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The Secular Party of Australia stands for separation between church and state.

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Prayers in local government are discriminatory

Posted by Secular on May 8, 2013

7 May 2013

Media Release

There is no place for prayer and other sundry religious observances in government, according to Moira Clarke, executive member of the Secular Party of Australia.

“We like to assume that all three levels of government aim to represent our diverse Australian community,” said Ms Clarke. “Not so! We have Christian prayers at the opening of Parliament, and around half of South Australian councils (*) conduct prayers before or during meetings.”

Last December, Cr Doriana Coppola of Charles Sturt Council put forward a proposal that prayer be removed from the pledge before Council meetings. There has been stiff opposition from the local churches, and the matter is to be decided at a meeting on May 13th.

“Figures from the 2011 Census show us that religion, in particular Christianity, is in decline,” said Ms Clarke. “How, then, can any government body claim to faithfully represent its entire community if it insists on pledging allegiance to a faith not shared by all its members? Such behaviour also implies that councillors are beholden to a higher authority than that of their elected office. This violates every principle of church-state separation, and flies in the face of democracy itself.”

Ms Clarke added that Charles Sturt Council was essentially forcing any non-Christian or irreligious Councillor to partake in Christian rituals. “This is discriminatory,” she said. “We are supposed to enjoy freedom of religion in this country. All Australian Christians are free to go to church and practise their faith and, indeed, pray quietly to themselves during Council meetings if they wish. But in this case they’re simply imposing their own religious ceremonies on others. That’s the opposite of freedom.”

Ms Clarke noted that with so many thousands of different belief systems around the world, and with 28% of South Australians marking “No religion” on the 2011 Census form, it is neither possible nor desirable to attempt to come up with some sort of prayer that is inclusive of everyone. “At the end of the day, religious observances in government are not only unnecessary, they are inappropriate in the 21st century,” she concluded. “Secular government is really the only way to ensure a fair go for all Australians.”

The Secular Party of Australia
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 8008

Contact: Moira Clarke, 0423 413 534

Footnotes

(*) According to research carried out by Martin Dunne under HSSA auspices, of 18 SA Councils contacted, five include a Christian pledge, five do not, and the remainder did not respond.

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Posted in Media Releases | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

RU486, the PBS and the ACL

Posted by Secular on May 2, 2013

2 May 2013

Media Release

That the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and DLP senator John Madigan are outraged at the prospect of including RU486 in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme comes as no surprise to Secular Party of Australia Treasurer, Rosemary Sceats. Ms Sceats was responding to a comment from the ACL that “people with a philosophical or conscientious objection to abortion, which is a great many Australians, would then be forced to pay for something which they believe is wrong”.

“This is a spurious position,” said Ms Sceats. “Have they ever stopped to consider that the even greater number of Australians with no religious belief are forced to contribute to the estimated $32 billion-plus per annum in taxpayer support for religious organisations, through grants, direct and indirect subsidies, and generous tax concessions, deductions and exemptions, merely for ‘advancing religion’ per se as a so-called ‘charitable purpose’ providing a public benefit? Surely this is an even greater outrage.”

Ms Sceats pointed out that the treatment of ‘advancing religion’ as a charitable activity is an outmoded anachronism dating back to the time of Queen Elizabeth the First, when religious organisations actually did provide a public benefit through charitable services to the needy in the absence of government-funded social services.

“Religious belief and observance are personal and private matters that should not be funded by governments, which have a duty to spend tax money for the good of society in general. They should not be required to cater for individual demands of a private nature. Tax collection and expenditure are all about meeting community needs.”

Ms Sceats illustrated her point with the example of people who are childless by choice due to strong moral opinions on global population and the environment. “Should such people be able to avoid contributing through their taxes to the funding of pregnancy services, hospital births, the baby bonus and so on? Of course not! I don’t get to pick and choose how the money I pay in tax should be spent, and neither should members of the ACL.”

