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Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Not shutting up about child marriage

Posted by Secular on September 27, 2013

by Moira Clarke

Transcript and comments on debate, “Islam or atheism”. Disclaimer: While we can agree that atheism as a cause should not be conflated with that of secular government, when dealing with a movement that is politically active and is inherently anti-secular, we should certainly take an interest in any discourse which seeks to challenge secular viewpoints.

There was a very interesting exchange during a debate in Melbourne last week . . . and a subsequent statement put out on Twitter that would lead one to imagine that the debate had never taken place.

The debate’s topic was, “Islam or Atheism: which makes more sense?”. It was held at Swinburne University on the evening of 20th September, and organised by iERA. Speakers for the “atheist” side were John Perkins and Ian Robinson. Speakers for the Islamic side were Hamza Tzortzis and [name withheld*].

The partial transcription that I have provided starts shortly after 1:53:20 into the video and continues for the next few minutes.

Audience members, as verified earlier in the video, were mostly of the Islamic faith.

At the start of this segment, John Perkins said that he wished to raise a question that related to morality and the Qur’an.

<transcription begins>

John Perkins: The claim of Islam is that these texts are a source for the perfect kind of morality. Now I’m sorry [directed to the audience] if what I might raise causes discomfort, but I believe that I need to do this to demonstrate a point. I’m going to start at Sura 65:4. “If you are in doubt concerning your wives who have ceased menstruating, know that their waiting periods shall be 3 months. The same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated.” As we know, the marriage of children in Islam is permitted, and the prophet Muhammad himself took a wife at the age of six, and the marriage was consummated at the age of nine — as we are informed. Last week in Yemen an eight-year-old girl died on her wedding night of internal haemorrhaging. Her new husband was forty years of age. Can you please indicate the perfect morality of the Qur’an that is indicated by my quote and this occurrence please.

[Some in the audience clap.]

[name withheld*]: Had the child reached puberty?

[Gasps and other disturbance from the audience. One audience member tells another not to swear. One audience member yells, “Does it matter?”]

[name withheld*]: Of course it matters! Of course it matters whether the child has reached puberty! That is precisely the point! Could you, John, or anyone, reach an absolute moral conception about the right age at which a marriage may or may not be consummated? Is there any positive position to provide me a basis for that morality? Why is it that in western cultures until recently, some countries, the age of marriage, (Tzortzis correct me if I’m wrong) twelve in some places, thirteen in others. Until last century, in western European countries, in medieval Europe, girls used to get married as early as eleven and twelve. So this is happening in many cultures around the world, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not just Islam that this is madly happening. But to answer the question. Islam, and the sources of Islam, and the hadiths [inaudible], which is classified as meaning a good transmission or a correct transmission it says, yes, it says the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) consummated the marriage with Aisha at the age of nine. I’m not going to deny that. That’s not bad — if she had reached the age of puberty at that age, then we say: probably that is fine. [To John] I want you to show me otherwise. I want you to show me how, if she had reached puberty and it is wrong, why?

John Perkins: Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.

Hamza Tzortzis: There’s other Islamic principles that you have to take into consideration, right. For example, it’s not just about. . . You see, I’ll ask you the question, what age should a woman get married at? [Pause.] You answer me, what age should she get married at? Give me an age!

John Perkins: When she’s old enough.

[Audience disturbance, laughter, Hamza crying out, “What does that mean?”]

Hamza Tzortzis: You give me a number! I want an answer.

John Perkins: The legal age here—

Hamza Tzortzis: [interrupts] Wait a second, what is the legal age? What is the legal age?

John Perkins: Eighteen.

Hamza Tzortzis: In England it’s sixteen. In Spain it’s twelve. In Greece it’s thirteen. In some places in America it’s twenty-one. This is the fallacy of secular law. It’s very arbitrary. This is our law: it’s nothing to do with age. Now listen to the principles. Number 1. Is she physically fit? Number 2. Is she emotionally ready? Number 3. Is she mentally ready? Number 4. Is this socially acceptable? Number 5. All these different kinds of principles that we apply. And it happened, that there was an outlier from the statistics that a nine-year-old was physically fit, was mentally ready . . . was . . . given by her own father and the tribe, so we have principles which makes our law far more typist, rather than putting a number, saying, you can do it when you’re sixteen. There are some sixteen-year-olds in this country that can’t even tie their shoelace. The point is: if that’s all you’ve got, a sexed-up view of sharia law, a Fox News narrative, if you study the situation properly it’s based on principles that you apply to different scenarios, and yes, if you apply them properly, the eight-year-old will not get married, because look you’ve damaged her, because the problem I have, is that there is no harming, so there should be no harm. So the point is this is really about sharia law on the basis of [inaudible] things and BBC News and Fox News and god knows what we have.

