Christian Concerns with the Charter of Rights
University of Sydney - Faculty of Law
August 31, 2009
Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 09/72
In 2009, Australia has been having a debate on whether it should enact a statutory Charter of Rights of a kind similar to that in Britain, Canada and New Zealand. While there are arguments for and against this held by people from all sectors of society, some of the most organized opposition has come from churches and Christian organizations. The church groups opposed to a Charter are not at all against recognition of human rights - far from it. However they oppose a Charter. Paradoxically, most of the churches and organizations perceive religious freedom to be under threat from the growing antipathy among secular liberals towards exemptions under anti-discrimination legislation for faith-based organizations, and from the chilling effect upon freedom of speech arising from vague and poorly drafted 'anti-vilification' laws concerning religion. There are also concerns about the respect being given in Australia to freedom of conscience. A particular focus of Christian concerns is the right of faith-based schools to appoint staff committed to that faith.
Why then would churches not support a Charter of Rights to protect religious freedom? This paper explains the concerns of the churches opposed to a Charter. They argue that contemporary Charters of Rights may in fact not protect religion very well at all, that they fail to enact Article 18 of the ICCPR, that they give an enormous discretion to decision-makers to disregard human rights, that they may be used to support agendas hostile to religious freedom, and that governmental human rights organizations are rather selective about the human rights they choose to support. Christians who are opposed to a Charter of Rights or who have serious doubts about it would be less opposed to it if they thought that the legislators and policy-makers would take all human rights seriously, and faithfully protect freedom of religion and conscience in the manner required by Article 18 of the ICCPR and other human rights instruments.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30
Keywords: freedom of religion, human rights, charter of rights, freedom of conscience, anti-discrimination, religious schools
JEL Classification: K10, K30
Date posted: September 3, 2009 ; Last revised: September 10, 2009