beliefs cause otherwise good people to do bad things, then the beliefs that cause such actions should be identified and criticised. To simply denigrate the believers is counterproductive.

Last week, NSW Supreme Court judge Desmond Fagan called on Muslims to publicly disavow violent verses of the Koran that he said have been used by Islamic extremists to support terrorism in Australia. This was a laudable development. The notion that violence in the name of Islam has nothing to do with Islamic doctrine is one that should be dispelled.

No doubt there are many who would disapprove of Justice Fagan’s comments as unwarranted, targeting Muslims, stirring up community hatred and so forth. But nothing is to be gained by such denial. On this issue we must face facts. Aspects of the Koran do inspire violence. Many would also say the Bible contains violent passages. The difference is that violence in the Bible is descriptive, whereas in the Koran it is prescriptive. This should be recognised.

To say this is not to denigrate Muslims. Blame the beliefs, not the believers. In fact the vast majority of Muslims should be congratulated for not always following what the Koran commands. Progress can only be made if problems are identified and faced. Hiding behind euphemisms and obfuscation just perpetuates the problem.

It is the lack of open discussion about the religious causes of human rights abuses that is the real problem. Almost all religions seek primacy and seek to deny certain human rights, especially the rights of children to be able to make up their own minds. If we agree to suppress any criticism of religion on the grounds that some believers may be offended, then what we have is the implicit imposition of blasphemy laws. This must be resisted.

Islamic terrorism has created fear in our society. Given the nature of Islamic doctrines, this fear is rational, to some extent, so it is not a phobia. But such fears can be overblown. The chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack is much less than many other everyday risks.  Yet this fear has been politically destabilising, and has fomented populism. Debate has been stifled, due to fear of Islamism, or fear of being labelled Islamophobic.

So, what is needed is more public debate about human rights and Islam. As the case involving the Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun has shown, women are often the biggest victims. We need more ex-Muslims like this, with the courage to speak out about the abuses they suffer.

Thankfully, this is happening. An online group called Atheist Republic now has over two million members worldwide. This group was formed by video blogger, podcaster and former Iranian Armin Navabi. He, and a group of other ex-Muslims are speaking out. Their am is to normalise dissent in Islam. Let freedom of speech reign. Let reason decide.

John Perkins

Secular Party of Australia

0411 143744 PO Box 6004 Melbourne 3004

Please note: details of the conference, are as follows:

Losing Your Religion: Ex-Muslims Speak Out
A conference on the plight of ex-Muslims, their persecution and their human rights.
Saturday, 9 February 2019, Bayview On The Park, 52 Queens Road, Melbourne

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Human Rights Commission accepts that a child is a person

Posted by Secular on February 7, 2019

A child is actually a person but it took a lot of effort to get the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to admit it. The acknowledgement is made in a letter from the Commission.

The various international human rights declarations and treaties refer to “everyone” as having such rights. The Victorian  Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities refers to “every person” as having the declared rights. Does a child have these rights? Yes.

These include the rights under section 14 of the Charter. These are the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion; the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his or her choice; and, a person must not be coerced or restrained in a way that limits his or her freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief.

Are these rights of the child being protected? Hardly. The whole purpose of religious instruction in schools would seem to be to persuade or coerce a child into adopting a particular religion. Effectively this is indoctrination or the brainwashing of the child.

This is inconsistent with the rights of the child and not in the interests of the child. Yet it is widely deemed as not only acceptable, but desirable, and the process receives more than $10 billion annually in government funding to facilitate it.

Our society has a massive blind spot when it comes to the religious freedom rights of the child and this needs to be recognised and corrected.

The Commission has previously stated that “for a religious belief to be accepted, it must be genuinely held (1). Can a child be said to have a genuine religious belief? A child is certainly not born with a particular religious belief. Upon first attending school, religious institutions do not regard a child as already having a genuine belief, hence their strenuous efforts to instill one.

When pressed on this issue, the Commission states that it “does not have a position” on whether a child has a religion. In a further telephone conversation with the Commission they advised that they were “not interested” in discussing whether a child should be free from coercion in religion in a school.

This is not acceptable. In separate proceedings, we have identified that a child sufferers many detriments by being forced to adopt a religion. These can include threats to their health and safety, psychological welfare and educational opportunity. This is particularly the case if a child is forced to wear a particular kind of religious clothing,

The rights and welfare of children in our society should be of paramount concern. In this regard, they are not.

