Religious freedom is just as important as political freedom, declared George Brandis, Australia’s attorney general, in a speech given on November 5.
Brandis was speaking at Australia’s Human Rights Commission’s Religious Freedom Roundtable, held in Sydney.
The event was meant to provide a forum for people of diverse religious faiths and also those who do not profess a faith, but who take an interest in religious affairs.
“To those who are adherents of a religious faith – and in Australia, according to the last census, that was seven among every 10 of us – religion can be the most fundamental source of our sense of right and wrong; and of those beliefs about mankind and his place in the cosmos which transcend the everyday,” Brandis commented.
He noted that many notions of political liberties had their origin in the struggles for religious liberty. The attorney general referred to the political battles of the 17th and 18th centuries in England and to the writings of such authors as John Milton and John Locke.
At the same time over the Atlantic, in the colonies of North America, there was a strong commitment to religious liberty, not least in the writings of such persons as Thomas Jefferson.
In more recent times Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights strongly affirmed the right to religious freedom and liberty of conscience.
Turning to the current situation in Australia, Brandis commented that sometimes there is an inconsistent attitude towards religious tolerance.
“Members of Christian faiths – in particular the Catholic faith – are routinely the subject of mockery and insult by prominent writers and commentators, provoking Mr Dyson Heydon’s observation, in his Acton Lecture last year, that ‘anti-Catholicism in Australia now might be called the racism of the intellectuals’ – or perhaps he should have said, the pseudo-intellectuals,” Brandis observed.
He also referred to what he termed the “incessant, smearing ridicule” of the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, on account of his religious faith, describing it as “bigotry at its most shameful.”
Brandis said that the Roundtable had as its task the identification of some of the challenges to religious tolerance, and to develop strategies and understandings to help foment tolerance and mutual respect.