Ethics & Religion

Not so different: Does religion deserve special protection?

A new draft of the federal religious discrimination legislation proposes to give special rights to the words and actions of religious people and religious groups. Underlying this proposal is the unspoken assumption, not just that there is something special about religion, but that there is something especially good and valuable about religion per se, that justifies allowing it to speak and act in ways not allowed to non-religious speech and actions.

As the name of the Bill indicates, this is being portrayed as a measure to prevent discrimination against religion, but the import of the legislation seems rather to generate special and unique rights and privileges for religion and for religious speech and actions.

This special privileging of religion is promoted under the generic banner of ‘freedom of speech and expression’, which everyone of course supports. In the light of this, it is ironic that in virtually every case where a religion itself has had a firm grip on political power the freedom of speech of others has been severely curtailed, and sometimes violently oppressed. It seems that it is only when religions find themselves in the circumstance of not having political control or social hegemony that they suddenly discover they are passionate supporters of freedom of expression.

If religions are so dedicated to freedom of expression for all, why haven’t they campaigned vigorously against the 30-odd jurisdictions around the world, including some Australian states ...

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