State authorities, including the Department of Education, and the Commission, have a responsibility to uphold and defend rights as declared in the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities.

They are derelict in this responsibility. Children are the victims. It is now time for a thorough reassessment of our attitudes in this regard.

John Perkins
President
Secular Party of Australia
www.secular.org.au
0411 143744

28 January 2019
Media Release

1. Beliefs must be genuinely held, see paragraph 56, VEOHRC submission to VCAT at:
https://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/home/submissions/legal-submissions/item/1598-arora-v-melton-christian-college-vcat-jul-2017

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Terrorist incident in Melbourne

Posted by Secular on November 13, 2018

In 2014, when the Lindt Cafe siege happened, a conflagration lit up this page when we suggested it was a terrorist event – a position we still maintain based on the facts of that case. This time, we have been holding off on commenting here in order to formulate an appropriate response to the tragic and senseless attack in Melbourne, which sadly took the life of a kind, hard-working and notable member of Melbourne’s cafe culture. Given PM Scott Morrison’s words, and the media response to them, we think this matter deserves our careful consideration.

Most who objected in 2014 did so because they believed Man Monis to be mentally ill. Hassan Khalif Shire Ali was probably also mentally ill, but that does not mean this attack was not motivated by ideology and driven by radicalisation.

The mentally ill can be easily exploited by extremists and led to believe that martyrdom is a ticket to Jannah (Heaven). A certain ex-Catholic songstress with mental health issues has also recently been in the media saying supremacist things following her conversion to Islam. Many radicals have a background of alcohol or drug abuse and family breakdown, and ‘jihad’ (defined as violence committed in the name of furthering Islam or defending Mohammad or Allah’s interests) can be seen as absolution for earlier sins. Extremism can also provide a feeling of belonging for such misfits, who are flattered by the notion that their actions are justified and important to the cause of ’true’ Islam (‘true’ as they take a literalist approach to what is explicit in scripture). This is how vulnerable people are groomed for radicalisation.

However, the reason martyrdom and jihad can appeal to such people is directly due to the doctrines of Islam. The Quran praises mujahideen for fighting in ‘the service of Allah’. The reliance of the traveller dictates that a percentage of zakat, a system of alms-giving in Islam, goes toward funding mujahideen. In Chapter 9 of the Quran, which you can read for yourself at https://quran.com/10?translations=20) Muslims are commanded to emigrate and to fight in the name of Allah, and those who do not are called out as hypocrites.

Verses in the Quran, Sunna and Sira that continually pit believers (Muslims) against polytheists (Jews and Christians) and unbelievers (apostates and atheists), and call non-believers unclean, pigs and apes, are used to justify attacks on everyday non-Muslims as a response to either foreign policy or simply resistance to accepting/installing elements of Islamic belief such as blasphemy laws, sharia law, and prohibition of haram substances in the West. These dangerous and supremacist religious sentiments are at the heart of the problem with fundamentalism, particularly in the Wahhabi/Salafi schools, which, due to funding poured in by Saudi Arabia, have spread to mosques and madrassas worldwide.

While Scott Morrison is not wrong that Islamism (fundamentalist supremacist Islam) presents a clear religious threat to Australia and the west, the Secular Party of Australia believes that the influence of Christianity within our political system also has deleterious effects.

It is Morrison’s government that is disproportionately funding private, religious schools at the expense of state schools, and it was Morrison’s party that installed chaplains in our secular state schools. The undue influence of Christianity and the focus on ‘religious freedoms’ unfortunately paves the way for harmful elements of Islamism to be given a free pass as ‘religious tolerance’ – that old ‘we have to respect the beliefs of others,’ chestnut. The Secular Party of Australia believes we have to respect people and the human rights of individuals, but we do not have to tolerate dangerous, unproven religious notions or traditions that undermine human rights and threaten the very fabric of our secular society, particularly those that are supremacist in nature; indeed, we must not.

Under the umbrella of secularism, religion should be a private matter that can be practised at home, church, mosque, synagogue or outside of government-funded institutions, but these practices must still adhere to Australian law. ‘Religious freedom’ should protect only those beliefs that are both legal and innocuous. Mythology and tradition, and particularly religious calls to ‘morality’, should not override evidence and facts, nor influence legislation that applies to all Australians, no matter their faith or lack thereof.

Furthermore, we believe that deleterious aspects of any religion – those that infringe upon Australian law or human rights and are directly harmful to adherents or non-adherents (and these include discrimination toward LGBTI individuals or non-adherents, blasphemy, prescribing exile or death for LGBTI individuals or apostates, gender discrimination, and harmful practises such as child marriage, FGM and circumcision) – MUST be called out and must not be tolerated in Australia. Radicalisation and magical thinking in all its forms must be held up for what it is.

All communities, Muslim and non-Muslim, must condemn fundamentalism wherever it arises and must excise radicals from our midst if we are to move forward peacefully and avoid religiously motivated violence in the future.

From the Sahih International translation of the Quran, for those interested…

9: 20 ‘The ones who have believed, emigrated and striven in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives are greater in rank in the sight of Allah . And it is those who are the attainers [of success].’

9:29-30 ‘Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.

9:73 ’O Prophet, fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh upon them. And their refuge is Hell, and wretched is the destination.’

9:123 ‘O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.’

 

Karin Roenveld

11 November 2018

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VCAT challenge to Education Department

Posted by Secular on August 28, 2018

VCAT decision on the rights of children to be free from religious coercion in schools

The Secular Party sought to bring a case to the Human Rights division of the Victorian Civil & Administrative Tribunal, challenging the Education Department about the mistreatment of a girl in a state school. The case will now not be heard.

The case was about whether imposing a religion on a child in a school, without the informed and free consent of the child, in a way detrimental to the child, is discrimination against the child. VCAT on 27 August 2018 declined to rule on the case, based on a technicality.

The case was based on a girl who suffered cruel and inhumane treatment by having a religious dress code imposed on her in the heat of summer. This involved her wearing an additional layer of clothing, covering all except her face and hands, in extreme heat. No child would freely choose to suffer in this way. It cannot be the free choice of the child.

This case was not about preventing the practice of religion. It was about the welfare of children. This was not against freedom of religion. It was about upholding freedom of religion. Children are not born with a religious belief. Children can have religious beliefs imposed on them without choice and without consent. To do this in a school is wrong.

The most fundamental freedom of religion is the freedom to choose a religion. Without this, there is no freedom of religion. Children must have this choice.
For our society to turn a blind eye to the suffering of a child due to the imposition of religion in this way is a form of child abuse. We have ignored the suffering of children at the hands of religion for too long.

It was not just the cruelty of the dress code in extreme heat, and the associated health risks, that was discriminatory. Such clothing is an encumbrance, which is detrimental to the child’s physical development. It unnecessarily differentiates the child from others. It imposes psychological detriments. It imposes a mindset that inhibits critical and creative thinking. It limits the child’s educational development and opportunity.

This case sought to highlight another aspect of our treatment of children in schools that has been completely ignored: the human rights of the child. Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to freedom from coercion in religion. A child is a person too. A child has these rights.

A five-year-old child is too young to have a freely formed religious belief. To coerce a child into forming a particular belief, particularly by means of inducing fear and guilt, is a breach of the rights of the child. Our society should not permit this to occur in schools.

The technicality concerned the issue of consent. The Secular Party argued that a small girl in this case could not be expected to give consent to our actions, against the wishes of the parents. The girl had not given consent to her mistreatment, we argued. We produced five witness statements from women who stated that when they were girls, they were dressed in this way and they did not approve it, did not like it, did not consent, and would have consented to someone trying to help them.

Despite this, the Tribunal ruled that without the explicit consent of the child concerned, the Secular Party’s application could not proceed. Thus the substantive issues regarding discrimination against the child, and the breach of the rights of the child were not considered.

However, the case is still strong that discrimination does exist and that the rights of the child have been breached. These issues remain to be tested in any court. We are now perhaps at least a step closer to having these issues resolved.

The Secular Party remains committed to a more humane and rational treatment of children in our schools. We will continue to fight for this in our advocacy and in our political campaigns.

John Perkins
Secular Party of Australia

The VCAT Decision, 27 August 2018

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Human Rights Inquiry: Report on hearing

Posted by Secular on May 4, 2018

The Secular Party was invited to give evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief. This was conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. The hearing was held in the Committee Room of Parliament House, Melbourne, on 30 April 2018. Representing the Secular Party as witnesses were John Perkins and Rosemary Sceats.