She added that there is a strong case that cost-effective provision of RU486 provides a service to the community, by facilitating safe and early terminations in cases of contraceptive failure, medical complications, rape, and economic hardship. “The ‘advancement of religion’, on the other hand, is not good for the community in that it does not provide a public benefit,” she concluded.

The Secular Party of Australia
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 8008.

Contact: John Perkins 0411 143744

Posted in Media Releases, Women's rights | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Council prayers

Posted by Secular on April 27, 2013

In December of last year, Cr Doriana Coppola of Charles Sturt Council in South Australia initiated a proposal to remove prayer from the pledge before Council meetings. Cr Coppola’s issue was that the outdated practice was not appropriate for the diverse community that Council represents.

What was intended to be a simple and uncontroversial proposal has been anything but. The churches are up in arms, the media got involved, and the matter was put forward for community consultation.

Council will review the prayer and pledge and come to a decision on Monday 13th May at 7 pm at Council Chambers, the Civic Centre, 72 Woodville Road, Woodville.

You can show support for Cr Coppola by attending this meeting.

Flinders Secular Society has created an event that will support the secular position, that there should be no prayer at any level of government, in keeping with the principle of church-state separation. (Note: you don’t have to sign up with this event, since the meeting is open to the public.)

The Secular Party’s position is that Council should remove all forms of prayer from its procedures, including at the opening of Council meetings. The Secular Party’s submission to Council appears below.

Review of Pledge and Prayer
Secular Party Submission to the City of Charles Sturt Council

March 2013

Introduction

The Secular Party of Australia thanks the City of Charles Sturt Council for giving the public this opportunity to comment on Council’s review of the pledge and prayer that is recited at the opening of Council meetings.

On behalf of our members and supporters, we urge Council to remove all forms of prayer from its ceremonies and procedures, including at the opening of Council meetings. We propose that this should be replaced with a pledge in which councillors will conduct their duties with honour and integrity, endeavour to promote good government, and confirm their responsibility to the people whom they serve.

We would add that the current acknowledgement to the Kaurna People is entirely appropriate, and we believe that it should be retained.

Prayers in Council are not inclusive

The 2011 Census demonstrates that the proportion of Australians who identify as Christian is in significant decline. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that Christianity was at just over 61% throughout Australia and only 57.3% in South Australia. Australia is a multicultural society; consequently the population now represents many religious views, including polytheistic traditions, and no religion. For Council to attempt to cater for all those views and any future faiths is unrealistic. Indeed, there is no reason why Council should have to do so.

It should be evident that any sort of prayer, no matter how ‘inclusively’ it is worded, will by definition exclude all non-religious members of the community. Again, according to the 2011 Census results, 22.5% of Australians stated that they had ‘No Religion’ and this proportion was much higher in South Australia, at 28%. We believe that the true figures for non-religious Australians are higher again.

  • The Census form places the option of ‘No Religion’ last. This in itself will guarantee that those giving the response of ‘No Religion’ will be underrepresented.
  • Some people consider the question to be impertinent or as having nothing to do with matters of the state, and therefore refuse to respond.
  • Many non-religious people don’t take the question seriously, and give a joke response such as ‘Jedi’.
  • The Census form is misleading. The form asks the person to state their religion. As a result many people who were baptised or initiated into a particular religion in early childhood will indicate the faith of their parents, even though they no longer practise that faith or even believe any of its doctrines. This is particularly true when the religion doubles as a cultural or family identity.

We do not, therefore, consider that any governmental body in Australia should identify with any particular religious tradition or with religion in general. To do so means that the body has no intention of faithfully representing the proportion of its community who do not adhere to religious practice.

Prayers in Council subvert the religious freedom of councillors

Given that a significant proportion of Australians do not identify with any religion or else do not identify with any monotheistic religion, it is reasonable to say that there will also be councillors who do not identify with the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

To include the practice of Christianity (or any religion) as part of Council procedures, such as the opening of Council meetings, forces councillors to practise that religion or to attend a religious observance. Clearly, this contravenes the religious freedom of those councillors.

