Freedom of Religion
- Last Updated: 12 April 2015
- Published: 16 January 2010
- Written by David Swanton
Freedom of Religion and Belief
1. I need to make some relevant observations about religion to set the framework for my response to the issues before the Inquiry.
The Religious Spectrum
2. Australia’s diverse and multicultural society fills the religious spectrum. Some Australians do not believe in any gods and do not follow religions, some are religious but do not worship gods, and some follow one god or many gods.
3. Many people seem to be comfortably settled into their position on the religious spectrum, never challenging their own beliefs. These people might be very religious, they might be ambivalent, and they might not care about religion. They might include the many ‘good’ people known to Australians, including relatives, friends, work colleagues or people doing good deeds for the community.
4. Freedom of religion and belief requires that people have choice in religion and belief and that their religion should not adversely affect the rights of others. If religions do affect others’ rights or hinder freedom of religion and belief, then people need to be aware of this, otherwise freedoms continue to be denied. All people, regardless of whether they are ‘good’ people, or how religious they might be, need to be aware of the consequences of following their religions and beliefs. Most people would understand that it is unacceptable for people to infringe on other people’s rights and to have it continue, because people would not like it done to them. Consequently, it is important for people to reconsider their religion and beliefs and where they position themselves on the religious spectrum.
5. This submission makes some strong points to provide considered views for the Inquiry and to alert and challenge people to think critically about some fundamental religion and belief issues. This submission makes the case, for example, and is then emphatic, that discrimination is wrong. That conclusion alone has significant implications for freedom of religion and belief and our society.
Why are People Religious?
6. Religion, by its nature, is a faith, a belief system, and many people believe in religions regardless of what evidence there is to the contrary. Most world religions are based on religious texts written many hundreds or thousands of years ago by people with ancient, superstitious, and primitive customs and ethical systems. They had essentially no scientific knowledge, their understanding of the world was poor, and they created gods to explain what they could not.
7. Unsurprisingly, religious texts such as the Bible are scientifically flawed, and the god theories of religions are inconsistent with available evidence. Despite what religious leaders may suggest is revealed in their allegedly infallible and perfect religious texts, there is no credible evidence, and certainly not in the scientific literature, for gods, devils, fairies, angels, ghosts, that the universe was created, heaven, hell, a resurrection, a virgin birth, souls (something that survives death), miracles (events that are contrary to scientific understanding), or that prayers work. In the 21st century, it is delusional, by definition, to have a religious belief in imaginary gods that have characteristics or perform deeds contrary to scientific and credible evidence.
8. Beliefs in imaginary beings and things are propagated mainly through indoctrination. My standard indoctrination test is the following: consider what religion people would follow if they were raised in a country of a different religion by parents who fervently followed that other religion? As an example, a Christian should consider being raised by Muslim parents in an Islamic country, and Muslims should speculate about being raised by Christians in a Christian country. Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and other religious groups should ask similar questions.
9. Would they still follow the same religion? If their answer is no, then they should question why they follow the religion that they do, because clearly their religion is a function of their indoctrination. They have admitted that if they were indoctrinated in a different religion in a different culture, they would change their religion.
10. If their answer is yes, then perhaps they should try to objectively explain the geographical distribution of religions around the world. If a Catholic said they would be a Catholic regardless of whether they were raised by Muslim parents in a Muslim community, it should be asked why they are so special, because the overwhelming majority of children raised by Muslim parents in Muslim communities become Muslims. Children growing up in a Muslim community do not suddenly have a revelation of ‘Yes, Catholicism is for me’.
11. Many people might think that, as adults, they are making a choice about which religion is right, but this does not explain why the correlation between the religion of indoctrination and an adult’s final religion is so high. The geographic distribution of world religions and cultures is best described by this indoctrination theory because the correlation between religion and geography (culture) is very high.
12. Religious people, once indoctrinated, usually rely on religious leaders to tell them what to do, how to behave, what’s right and wrong, and what to believe in, rather than thinking for themselves. Their gods often proclaim that killing is wrong and then (hypocritically) murder people (including children). These gods are often sexist, racist, and homophobic; a reflection of the primitive society, for this is how the religion gave comfort to the primitive peoples that created the gods. In the 21st century, it is disappointing that people still consider that these gods, guilty of discrimination and atrocious acts, are worthy or worship.
