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The politics of belief: the rise of religious freedom in Australia

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posted on 28.03.2022, 18:05 by Elenie Poulos
The issue of religious freedom burst into Australian public discourse during the lead-up to marriage equality - or so it seemed when, for more than two years after the announcement in 2017 of a voluntary postal survey on same-sex marriage, religious freedom was an almost daily topic in the media. But religious freedom has been a matter of public debate in Australia since the early to mid 1800s and it is one of the few rights included in the Australian Constitution. While issues relating to religious freedom in Australia are being increasingly addressed by scholars from various disciplines, the discourse of religious freedom has remained largely unexamined. The constitutional protections for religious freedom are limited, and in the absence of a national human rights instrument, religious freedom (at the time of writing) is addressed in federal law only through a series of exemptions or exceptions in anti-discrimination law. Most of the research about religious freedom in Australia has, therefore, focussed on legal issues such as the Constitution and case law; the operation of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law; the effect of the exemptions on religious institutions, organisations and communities, and on groups of people targeted by those exemptions, for example, women and LGBTTQ people; and on so-called moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sexuality. Research in the fields of politics and sociology attends to such issues as religious demography, religious diversity and social cohesion; and the interaction between religious freedom and other rights. Little attention has been paid in the literature to the construction of the discourse of religious freedom, which has been naturalised in Australian public policy debates, obscuring the fact that it is a construction subject to change for political purposes. The issue of religious freedom burst into Australian public discourse during the lead-up to marriage equality - or so it seemed when, for more than two years after the announcement in 2017 of a voluntary postal survey on same-sex marriage, religious freedom was an almost daily topic in the media. But religious freedom has been a matter of public debate in Australia since the early to mid 1800s and it is one of the few rights included in the Australian Constitution. While issues relating to religious freedom in Australia are being increasingly addressed by scholars from various disciplines, the discourse of religious freedom has remained largely unexamined. The constitutional protections for religious freedom are limited, and in the absence of a national human rights instrument, religious freedom (at the time of writing) is addressed in federal law only through a series of exemptions or exceptions in anti-discrimination law. Most of the research about religious freedom in Australia has, therefore, focussed on legal issues such as the Constitution and case law; the operation of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law; the effect of the exemptions on religious institutions, organisations and communities, and on groups of people targeted by those exemptions, for example, women and LGBTTQ people; and on so-called moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia and sexuality. Research in the fields of politics and sociology attends to such issues as religious demography, religious diversity and social cohesion; and the interaction between religious freedom and other rights. Little attention has been paid in the literature to the construction of the discourse of religious freedom, which has been naturalised in Australian public policy debates, obscuring the fact that it is a construction subject to change for political purposes. This thesis by publication presents four papers which seek to address this gap by examining the discourse of religious freedom in public debates over a period of 35 years. Under the broad umbrella of critical discourse analysis, each paper uses a different method to analyse a genre of public discourse - church submissions to a public inquiry, parliamentary speeches on same-sex marriage, reports from public inquiries into religious freedom and newspaper editorials. This thesis has identified three distinct discourses of religious freedom. The first, 'religious diversity', developed in the context of an increasingly pluralistic Australia, casts vulnerable religious minorities as needing improved protection against discrimination. The second discourse, 'balancing rights', developed in the context of expanding LGBTIQ rights and a conservative Christian minority portraying itself as besieged by rising secularism, frames religious freedom and the associated right to freedom of (religious) expression as threatened by an imbalance with 'lesser' equality rights. The third discourse casts belief-a category that had become impervious to challenge and interrogation-as that which religious freedom is meant to free. In the context of marriage equality, the 'freedom of belief' discourse effectively marginalised the voices of minority religious groups in the public discourse of religious freedom as it became a powerful tool used by the conservative right to legitimise ongoing discrimination against LGBTIQ people and undermine progressive social politics.

History

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 - Introduction -- Chapter 2 - Religious Freedom in Australia: 'Not Found in the Wild' -- Chapter 3 - Protecting Freedom/Protecting Privilege : Church responses to anti-discrimination law reform in Australia -- Chapter 4 - The Power of Belief : Religious freedom in Australian parliamentary debates on same-sex marriage -- Chapter 5 - Constructing the Problem of Religious Freedom : An analysis of Australian government inquiries into religious freedom -- Chapter 6 - 'The bell was tolling' : The framing of religious freedom in The Australian editorials 2015-2019 -- Chapter 7 - Conclusion.

Notes

Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 158-178

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Degree

PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Year of Award

2020

Principal Supervisor

Marion Maddox

Additional Supervisor 1

Clare Monagle

Rights

Copyright 2020 Copyright disclaimer: http://mq.edu.au/library/copyright

Language

English

Extent

1 online resource (x, 178 pages) illustrations

Former Identifiers

mq:72248 http://hdl.handle.net/1959.14/1282888