At the same time, there is nothing to prevent a religious councillor, of any faith, from praying outside Council meetings or, indeed, at any time privately within his/her own mind.

Prayers in Council breach principles of church-state separation

The principles of secular government and church-state separation guarantee that no particular religion can gain undue influence over government and thus impose doctrine on all, that government will not suppress religious freedom by supporting a state doctrine, and that elements of the supernatural lacking evidence are not considered by the state. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states that ‘The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance . . .’ While the Constitution applies at the federal level, it is indicative of the spirit in which this nation was founded. The wording is very similar to that of the Constitution of the United State which guarantees church-state separation and therefore religious freedom. Unfortunately, the principles of church-state separation are not currently observed at the levels of state and local government. It would be disappointing if this situation were to continue.

If Council chooses, by its procedures, to pay homage to a deity, the implication is that councillors are beholden to a higher authority than that of their office. Councillors should be beholden to the rule of law and the people whom they represent. They should not be making decisions based on religious doctrine or the authority of an ‘Almighty Father’.

Religious observance by governmental bodies is detrimental to church-state separation. We therefore submit that all prayers be removed from Council proceedings.

The appeal to antiquity is invalid

The usual argument in favour of imposing religious observances in governmental proceedings is the notion that Australian culture is, historically, based on Judaeo-Christian influences. This is the argument from tradition, or the appeal to antiquity.

Tradition alone does not constitute a valid reason for retaining any practice. Some ‘traditional’ beliefs and practices can be harmful and divisive. It was not so long ago, for example, that homosexual Australians were criminalised. There is no reason to believe that Christianity or any religious faith is beneficial, in and of itself. Furthermore, if we accept that governmental prayers should be retained on the basis of tradition, irrespective of the religious makeup of the general population, we would also have to accept that true ‘tradition’ is that of the First Australians, since their beliefs and practices predate those of the white majority.

We do not accept that any beliefs or traditions should hold sway.

Conclusion

The Secular Party of Australia is opposed to religious observances in governmental matters. We maintain that councillors should focus on matters pertaining to their office, without appeal to the divine or the supernatural. Council prayers are offensive to a multicultural Australia, defy the principles of church-state separation, and violate the religious freedom of councillors.

We hope that these arguments assist Council with its decision.

Posted in Government Submissions, Secular | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Geert Wilders has the right to be heard

Posted by Secular on February 22, 2013

22 February 2013

Media Release

Numerous venues refused to host the talks by visiting Dutch MP Geert Wilders, and his Perth talk had to be cancelled. “Whatever anyone thinks of his views, Wilders should be given the opportunity to speak,” said Dr John Perkins, President of the Secular Party of Australia. “The right to free speech is vital for a liberal democracy, and this is true even when some find the message offensive. If we are intimidated into silence by fear of recrimination, our basic freedoms are eroded.”

Dr Perkins said that the Secular Party is opposed to Wilders’s more extreme proposals regarding Muslim immigration and his uncritical support for Israel. He questions the consistency of opposing the concept of an Islamic state while supporting a Jewish state. “Secular states are best,” he said.

“We should not, however, be distracted from Islam’s poor track record on human rights,” said Dr Perkins. “The ill-treatment of women, gays and apostates is well documented. While we disagree with Wilders’s suggestion that immigration from Islamic countries should be stopped, our policy is that potential immigrants must comply with secular Australian values, including (and especially) gender equality.”

On Wilders’s description of Islam as a totalitarian ideology, Dr Perkins explained that while many Muslims are moderate, their religion places sharia law over civil law. “That is inherently undemocratic. Wilders also makes the point that Muhammad was a military leader who engaged in violent acts. This is correct. It is a key factor in understanding the motivation for Islamic terrorism today”, he said.

