“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” So sang Janis Joplin in her 1971 hit Me and Bobby McGee. And this week I realised she was right.
It came home for me as I edited one of the contributions for a forthcoming Centre for Independent book on religious freedom. In his piece, “Protecting Religious Freedom in an Age of Militant Secularism,” University of Queensland Dean of Law, Patrick Parkinson, makes the point that in Australia the protections for the fundamental freedoms we cherish are “extraordinarily weak.”
This is because freedoms and rights are fundamentally different things. Rights can be protected in all sorts of ways, either by shielding me from actions like self-incrimination or by providing the basis for entitlements and claims on others. But freedoms, at least in countries like Australia, are no more than the absence of restriction. “A freedom which is more than this is actually a right, however it might be characterised,” Parkinson writes.
The main protection for traditional freedoms is not law but culture — by a shared consensus that they not be interfered with by the legislature. But culture is vulnerable to change, especially change brought about by the ‘wokescenti’ … the activist and engaged ‘woke’ minority. Such change is afoot in Australia.
Freedom of religion — which covers much more than the mere freedom to attend church synagogue temple to mosque — is a freedom with a declining cultural support. This is due to the increase in secularism, the (partly) justifiable loss of trust in religious institutions, and the competing claims of the now dominant sexual revolution.
Although at present there is no crisis in this country, religious freedom that was once taken for granted, is looking more and more vulnerable.
In Parkinson’s words, “Freedoms may be little more than temporary vacuums that have not yet been filled by legal regulation or prohibition.” Or as Joplin sang: “nothin’ left to lose.”
The Right Reverend Robert Forsyth is a Senior Fellow of the Centre of Independent Studies and was the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, a region of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, from 2000 to 2015.
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