The Party was invited on the basis of our submission of 1 February 2017, compiled by Craig Glasby. See submission 157. That submission focused more on domestic concerns, so John decided to address some of the foreign affairs concerns in relation to Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, as cited in the Terms of Reference.

The Secular Party witnesses were preceded at the hearing (afternoon part) by Jamie Gardiner of Liberty Victoria (formerly Victorian Council for Civil Liberties), then by Mark Zirnsak of the Uniting Church. Rosemary was invited to fill out a witness form so that she could also speak to the Committee.

Sitting on the panel was Senator David Fawcett (Lib, SA), Senator Claire Moore (ALP, Qld), Maria Vamvakinou, (Lab, Vic), Kevin Andrews (Lib, Vic), chair, a Department Rep, and Senator Lisa Singh (ALP, Tas). At the start, witnesses state their full name and whom they represent. The hearings have parliamentary status and are recorded in Hansard. Witnesses are asked to make a five-minute opening statement, followed by questions from the panel.

John stated that he wished to focus on international human rights concerns, as domestic issues were covered in the earlier submission. He noted that the Secular Party adopts the three-part definition of secularism, as proposed by the International Humanist and Ethical Union: separation of religion from the institutions of state, impartiality between religions, and protection of human rights from religious abuses.

Turning to the terms of reference, and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, John stated that the provision of part 4 of Article 18, did not negate parts 1, 2 and 3 of Article 18. That is, that the provision of the rights of parents to educate their children in religion (which is not in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), did not negate the child’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of choice in religion, and right to freedom from coercion in religion. “Education” does not mean “indoctrination”, John said, and religious indoctrination was a violation of the rights of the child.

The terms of reference raised four points of concern, which John then addressed. Regarding freedom of religion or belief globally, John said that in many countries, Article 18 rights were systematically violated due to enforcement of religion. This occurs due to blasphemy laws, and sharia law implementation in Islamic countries in particular. Where sharia is constitutionally mandated, as in much of the Arab world, Article 18 rights are specifically prohibited. John said that what he was now saying to the Committee would be subject to prohibition and punishment in many countries, including our close neighbours, Indonesia and Malaysia.

In many countries, governments take no action to protect freedom of religion rights, but instead ignore or support violations. An example John cited is the case of targeted murders of atheist and humanist bloggers in Bangladesh, where for a long time no action was taken by the police to find the culprits. Another is the case of the former governor of Jakarta, known as Ahok, now in jail under blasphemy charges.

The right to freedom of religion under Article 18 should not limit any other human right, John said. Such limitations are already inherent in 18 (4). However, in many countries many other rights are suppressed in the name of religion, especially the rights of women, the right to free speech, and sometimes the right to life itself.

John said that Australia’s efforts to protect and promote religious freedom in our region lack effectiveness, or are lacking entirely. We should advocate for the abolition of all blasphemy laws, and for freedoms under Article 18, he said. This is particularly important given the resurgence, in recent decades, of belief in a strict version of Islam. This is evidenced by the fact that now, most women in Islamic countries wear headscarves, whereas before they did not. Because of a rise in fanaticism, we must do more to help defend religious freedoms.

Finally John said that he would like to put religious belief in context. Firstly, he said, the average person today has a better standard of living today than at any time in history. This is not due to religion, he said. It is due to science, technology and innovation. He noted that as a general observation, the more religious a country was, the lower the socio-economic welfare outcomes as measured by UN indices.

Secondly, John said that the basic tenets of all religions are not supported, or are discredited, by scientific and archaeological evidence. It is not just that Adam and Eve is a myth, which even Cardinal Pell accepts, John said. So is the Prophet Abraham. So is the Exodus from Egypt. Further, there is no contemporary historical evidence, dating from the time, which confirms the existence of either Jesus or Muhammad, John said.

Religions enjoy a highly privileged status. Australia indulges religions to a greater extent than other OECD countries. Their charitable status is exempted from providing a public benefit. If someone were to claim special entitlements on the basis of their sex or ethnicity, this would be labelled as sexist or racist. However, when people claim special entitlement on the basis of religion, this is allowed, supported and government-funded. This is not right, John said.

Following this presentation, the panel asked questions of the witnesses. The first question was from Kevin Andrews, who took issue with the contention that children should not be indoctrinated. He asked John how was it possible to distinguish between education and indoctrination. John answered that education is about the religion, rather than instruction in it.

Mr Andrews responded that a normal part of religious belief is that children should be instructed, and that therefore this should be allowed as a right of people to express their religion. John responded that this should not be done in such away as to remove the child’s free choice, and that instruction to the effect that “you must believe this, or else”, amounts to coercion in religion and is contrary to the provisions of Article 18.

At this point Rosemary, who has a Catholic background, made a strong response to Mr Andrews, in opposition to his contention that the indoctrination of children under the age of reason should be permissible. She said that she had a similar upbringing to Mr Andrews. When at school she trusted her teachers and believed what they said literally.

Rosemary said that as a child she was very frightened by the notions of hell and purgatory. She took seriously the prospect of afterlife punishment in searing fire for even minor transgressions (eg time in purgatory for talking to a classmate during a lesson – a sin of disobedience, because it was forbidden – or eternity in hell for eating meat on Friday or attending a service such as a wedding in a non-Catholic church). She can still remember having her first nightmare at age seven, caused by these fears after a catechism lesson on purgatory. She was particularly worried about having to cross three busy roads when walking to school, because if she was to be killed by a car, bus or tram before having confessed these “sins” to a priest, it would be straight to hell or purgatory! Such indoctrination is child abuse, she said, and she vowed that she would never inflict it on her own children. It is based on the Jesuits’ maxim: Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will show you the man. In other words, go early, go hard with indoctrination, and the church has got them for life.

Rosemary explained to the panel (in case they didn’t know) that some years ago, a Vatican think tank decided that there is no biblical basis for purgatory, and subsequently this piece of dogma has been quietly dropped. She questioned what this now means for the basis of the Protestant Reformation, which was based largely on the sale of indulgences (reduced time in purgatory for performing particular devotional acts, saying specified prayers or making payments to the church), and that St Peter’s basilica in Rome was built with money raised by the sale of indulgences.

Rosemary stated that young children are particularly susceptible and vulnerable to religious indoctrination, because they do not have the intellectual wherewithal to know what to believe, or even to know what is believable at all. She said that there are laws to determine the age at which young people can drink alcohol responsibly, drive a car, vote, have consensual sex and get married, and that a similar law should apply to when a child can decide to accept and live by any particular religious belief, especially one that places so many restrictions on their life, with its many prescriptions and proscriptions.

Rosemary said that if she were in charge of the education system, she would require that all children be educated in comparative religion, critical thinking, logic and secular ethics. Then when they have attained sufficient maturity, they should be in a position to decide what, if any, religion they would follow.

Following Rosemary’s highly relevant and passionate contribution, John said that wherever one may choose to draw the line between education and indoctrination, causing harm to children is a line that should not be crossed. Following this, Mr Andrews had no further questions.

After that there was a question from Senator David Fawcett. He asked whether we accepted that atheism/secularism was one worldview, and that the various religious viewpoints were other worldviews, and a harmonious world would be one in which all such views could be accepted. John replied that certainly, everyone had a right to their views and a right to express them. However not all views had equal merit, John said. For example, a flat earth view would have less merit than a round earth view, John said. Not all views were entitled to special privileges.

Following this the session concluded, and the Secular Party witnesses thanked the panel for allowing them to make their contribution. Rosemary and John left the hearing feeling confident that they had presented the panel and the Committee with views that they might not otherwise have heard.

 

John Perkins and Rosemary Sceats

May 2018

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Child Abuse Royal Commission – a personal perspective

Posted by Secular on April 3, 2017

The following are my own personal observations based on several visits to public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I also include reading of media reports, and what I’ve learnt from contacts with interest groups. I recommend anyone in the Humanist Society, or anyone else for that matter, to go and sit in a public hearing for a day, to see the system in action.

The Royal Commission commenced in 2013, and was extended to 5 years. My overriding impression was the sheer gravitas of about 20 silks patiently absorbing every word of what was often very long and slow testimony – often peripheral or irrelevant. I longed to shout “But what about such and such?”

Witnesses giving testimony include some accused of abuse (many are in jail) or (more often) accused of covering up abuse. Typically they get pressed and questioned somewhat aggressively by tenacious Council Assisting – its good to see them squirm. Church officials explain the processes which were in place at the time, and which various Committees have since developed to provide checks. Academics give their view on the likely causes and proposed remedies. Public servants explain what the law required, and what they did at the time. Survivor groups and survivors tell of their ordeals and what should have happened.

Catholic Church Statistics

The Roman Catholic Church of Australia recently tabled their statistics (as ordered by the Commission). There were 4,444 alleged cases, of which 90% were boys (average age 11.5), and 10% were girls (average age 10.5). The abusers include ordained priests, non-ordained brothers in monasteries, and lay people. It is estimated that 7% of RC clergy were alleged abusers. This rose to 20% in religious orders, and to an amazing 40% of the (non-ordained) brothers in St John of God. It seems that paedophiles heard about the easy pickings and lack of penalties, and gravitated there.

These figures need some qualification: only a small proportion of the alleged offenders have admitted to an offence or been convicted. But on the other hand, there has been no evidence of false accusations, so it is likely that nearly all of these 4444 reported events were real.

On the other hand, in my opinion there are many offences not included in these figures, due to several factors:

• Many find it traumatic to report abuse, and the distribution of reporting age (average 33) suggests many have not reported, and some will die without reporting.

• Some tried to report at the time, but were not recorded by the church, and have not come forward a second time. This is likely, for example, due to the well-documented dismissive responses.

• There is a wide distribution of severity (touching, groping, talking dirty). For example, as a child in the 1950’s, I was groped by a minister; I regarded this as too minor to mention in the mores of the time, but it would now clearly be regarded as sexual abuse.

Thus a fairer estimate of the real number of offenders and offences might be an extra 20-100% over the church’s figures.

Non-mandatory Reporting

The Commission heard that abuse in the RC church sometimes came to light for the first time when one priest confessed to another. The sanctity of the confessional in the RC church (according to Canon Law from the Vatican) meant that it went unreported. There are problems with the lack of separation of the confession system (sin and repentance) from the justice system (crime and punishment).

Even the laws of the land were haphazard in this respect. Additionally there was an attitude of church privilege, when police often responded with “we are told the church is handling it in-house”.

Today, all states have mandatory reporting laws (Ref 2), which have recently been tightened up, and they all cover similar ground. This includes even suspicions of sexual abuse. (As an ethics teacher in primary schools for 7 years, I undergo child protection training and police checks each year.)

South Australia still allows an exemption for disclosures made in the confessional, and I believe that should change.

Responses at the Time of Reporting

The church’s immediate reactions to abuse being reported have been widely exposed as hopelessly inadequate. From various counselling courses and complaint handling training, I have picked up strategy for such cases:

Repeat it back (so they know you are listening).
Put it in other words (so they know you understand).
Make it clear they are not to blame, and they did the right thing in telling you.
Ask questions.
Make it clear they don’t have to put up with that.
Say you will immediately stop it happening…
…and will investigate.

In contrast, abuse complainants say the church officials responded with denial, blaming the victim, telling the victim to pray for forgiveness, and even George Pell’s “Don’t be ridiculous”.

Later Responses

The Catholic Church has performed no better in the long term. Many cases have been revealed where the perpetrator:

was moved to a new parish full of unsuspecting potential victims, and/or
was sent to sympathetic counselling.
If more serious, he was often placed on fully paid leave, or
was ultimately allowed to retire with a glowing reference, and with accolades.

Meanwhile, the unfortunate victims were blocked at every turn. They were often advised not to go to the police, and were not told which legal entity held the money and could be sued (The Ellis Defence). Where a settlement was made, the amount was inadequate, and victims had to agree to nondisclosure to get any payment at all. Even after one level of the church admitted the abuse happened, the next process again denied it. Can you imagine the extra trauma that this caused the victims, being labelled a liar and having to start again? This from a group which claims the ethical high ground, and preaches love and compassion!

Expert witnesses among church officials and academics suggested the following changes:

Allow marriage of priests? Celibacy was seen as a contributing factor, not a major cause.
Screen incoming recruits? There is limited ability to do that.
Appoint women to church boards (currently all men, women not take seriously)

Jehovah’s Witnesses

The practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their attendance at the Royal Commission, was reported in detail by Paul Grundy (an escaped JW) at a recent talk (Ref 3).

This church prohibits masturbation, and youths are questioned every week by a male church elder. Surely even this amounts to child abuse and should be banned? If a child complains of abuse or otherwise criticises the religion, this will lead to ‘shunning’ – parents reject their own children! What could be more traumatic?

Church rules regarding allegations of misconduct by church officials require two to three witnesses before any action is taken (this reminds me of Moslem countries where a rape victim is not believed without four male or eight female witnesses). Thus child victims would remain trapped in the church with their abusers, with no authority figure to turn to. Unless they remain silent they can be expelled from their own family, as shown in instructional church videos.

Following grilling by the Commission, the JW management offered one small concession in their rules: the two complaints required to trigger reporting can now cover two separate events (eg two different children complaining about an abuser). But still, one child complaining does NOT trigger action! The Commission apparently was satisfied by this inadequate improvement.

Some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed an apostate-orchestrated attack by the Royal Commission! Do they think they’re above the laws of the land? As with many other churches, committees are run by men only – who are less sympathetic to child welfare.

Towards the Future

Hopefully the Commission will eventually make clear pronouncements on how to reform the offending institutions. Here are some changes discussed to date.

Interviewing Survivors

There are recommendations being developed for treating survivors, once the matter has been reported to authorities. Given that they often don’t trust any authority it’s better to have shorter but more frequent interviews, with the police (for example) out of uniform. When it comes to a criminal matter, some victims prefer a guilty plea so it’s all over without trauma. However, others would like a trial where they have a chance to speak, to hear a jury say the word guilty, and maybe even see a jail sentence imposed. (In NSW, an early guilty plea can attract a reduction in sentence of up to 25%.)

Compensation Schemes

Even after abuse is established, churches have almost always used a variety of legal and psychological measures to avoid or minimize paying compensation, such as the infamous Ellis Defence.

As far as government goes, the Commonwealth has no redress scheme, while the States have a mish-mash of schemes. The survivors group Broken Rites has recommended an Australia-wide National Redress Scheme, with money coming from a special-purpose fund in each offending institution.

To date, payouts to victims have averaged around $40,000. If this was to rise to $100,000 and there were 10,000 victims, the scheme could be worth $1 billion.

What should Humanists ask for?

What should Humanists and Secularists do? In my opinion the most important things are:

End Religious Privilege

The veneration to Churches both in attitude and in law is a major cause. This is fuelled by the many concessions given to religion in law. All such privileges must be removed, providing a really secular society.

State Law to override Church Rules

Require all Churches to declare in their internal rules, the fact that laws of the land (ie Australia) take precedence over church rules (such as Canon Law). And state explicitly that any report or suspicion of child abuse must be reported to police (with no exemptions for confessionals etc).

Freedom of Religion

This is often taken to include the right of parents to bring up children in their own faith. But most children become locked in, in two ways: firstly, if abused, they have no independent body to turn to; secondly, even as adults they remain indoctrinated and unable to make up their own minds. Hence I believe it is itself a form of child abuse, to indoctrinate them into a particular faith.

Teach them Ethics

The Primary Ethics classes have now reached 50% of students in enlightened Inner Sydney (in my observations). They teach many skills that would prevent child abuse or enable escape from it. In my own words:

How to think for yourself, and how to talk to other kids about ethics
What makes a valid authority, and if it is ever OK to question authority
Where rules come from, and what makes a good rule
Allowing growing children to gradually take over responsibility for their own welfare
Evidence, reason and critical thinking
Reasons why we should trust science.

Conclusion

As the Royal Commission process winds down, some statistics have been given. The cost was passing $300M when last heard. There have been 400 hearing days, in all capital cities and many regional centres. They examined 1.2 million documents and commissioned 44 research reports. They investigated 4000 institutions, including detention centres, out-of-home care, charities, sporting clubs, disability services, yoga, the justice system etc.

We hope the Final Report contains some real reforms, and does not again leave the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Ian Bryce

Ref 1: Royal Commission Interim Report: http://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/about-us/our-reports/interim-report-html/executive-summary

Ref 2: Mandatory Reporting Laws: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/mandatory-reporting-child-abuse-and-neglect

Ref 3: Jehovah’s Witnesses: https://jwfacts.com/watchtower/experiences/paul-grundy.php

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The Brexit vote and the rise of Islamism

Posted by Secular on June 30, 2016

Much of the doom and gloom predicted as a result of the British decision to leave the European Union is unlikely to eventuate. The fears are overblown. There is no obvious increased security risk. The trade issues can be negotiated. Movement of people between borders may change little.

While there were many factors motivating the vote, a significant one is a reaction against Islamisation. This a is hardly mentioned by commentators, but it is certainly the main reason for anti-EU sentiment in Holland and France, where the open borders policy is more relevant. Islamism creates an undercurrent of discontent. Not all of this can simply be dismissed as xenophobia or “Islamophobia”. There are some legitimate concerns. The average person could see that elements of Islam, especially its preference for sharia law, are hardly compatible with British values of equality. The political elites have refused to recognise the problem of Islamism or to effectively address it. It adds to the perceived lack of sovereignty. Hence the reaction, which is likely to be replicated in other parts of Europe. The European Union has more to fear from the Brexit vote than Britain.

There are real problems with the European Union, and a cogent case could be made for leaving. The common currency, which Britain had the good sense not to join, has been a disaster for countries like Greece. They are denied the exchange rate flexibility to re-balance their economies, while Germany benefits from an under-valued Euro. Had the European Union remained as the Common Market, a free trade zone, it would have been sufficient. Even as such, it was not ideal, as it erected significant barriers against non-European goods, such as Australian agricultural products, and still does.

But the ambitions of the European Union did not stop at free trade. The vision was one of a “United States of Europe”, with supreme powers invested in the European Commission. This made it attractive for surrounding countries to want to join, and the addition of the Eastern European states added to its presumed importance. But there was never a prospect of full fiscal integration that a federal system would require. It is an unstable half-way house. The European Union has become an unstoppable bandwagon heading for an impossible destination. It is a flawed project. Britain was right to get out.

These perceptions of the EU’s failings however are unlikely to have been the only factor in the Brexit vote, even though they provided a valid justification for it. Resentment of immigration was likely to have been a more dominant factor.

A lot has been said about the numbers of Polish immigrants, which certainly have made their presence felt. However the migration that occurred after Poland joined the Union is likely to have been beneficial to both Britain and Poland. The Polish people in Britain have not set up enclave communities, sought to impose their own laws, made demands upon wider society or engaged in terrorist attacks.

This is not to suggest, of course, that all Muslims follow an Islamist agenda. However a certain proportion do. The problem is not inherent in the people themselves but with the nature of the religion they are required to follow.  The doctrines of Islam, literally interpreted, are incompatible with secularism, human rights and democracy. In the political ideology of Islamism, sharia laws must dominate. This is because the laws of Allah are placed above civil laws. Such laws cannot be changed democratically.

It is an unfortunate part of current political discourse that these matters cannot be raised without facing accusations of “hate mongering” or “Islamophobia”. However unless we are are aware of the content of Islamic teachings we cannot properly evaluate the issue. In Islam the example of the Prophet Muhammad is held as exemplary. Yet the biographical details of the Prophet, which are held in Islamic doctrine to be authentic, depict a figure who engaged in insurrection, mass beheadings, took sex slaves and a child bride. It is not an example that should be followed in the 21st century, but it is being followed. Muslim reform advocate Maajid Nawas refers to it as “a global Islamist insurgency“.

Given the apparent acquiescence of social liberals, and the support given to Islamism by the “regressive left”,  it is no surprise that many voters turn to right wing anti-immigration parties. The Brexit vote is, in part, a manifestation of this. However this is hardly a solution to the to rising social tensions and violence that Islamism portends.

The only alternative to the rising tide of Islamism is a more rigorous implementation of secularism. This is what the Secular Party seeks to advocate. Only the Secular Party proposes this solution. We are not a right wing, but a liberal minded party. Yet we are continually constrained by a reluctance to speak openly on this issue due to accusations that we are offensive to Muslims and promoting bigotry. This is not the case at all. We are very much aware that the people who suffer most from the oppressive and misogynist aspects of Islam are the Muslims themselves. We support efforts of Muslim reformers to address these issues.

The most important step towards secularism that we can take, and foremost in our policy aims, is to stop indoctrinating children with religion in schools. Any religion. Children should be taught about religions, including the mythological legends on which they are all based. Children must be encouraged to critically evaluate and make up their own minds about religion based on reason and evidence.

In Australia there is only one political party that is pledged to implement such a policy: the Secular Party. We will not only prohibit religious instruction during school times. We will not fund religious schools, saving up to $10bn per year. We will stop any school from promoting to children that there is such a thing as the ‘one true faith’.

This is the only way we can start to get society back on a more rational track. We live in turbulent times. The widespread prevalence of the religious mindset, and the aggressiveness of Islamism, clouds the minds of the current political elites. They have no solution. We do, and we will remain resolute in promoting it.

John Perkins

Secular Party

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