Dr Perkins concluded that we must be free to criticise any religion, be it Catholicism, Scientology or Islam. “This is well demonstrated by the recent findings leading up to the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse,” he said. “The absolute authority wielded by any religion can all too often become the vehicle for human rights abuses.”

The Secular Party aims to remove that power and privilege, be it for Islam or any other faith. The solution is informed debate, reason and evidence-based thinking, and emphasis on the universal humanist values of compassion, honesty, freedom and justice.

John Perkins
President, Secular Party.
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 8008.
Tel 0411 143744


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Media Releases | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Teachers at Islamic College ordered to wear hijab

Posted by Secular on February 15, 2013

15 February 2013

Media Release

The sacking of teachers at the Islamic College of SA’s West Croydon Campus for refusing to wear the hijab is a clear violation of human rights, according to John Perkins, President of the Secular Party of Australia.

“Existing laws leave employees vulnerable to abuse, and the government’s proposed anti-discrimination legislation has failed to fix that,” Dr Perkins said. “The new legislation will continue to exempt religious institutions from laws that apply to all other employers. Christian schools, hospitals and employment agencies will still be able to refuse employment to gays, lesbians and single mothers. Once again, religion trumps intrinsic human rights.”

The ruling on religious attire at the college was introduced in 2012, at which point teachers were told they must comply or face the sack. Two female teachers have subsequently lost their jobs and are seeking redress in the courts.

Dr Perkins emphasised that the hijab is a religious symbol, and as such should not be imposed on others. “If a Muslim teacher at a Christian school were ordered to remove her hijab for no good reason, there would quite rightly be a huge uproar,” he said. “The Secular Party of Australia supports the rights of the religious to practise the requirements of their faith, but not to compel others to do likewise.”

He added that many of the religious organisations exempt from anti-discrimination laws are in receipt of government funding or else are under government contract. “It is time to end the practice of allowing taxpayers’ money to fund religious bigotry against women, the gay community and other religions,” he concluded.

John Perkins
President, Secular Party.
PO Box 6004, Melbourne 8008.
Tel 0411 143744


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Media Releases, Religious privilege | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Federal election 2013

Posted by Secular on February 1, 2013

The Prime Minister has announced that the 2013 federal election will take place on September 14th. The Secular Party intends to contest this election, and we are seeking your support.

How you can help

  • Voting. We need your primary vote, and by word of mouth you can encourage others to support us too.
  • Donations. Elections are extremely expensive, and we need your assistance. This is a fully registered party so most donations tax-deductible. All donations go towards election efforts — we have no paid staffers, and all our people work as volunteers.
  • Volunteering. If you have any time to spare at all, please contact mclarke@secular.org.au.
  • Attend meetings.
  • Participate in our social media, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Join us! Membership is free, and it’s easy to join with our online form.

Why support the Secular Party?

The Secular Party is the first and only political party in Australia that stands for separation of church from state, this being vital for a liberal, secular democracy. The word ‘secular’ means non-religious, and secular government means a government free from religious influences.

Religious institutions enjoy significant financial privileges through taxation exemptions and government grants. Naturally, this loss has to be made up for by the taxpayer elsewhere. Even the commercial enterprises owned by religious organisations are still eligible for tax breaks, to the disadvantage of their competitors.

Meanwhile, religious organisations are exempt from anti-discrimination legislation, and are still free to discriminate against the LGBTQI (e.g. gay/lesbian) community, women, individuals of other faiths and those of no faith. Only recently, the government introduced draft anti-discrimination legislation, but failed to remove the so-called ‘rights’ of the religious to discriminate, even when they are in receipt of government funding. Meanwhile, religious bodies such as the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Church use their influence to block socially progressive legislation such as marriage equality, voluntary euthanasia and stem cell research. When viewed against the background of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, many Australians are wondering why this situation continues in the 21st century.

None of the major parties are willing to stand up to the churches.

