Waiting for a result

We are still waiting for the release of (and the government’s proposed response to) the report of the Expert Panel set up to by the Prime Minster on the freedom of religion in Australia. Australians are interested. The panel received 15,620 submissions in the few months it met. If handled right, this could be a seminal moment for the country.

Freedom of religion, together with other freedoms of association, speech and the right to own property is crucial to the health of our society and the flourishing of its people, even though it is not an absolute right and can justly be limited under certain circumstances.

Freedom of religion involves the freedom to manifest belief in behaviour and actions and to maintain religious communities and institutions.

There has been a history of the long enjoyment of religious freedom in Australia without robust legal protection, due to our common law tradition. But shifts in culture, and especially in the extent and nature of anti-discrimination law, are changing that ¾ and suggest a more secure foundation is now advisable.

The Expert Panel process has opened the door for genuine and bipartisan action to secure existing religious freedom in this nation for the future.

If this could be done in a way that neither increases or diminishes existing common law freedoms, and is supported by a wide section of the community, the matter would in effect be put to bed for decades.

It would be a tragedy if the issue was unduly politicised. Or if, after so much work, nothing is finally done. How the securing of a better platform for religious freedom is dealt with in the coming months will be a test of the maturity of this county.

Robert Forsyth is a Senior Fellow in the Culture, Prosperity and Civil Society Program at The Centre for Independent Studies. His paper, A Test of Maturity: the liberal case for action on religious freedom, was published this week.