[Audience claps and cheers loudly.]

<transcription ends>

I wonder at what point anyone could decide, according to those so-called principles, that any nine-year-old child was an “outlier”, and therefore should be married and made to have sex with a man. If Hamza had been present at the arrangement of the wedding in Yemen, helping to make that decision, would he have been able to tell that during subsequent sexual intercourse the little girl was going to be “damaged” to the point of death? Would he have stopped to think about the trauma she would have suffered, even if she had not died or been injured? Would he have thought to inquire as to whether she could continue to go to school, in addition to being this man’s “wife”? I wonder how these “principles” could possibly be determined for any other nine-year-old, or twelve-year-old, or (in some cases) seven-year-old. Elsewhere in the debate, Hamza ridicules John and Ian on their confidence in scientific knowledge, such as evolution, claiming that knowledge stemming from the supposed authority of the Qur’an is just as valid, simply because John and Ian had not personally conducted the experiments documented in the peer-reviewed literature. It is therefore difficult to imagine by what means Islamic clerics would determine that a nine-year-old child was physically, emotionally and mentally ready for sexual intercourse with a man, or that an eleven-year-old was similarly prepared for pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Since the Qur’an is imagined to be the source of all knowledge, why look further? Of course, the minuscule detail of the child’s informed and willing consent was not mentioned. And on that note, it is a pity that, due to their age, gender and social status, no one will ever apply principles 1, 2, 3 and 4 to either Hamza or [name withheld*], with or without their consent.

Here is Hamza’s statement on Twitter, issued a few days after the debate:


I don’t believe any comment is necessary.

At this point in time a Royal Commission is being conducted into revelations of generations of child sexual abuse in institutions in Australia, with the Catholic Church taking centre stage. We know already that religious power is an extremely effective means of perpetuating abuse. I would dearly love to pack that same lecture theatre at Swinburne full of survivors of child abuse, those who have had the courage to tell their stories to the Royal Commission and other abuse inquiries. I would like nothing better than to give Hamza the opportunity to explain to them the four principles upon which we can determine that a child is ready for sex with an adult. I’m sure they’d be fascinated.

As for other issues with being “physically ready”, a girl’s body is not mature enough to endure childbirth until her late teens, and if sufficient medical help is unavailable the results are often tragic. Perhaps Hamza and [name withheld*] should take the time to look up the condition called “fistula” to educate themselves on one – just one — of the possible adverse outcomes of early childbirth.

I would have thought that in Australia and in the 21st century it should not be necessary to defend the premise, “child marriage is a harmful and immoral practice, and is contrary to the human rights of the child”. However, just to clear up any remaining confusion, please refer to the sources below.

Here is the story of the child in Yemen, as covered by the international organisation Human Rights Watch: It was also covered by publications such as Reuters and Al Jazeera. I neither know nor care what Fox News had to say, as I do not typically look at their material.

There are objective criteria to be applied, and claims of immunity from criticism simply because “others do it too” or because similarly poor standards applied in western countries generations ago don’t wash. If they did, we would not be able to criticise any instances, anywhere, of slavery, child labour, crimes against homosexuals, women being treated as second-class citizens, and racist immigration policies. All of these evils have, in the past, existed in the West, due to ignorance and the abuse of power.

It does not follow that we should remain silent.

Postscript 28/09/2013

Hamza has seen this post, and let’s just say he’s not happy. His immediate response was to claim that I was lying. “Interesting that you ignored my condemnation during the debate of the Yemen case. Shame on you.” and “Are you lying again? Where’s my condemnation of the Yemen case?! Lying is immoral, do you know that?” When @TheRationaliser suggested that perhaps I had, indeed, missed some additional material that immediately followed the transcribed segment, I went back and checked. Nope. Nothing missing.  Since posting I have modified just one word on a reader’s correction. Nothing has been added or removed. The original transcription already contains Hamza’s “condemnation” of the Yemeni case, but he somehow missed that when he read it. Why?

I suspect the problem is that Hamza’s own recollection of the debate has him fiercely railing against the death of that poor child, without reservation, perhaps giving it almost as much gravity as the remainder of his response. The transcription, however, reveals what really happened. Hamza condemns the Yemeni case in only a few words, less than a single sentence, and even that is heavily qualified by his insistence that it only happened because his “principles” were not (somehow) correctly applied, thus skirting around the real problem, that anyone would consider it okay to rape another human being, let alone an eight-year-old child, in any circumstances. Not only that, but this “condemnation” was immediately followed by another, that being the way such cases are portrayed by the media.  and that somehow somebody’s “sexed-up” view of sharia law is the problem, rather than the inevitable consequences of that law.

Hamza is angry to see his words in writing because, as a transcription, they are stripped of his showmanship, All we see is what he is saying, the argument itself, devoid of any public speaking gimmickry that might serve to make such an unpalatable position seem reasonable to an already malleable audience. His argument, naked without its sugar coating, cannot withstand scrutiny. The unrehearsed and unpolished words of John Perkins, however, despite the fact that the transcription removes the pain that is evident in his voice, retain their sincerity and hence their power to evoke a similar response in the reader.

Look, I’m afraid that your answer makes me feel – upsetting [disturbances from the audience] . . . Your answer . . . Your answer indicating that you condone the abuse of children . . . I just find it appalling . . . I’m sorry [name withheld* interrupts, inaudible] Look I started this whole . . . I’ve tried to honestly say how I think Islam causes harm to people. And all I’m getting is denial, and now, and now you’re even endorsing something which seems to me quite abhorrent . . . [more interruption, from either [name withheld*] or Hamza, “No, that’s not fair!”] . . . I find it quite upsetting.

Postscript 28/06/2016

*Name withheld The name of the other person who took part in this debate is now withheld on humanitarian grounds because the the person involved was suffering bigoted abuse due to his debate contribution. It is in the interests of free speech that such debates take place without fear of intimidation, by any side. It was requested that we delete this entire page but we declined to do so.


Posted in Child abuse, Secular | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Submission on Charities Bill 2013, draft, re Statutory Definition of Charity

Posted by Secular on May 8, 2013

by Dr John L Perkins

The Government has developed draft legislation which gives effect to the statutory definition: The following is the Secular Party’s submission to Treasury on the draft legislation.

3 May 2013


Dear Sir/Madam,

Re: A statutory definition of charity: advancing religion, per se, is not a charitable purpose.

The definition of a charitable purpose must include only those activities that are unequivocally a public benefit. There is no doubt that relieving sickness and poverty and promoting education are unequivocally beneficial. The advancement of religion is not. To the extent that advancing religion advances the other charitable purposes, its inclusion is unnecessary. To the extent that it does otherwise, its inclusion is unwarranted.

The intention of the proposed Charities Bill 2013 is to provide a definition of charity for the 21st century. Yet this bill, as the Explanatory Notes acknowledge, entrenches an anachronistic definition of charity originating in the 17th century1. No justification for this is provided.

The fact that advancing religion is not, of itself, a public benefit is acknowledged in the Bill. It is because of “doubt” that a religious purpose could fulfil the public benefit test that such organisations are exempted from the test2. Why is it that the proposed definition of charity is specifically crafted to include a purpose that is implicitly recognised as not a public benefit? There is no explanation in the Notes.

The issue is more than that the advancement of religion is not necessarily beneficial. There is abundant evidence that it is not beneficial but harmful, corrupting, divisive and dangerous. It should not be necessary to refer to the crimes that paedophile priests have committed while engaged in their “charitable purpose”. The egregious nature of religious conflict around the world can be observed daily.

It should be noted that the charitable purpose provided by Islamic schools in Australia encompasses the teaching of an extreme style of Wahhabi Islam imported from Saudi Arabia. It is not unlikely that this particular form of the advancement of religion is now cultivating the minds of future home-grown Australian terrorists. Such effects have already been demonstrated by convictions in Australian courts.

That the definition of charity should be twisted to allow and encourage the promotion of such divisive activities is more than an anachronistic anomaly. It is an outrage.

The effect of the proposed definition does not only jeopardise the future harmony of Australian society: it comes at significant cost to the budget revenue and to the Australian taxpayer. This does not just include subsidies and tax concessions granted to religious organisations: we have calculated that when we include an estimate of tax forgone on the unreported revenue derived from the imputed financial and other assets of religions organisations, then the total annual cost of religions to governments in Australia exceeds $30 billion.

We therefore submit that the advancement of religion should be removed from the definition of charitable purpose. The exemption provided for religious groups from fulfilling the public benefit test should also be removed from the Bill. The Explanatory Notes provided for the Bill raise many anomalies with regard to the treatment of religion. We now comment on these in more detail.

The Notes state that to be a charity, an entity must be not-for-profit and generally have only charitable purposes that are for the public benefit. It incorporates and extends the previous 2004 definition and “modernises” the language and categories3. It is curious that the concept of modernity used still encompasses the 17th century definition. It is also curious that with the number of eligible charitable purposes being considerably extended, the religious purpose still fails to qualify under any of the other extended categories. No explanation is provided for this.

In defining the benefit of the purpose, it is stated that “there must be a benefit that is real and of value to the public” (1.46). This may include “social, psychological or emotional benefits” or “spiritual benefits derived from the activities of religious organisations” (1.48). What exactly are “spiritual benefits”? It is clear from the context that they do not include social, psychological or emotional benefits. We must infer from the religious context that “spiritual” does not refer to any mental capacity but to a supernatural entity, a spirit, soul or ghost. It is astounding that a Bill of Parliament in Australia in 2013 should be predicated on such superstition.

Furthermore, in defining a purpose for the public benefit, it is stated that the purpose should not cause harm. “Examples of detriment or harm include damage to mental or physical health, damage to the environment, encouraging violence or hatred towards others, damaging community harmony, or engaging in illegal activities such as vandalism or restricting personal freedom”(1.50).

The potential harm caused by the teaching of a hardline version of Islam in Islamic schools was cited above. It is not difficult to cite further instances where the advancement of religion has caused harm:

– Creationism is taught in some taxpayer-funded religious schools. There have even been instances of this happening in public schools in Queensland. The teaching of myths from the Bronze Age as though they were facts is not education.

– Some mainstream churches, including the Catholic Church, oppose any realistic family planning, such as the use of condoms and contraceptives. In Third World countries the Vatican has actually spread the lie that condoms spread the HIV virus.

– The negative attitude of some religious organisations towards women has been well documented: in some religions this includes women being considered to be of lesser value than men, affecting their legal status, educational and employment opportunities, rights of inheritance and healthcare.

– Many churches denigrate the gay and lesbian community, claiming their desires and behaviour to be “lifestyle choices”, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Religious families often shun homosexual children who “come out”. Religious schools are at liberty to expel homosexual students, or to sack homosexual employees. This denigration has real consequences: the suicide rate among young gays and lesbians is significantly higher than that of young heterosexuals.

– Certain Pentecostal churches have duped their followers into making substantial donations, which then fund luxurious lifestyles for church leaders and their families.

– Many cults and sects alienate followers from their families, requiring them to cease all contact with family members who are not members of the cult or sect.

– The vast majority of Australians support some form of voluntary euthanasia, with safeguards, for individuals who are suffering unbearably with little or no hope of improvement. Legislation on this matter, however, has repeatedly failed, thanks to the well-funded lobbying of Christian organisations. The rationale of such opposition is based on ideologies such as the “sanctity of life” and the notion that suffering (through Christ) leads to redemption.

– Improvements in medicine have been hampered by the lobbying of religious groups to outlaw stem cell research.

– Public hospitals run by religious organisations are at liberty to provide reduced services. For example, a rape victim admitted to such a hospital can not only be denied Emergency Contraceptives, but can also be refused a referral to the Rape Crisis Centre where such contraception can be provided.

– Some religions indoctrinate their followers to reject life-saving medical intervention, even for their children. In a recent case, the NSW Supreme Court intervened on behalf of a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who was refusing a blood transfusion. The predicament was that the boy would either suffer psychological trauma from being forced to undergo the procedure, or else would die. As Supreme Court Justice Ian Gzell pointed out, this dilemma had come about simply because the patient had been “cocooned in faith”.

It can easily be seen that the advancement of religion has caused harm with respect to practically all of the examples quoted: damage to mental or physical health, damage to the environment, encouraging violence or hatred towards others, damaging community harmony, or engaging in illegal activities such as vandalism or restricting personal freedom”.(1.50) . In fact no other charitable purpose has such capacity to cause harm. It is inexplicable that with these harms being recognised, the religious purpose is nevertheless exempted from any responsibility for them in the Bill.

It is stated in the definition that a benefit must be available to the public. Limiting the benefits to “followers of a particular religion to which anyone can adhere” (1.53) is still considered a public benefit. However it is not the case that anyone can adhere to particular religions. Some are secretive and exclusive. Belief in another religion or none would also presumably prohibit adherence. This is another unwarranted exclusion of the religious purpose from reasonable criteria.

It is stated in the definition that a benefit should be a public benefit and not a private benefit. “Where there are private benefits, these must be incidental, that is, a necessary minor result or by-product, or conferred as a necessary means of carrying out the entity’s charitable purpose, and be genuine and reasonable (1.57)”. Many of the activities of certain evangelical churches, cults and sects thrive upon soliciting the donations of followers, the leaders acquiring a great deal of private wealth in the process. Again, the religious purpose can often be seen to fail the test specified, and yet remains exempt, without explanation.

The Bill is deliberately drafted to provide such exemption. While the ”presumption of public benefit will not continue to apply where there is evidence to the contrary” (1.66), there is no prospect under this Bill of the religious purpose ever being challenged in this regard, as no likely challenger would have legal standing to do so.

The public benefit test does not apply to religious groups4. The only explanation provided for this is that the religious purpose may not be a public benefit (1.75), or may not be a benefit (1.76). The proposed Bill provides for the quite unwarranted advancement of religion, and in that regard is itself detrimental to the public interest.

Finally, we would mention that the Notes explain that the Bill provides for a disqualifying purpose. The purpose should not run counter to such things as the rule of law, democracy and public safety5. It is known to those who care to take an interest in such things that at the core of certain religious ideologies are doctrines and beliefs that do seek to undermine these values. Not even this, however, would provide any reason under the Bill for the advancement of religion to be in any way inhibited or constrained.

The advancement of religion by government is the antithesis of the ideal of secularism. This Bill effectively terminates secularism in Australia and entrenches its demise. Secularism was devised as the solution to hundreds of years of religious warfare in Europe. This Bill ensures that in the future, Australian society will be characterised by religious division and conflict. We urge you to prevent this by amending the Bill.

Yours sincerely

John Perkins

President, Secular Party of Australia

1 See 1.8. The common law meaning has developed over 400 years, largely based on the Preamble to the Statute of Charitable Uses (known as the Statute of Elizabeth), enacted by the English Parliament in 1601.

2 1.76 There has been some doubt under the common law about whether a closed or contemplative religious order fulfils the public benefit test, and the Bill ensures that such an entity does not fail a public benefit test.

3 1.20 The categories of charitable purpose reflect purposes found by the courts to be charitable. In addition, the Bill incorporates purposes specified in the Extension of Charitable Purpose Act 2004, makes further minor extensions to charitable purposes, and modernises the language and categories.

4 1.74 The public benefit test does not apply in the case of open and non-discriminatory self-help groups and closed or contemplative religious orders that regularly undertake prayerful intervention at the request of members of the public.

5 1.78 The purpose of engaging in activities that are unlawful or contrary to public policy is not a charitable purpose under the common law and is a disqualifying purpose in the Bill. The Bill clarifies that the reference to public policy refers to matters such as the rule of law, the system of government of the Commonwealth, the safety of the general public and national security, and that activities are not contrary to public policy merely because they are contrary to government policy.

Posted in Government Submissions, Taxation | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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


(*) 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.

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


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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