We are not a one-issue party; please refer to our policies. We are socially progressive and economically progressive. All our policies are based on evidence and reason and, where applicable, scientific consensus. In particular, we have strong policies on climate change, which we consider to be critical.

Background

The Secular Party was incorporated in 2006, and participated in the 2007 federal election by running candidates as Independents. The party was registered in 2010, shortly before the federal election. Although only just registered, we were able to field over 30 candidates across Australia in that election.

Party leadership

There are 11 on the national committee. John Perkins (Victoria) is President. Ian Bryce (New South Wales) is our Vice President. Rosemary Sceats (Victoria) is our Treasurer. Moira Clarke (South Australia) is the Secretary of the association. We also have delegates for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. The AEC lists John August as our Public Officer and John Perkins as the party’s Secretary. We can be contacted by email or phone, and are also available for meetings.

Preferences

Preferences will be determined closer to the election, but supporters can gain an idea of how we will preference by considering our choices for the 2010 election. We put Labor ahead of the Coalition, and the Greens ahead of Labor. Some socially progressive minor parties were placed ahead of the Greens. Parties such as Family First and the DLP were placed last.

We will be very clear concerning our preferences in plenty of time for the election.

Further questions

We can also be contacted on info@secular.org.au.

Posted in Secular | Leave a Comment »

Public education in Australia

Posted by Secular on January 29, 2013

by Hilton Travis

Despite expert opinion in the Gonski report, both ‘sides’ of government seem intent on abandoning Australia’s public eduction system. As the school year commences, bringing no better news for the majority of Australian children, Secular Party member Hilton Travis provides us with an overview of the state vs. private controversy in Australia, and what you can do about it.

Link to article published on Hilton’s blog, ‘The Outspoken Wookie’, 29th January 2013.


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in Commentary funding, External publications | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Royal Commission terms of reference

Posted by Secular on January 12, 2013

On the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, announced yesterday — this article provides a bit of background and also has a link to the actual terms of reference.

The Conversation provides us with an explainer, and an analysis by the experts. You might find Judy Courtin’s comments of interest in particular. Some here will recall Glen Coulton’s article re the Ellis Defence in Online Opinion. If not, have a read . . . and despair.

While most advocacy groups have been praising the terms of reference one, the Care Leavers of Australia Network (CLAN) has criticised its limits, saying that the limit to sexual abuse only is a mistake in the light of all the other forms of institutional abuse towards children. This seems to be a fair comment, for two reasons. We need to consider that sexual abuse can be used in conjunction with other forms of abuse. Will the Commission be forced to silence victims wishing to put their experiences into context? Furthermore, if such other forms of abuse are not to be considered by this Commission, will those other victims ever have an opportunity to be heard?

Finally, this article posted today gives this Commission its meaning, in its description of the ‘hell house’, a boarding school run by the Salesian brothers between about 1960 and 1990.

Posted in Commentary child abuse | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jekyll and Hyde: the poor man’s Anti-Discrimination Bill

Posted by Secular on January 1, 2013

by Moira Clarke

The draft legislation for the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 was released towards the end of the year, and was greeted with a good deal of ambivalence. This is not so surprising, since here is a ‘human rights’ bill that endeavours to place even further limitations on free speech, an ‘anti-discrimination’ bill which is a recipe book for how religious institutions can continue to discriminate, a piece of legislation that provides workplace protection for religious people but none whatsoever for those of no faith.

Link to article published in Online Opinion, 2 January 2013


© The Secular Party of Australia Inc., 2011. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author and from the Secular Party of Australia is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and to this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Posted in External publications, Religious privilege | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reasons for a secular world

Posted by Secular on January 1, 2013

Happy New Year to all our followers, and welcome to 2013!!

And to kick things off, this poignant piece, “Reason’s greetings”, by the Outspoken Wookie Hilton T., tired of reading in the news of more and more “acts perpetrated because of religious hatred and intolerance”.

Posted in External publications | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »