Freedom of speech under attack

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Australians have always believed in a “fair go” and in the right to hold differing points of view. Now, it would seem, this is only the case if what you believe is in agreement with certain lobby groups and activists. If you have a differing opinion or belief, your right to express these views is under attack.

In the past two months, there has been a significant escalation in the pressure being exerted on individuals and groups in Australia who believe in retaining the current definition of marriage. Vast segments of the Australian media and many large businesses have become vocal supporters of legalising same-sex marriage (SSM).

Recent escalations

One recent example is the Until We Belong campaign, led by Airbnb, calling on Australians to wear a specially designed “acceptance ring” (pictured below) until same-sex marriage is legalised.1 Regardless of what you believe about the definition of marriage—even with the current climate challenging the biblical perspective—the truth is there is an even more concerning agenda. Now is not the time to be alarmist but neither is it the time to be naïve. The more concerning agenda is that our right to retain free speech and freedom of religion is also under attack.2

The Until We Belong “acceptance ring”.

The motivation and agenda of certain groups that are driving a culture of “equality” and “diversity” has been laid bare in recent weeks. These groups who claim they are calling for “tolerance” and “equality” are certainly demonstrating intolerance and being bullies when it comes to those who disagree with them.3 Thus, Australian culture is being transformed. Many in Australia have failed to understand the genuine concern of Christians, including many Seventh-day Adventists, and have just written us off as “bigots” and “haters”.

There is significant momentum behind those who want to silence others who do not support their points of view. After sustained abuse and threats, this has been recognised by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission giving permission to the Lachlan Macquarie Institute and the Australian Christian Lobby to keep their board members’ names private.4 The recent escalation started when the Bible Society released a short video where Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson endeavoured to have a respectful conversation about marriage over a beer.5 While as Seventh-day Adventists we do not endorse using beer to promote the Bible or the Bible Society, the response of the activists is deeply concerning. According to The Australian newspaper, Tim Wilson and Andrew Hastie, the Liberal MPs whose same-sex marriage debate ‘over a Coopers beer’ was at the centre of the boycott of the Adelaide brewery, both criticised the need for the removal of names from the public register because of threats.

“Mr Hastie, who opposes same-sex marriage, said ‘freedom of conscience, speech and association are being suppressed and dissent is silenced. Australians should be deeply concerned by these developments. If this is the pattern now, what will happen if SSM is legislated? What will happen to individuals, religious institutions, charities and schools who don’t share in the new morality?’

“Mr Wilson, who campaigns for same-sex marriage and freedom of speech, said: ‘I utterly condemn the necessity for the need for this action. Freedom means freedom for everyone, including people of faith and also those who have been discriminated by them. This case is another reminder of the need for respectful dialogue.’”6

Then, under the banner of “Pride in Diversity”, social media activists targeted IBM executive Mark Allaby and Macquarie University academic Steve Chavura.7 This is the second time that Mr Allaby has experienced such pressure, after being forced out of a senior role at PriceWaterhouseCoopers for the same reason in 2016.

Keeping It Light: Liberal MPs Tim Wilson (left) and Andrew Hastie (right) hold up a special edition of Coopers beer with “debate” host Matt Andrews.

In 2015, Archbishop Porteous of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, was targeted8 and in September 2016 a gathering of religious and community leaders who wished to discuss “traditional marriage” had to be secretly relocated due to harassment and threats being made against the staff of the hotel where the event was to be held.9

SSM lobby groups have overreached in the past few weeks as they have relentlessly pursued their agenda. The Australian community is starting to see it for what it is. As the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, recently said, “There is only one upside from the recent attacks and unprecedented abuse directed at an academic and the directors of Christian organisations: people are beginning to wake up and take notice. They are starting to understand that the campaign for same-sex marriage is not sailing on a raft of rainbows but on a barge of bullies.”10

This phenomenon is not just taking place in Australia, and it is not just surrounding the discussions about SSM. As we have seen through the introduction of SSM in countries such as Canada, the UK and the US, there is a desire to “silence the dissenters”. Submissions to the 2017 Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill would indicate there are groups who would like to move Australia from having “Freedom of Religion” to “Freedom from Religion”.11 [pullquote]

Our role

Seventh-day Adventists have always held a strong belief in freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, with the Church’s first public affairs and religious liberty action taken by J N Andrews in 1864. In 1893, the Church launched the International Religious Liberty Association, which continues to operate today, and in 1901 the General Conference Department of Religious Liberty was created.

The debate in Australia at this time is about more than love and marriage—the deeper push is to restrict our rights to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. It’s time for the Church to stand up for these rights.

Next month the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia will be speaking to this issue in more detail.

The Australian Liberal Party has committed to a national plebiscite about same-sex marriage (SSM) so that the Australian people can share their views. This action has been opposed through the Senate by the Federal Opposition. SSM lobby groups also continue to oppose a national plebiscite on marriage. Polling data published by the Marriage Alliance, an independent alliance of individuals and organisations supporting the current definition of marriage, would suggest that there is a very soft middle group of voters who broadly favour changing marriage but whose support completely falls away if the campaign is seen as part of a broader change to devaluing gender and particularly if linked to programs like Safe Schools.

Pastor Michael Worker is chair of the Australian Union Conference Religious Freedom Steering Committee and Greater Sydney Conference president.

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