The Imposition of Religious Views and Discrimination
13. People who have been indoctrinated in a religion cannot argue from reason that it is right, because if they had been raised elsewhere they would follow a different religion. They are not philosophically wedded to any one religion. It is therefore particularly important that they not impose their religious views on others by physical, emotional, legislative or other means.
14. Why is this so? Should people be allowed to impose their religions on others? For many religions, Christianity included, doing so would be hypocritical. Christians would not wish Islamic or Jewish, or even non-religious (atheistic and agnostic) beliefs, habits or customs to be forced on them. It is hypocritical and unethical for Christians to do unto others what they would not want others to do unto them.
15. This statement can be made more general, more universal. The same weight should be given to the views, values or interests of others as one gives to one’s own interests. This is the most fundamental ethical principle. It follows that the values of any one individual should not be forced on others. This principle guarantees in theory that all people have equal dignity and rights, as reflected in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
16. The Inquiry’s objectives relate to the rights of an individual to have the freedom to express and adopt their own religions and belief systems. As a human right, people should be able to believe what they will, to the extent that it does not interfere with other people’s human rights. Consequently, organised religion should not be imposed on others, should not discriminate and should not oppress others.
17. Furthermore, for there to be freedom of religion and belief, there must be freedom of choice in religion and belief. There cannot be freedom if there is no choice. No religions and no one religion can be favoured.
18. A denial of choice is a denial of freedom, whether it be in religion or politics. Freedom of choice in belief is rarely the situation in Australia for children, where even in government schools, religion, usually Christianity, is being imposed on others by stealth and by childhood indoctrination before people’s analytical skills are fully developed.
19. In addition, nobody would like to be discriminated against based on sex, religion, sexual preference, colour, race, language etc, and therefore religions should not discriminate against others. Religious organisations teach discrimination (their religious texts and church practices discriminate against women, homosexuals and non-believers) but often complain when its victims voice vehement objections. Discrimination is wrong because it denies people rights and unfairly affects their interests. Discrimination is abhorrent and should not be tolerated in religion or any aspect of society.
20. While it is important to respect the right of all to believe what they wish, honouring any gods that commit foul deeds should be discouraged and deplored, lest it affect how people behave in society. For example, on a Sunday, indoctrinated religious people can say with total conviction, ‘God killed people in the Bible because he is good and just, God punishes those who do not believe in him, sex before marriage is wrong, contraception is wrong, God believes men are better than women and so women cannot assume positions of leadership in the Church, and as homosexuals are worthy of punishment they cannot join the priesthood’. On the next day, perhaps in their public service job, they might advocate the opposite view: that all murder is wrong, people have freedom of belief, condoms should be used, and that women and homosexuals should be afforded the same rights as others. The perception, and most probably the reality, is that religious indoctrination lays the foundation for a person’s true beliefs—discriminatory beliefs that are clearly unacceptable in a secular, modern, multicultural and progressive Australia.
21. Would Australians have confidence that public servants with these religious views would treat unmarried bisexual pregnant women as equals of other candidates at interview? Would we have confidence that religious Prime Ministers or politicians can divorce themselves from their indoctrination and make informed and objective decisions about the role of, for example, women in the workforce or gay marriages, or make an objective decision about whether they should legislate for voluntary euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, if perchance it conflicts with their belief systems? Even if they could demonstrate that they could treat people equitably and make public policy decisions based on evidence, their analytical skills have been severely compromised and the perception is that they do not do so.
22. Religious belief should be permitted and freedom to debate all issues must be strongly encouraged. People must be able to speak for or against religion, as they do on politics, sport, and ethical issues, freely and without retribution. However, the imposition of religious beliefs or values on others, including restricting choice in religion, should be forbidden. Similarly, discrimination under the guise of religious belief should not be tolerated.
23. There is danger in religious belief systems adversely affecting how people reason and how our society can grow and evolve. Organised religion can have deleterious effects on society. If organised religions preach scientific, ethical or other wrongs, either overtly or stealthily, and discriminate against others then these wrongs will eventually be propagated. Women, homosexuals, non-believers (including atheists and agnostics) and others who are not favoured by gods or priests are discriminated against and oppressed, often by stealth. Women and homosexuals are disadvantaged because they are denigrated and denied rights by religions.
24. The world has a long history of religion-fuelled hostility, which is a logical consequence of thousands of years of religious discrimination, denial of rights, intolerance of other religions, and religions imposing their beliefs on others. Only when people can believe freely in what they will, religious discrimination ceases and religions no longer oppress or impose their religious values on others, can Australia and the world move confidently on a track towards a tolerant, less divisive and more egalitarian future.
A Hypothetical Religion
25. A case has been made that religion and belief should only be permitted when there is freedom of choice, and when they do not discriminate, are not imposed on others or otherwise deny people equality, dignity or other fundamental rights.
26. Please consider the following scenario. What if a new religion were to be established tomorrow in Australia, and an inspired person drafts a religious text that reflects the perfect views of their new and perfect God (and every good religion must have a god or two if it is to be competitive). The newly drafted religious text includes the following verses attributable to the new God.
- An Aboriginal person should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit an Aboriginal person to teach or to have authority over a non-Aboriginal person; the Aboriginal person must be silent.
- Any Aboriginal person who is arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the priest who represents your God must die.
- An Aboriginal person who works on God’s holy day will be put to death.
- If a person has sex with an Aboriginal person, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death, their blood will be on their own hands.
27. The above verses are racist, abhorrent and disgusting. Such a religious text would be treated with the contempt that any racially discriminatory text deserves. The proponents of the new religion would say that God moves in mysterious ways or that the text is not meant to be taken literally. Neither explanation conceals the underlying racism.
28. The astute observer would realise that these verses have been extracted from the Christian Bible and reworked to substitute the phrase ‘Aboriginal person’ in biblical verses that condemn women, non-believers, a person who works contrary to God’s laws, and homosexuals. The racism in the newly drafted religious text is more than matched by the racism, sexism, religism, homophobia, and particular nastiness that fill the Christian Bible. However, people do not seem to comprehend that the Bible represents the uneducated and far from enlightened views of primitive people, and serious belief in such discriminatory values is unworthy of civilised society, and a modern, secular and progressive Australia.
29. Freedom of belief is important. However, if belief systems deny other people their rights and are channelled through organised religion that involves discrimination and the imposition of primitive ethical values on others, then these belief systems are unacceptable. Religion that discriminates and imposes itself on other people should be considered similarly to a newly drafted religion that discriminates against Aboriginal people: unworthy of a following and worthy of contempt.
Religion and the Inquiry
30. I have sampled many of the submissions made to the Inquiry, and noted that many of them are from people with religious backgrounds, many of whom ask for freedom of religious beliefs and, paradoxically, that the Christian religion be favoured. This is hypocritical and unethical.
31. Much of the Inquiry’s Discussion Paper makes the premise that Australians, as a whole, have religious belief systems. This is not the case. The 2006 census showed that 18.7% of Australians had no religion (a trend that has been increasing), the same percentage as that of Anglicans in Australia. Further, it is reasonable to assume that the 11.2% of people who did not address the census question are more likely to be of no religion. That is up to about 30% of Australians have no or little desire for religion, and based on trends from previous Census results, this figure will increase in the future.
32. The paper also lumps atheists together. Atheists, broadly, are people who happen not to believe in a god or gods because there is no evidence that any gods exist. The historian Stephen Henry Roberts summarised the atheists’ position eloquently, ‘I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.’
33. People with religious beliefs should have the same rights, and no more, as others in society, including people who are not religious or who otherwise choose to believe in things only when there is credible evidence. No person or religious organisation should deny other people their rights, discriminate unfairly, oppress or denigrate others, or impose their religious views on others.
 1 Timothy 2:11-12, Deuteronomy 17:12, Exodus 35:2 and Leviticus 20:13 have been reworked to substitute the phrase ‘Aboriginal person’. Numerous other biblical verses are disgusting because of their primitive ethical commentary, discrimination against women, homosexuals and non-believers, and advocacy of slavery and sacrifice. In addition, many verses are scientifically ‘wrong’.
 This word is taken to mean discrimination against people of different religions, belief or non-belief systems.
 The term atheist (meaning not a theist) describes what people are not, believers in gods, and atheists have a range of views on other issues. It would be more positive to categorise people by something that they are. We do not classify those who do not believe in imaginary flying pink elephants as ‘aimaginaryflyingpinkelephants’, we call them normal and sensible. Similarly, those who do not believe in imaginary gods should be classified as normal and sensible, and perhaps those who do believe in imaginary gods should be classified as ‘asensible’.