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God is More Permissive than Queensland Abortion Law

Queensland’s abortion law among the most repressive in world and must change – The Courier Mail 9 August 2016

FOUR in five Queenslanders want to change the archaic 1899 state law which makes terminating a pregnancy a crime.

A committee of inquiry has been asked by Parliament to report by August 28 on independent MP Rob Pyne’s Private Member’s Bill decriminalising abortion.

More than 1300 submissions have been received, many wrongly claiming it would place no gestational limits on the procedure.

David Van Gend and Amanda Sheehan have both written for The Courier-Mail, seeing to heighten this fear. Pro-lifer van Gend even said the Bill meant an “open season on babies right up to birth”.

His hyperbole is misplaced given Pyne has said gestational limits should be put in place and the committee has been asked to recommend appropriate limits based on arrangements in other states.

Moreover, late-term abortions are rare. Fewer than 1 per cent take place beyond 16 weeks in Australia. They’re expensive, difficult to obtain and usually due to tragic circumstances, such as severe foetal abnormality.

Van Gend also appealed to tradition, saying “the law on abortion in Queensland has stood the test of time”.

It’s easy to fall headlong into the trap that something is good because it’s been around for a long time. But, if we pause, we might recall the pre-Enlightenment millennia of slavery, racism, infant mortality, poverty and torture, and reject such a plea.

Nearly one in three women has an abortion at some time in their life. It’s a common medical procedure. Thus, it’s not surprising that there are approximately 70,000 each year in Australia — a figure Sheehan cited again and again as though it constitutes a national moral crisis.

What she wants to do about this apparent epidemic of “abomination” is unclear. Make it more illegal? Or, make it more punitive? Currently, women can be jailed for up to seven years and doctors for 14.

Reducing unwanted pregnancies is a better idea. A study by medical journal The Lancet, in the UK, showed that since 1999, sex education and contraception has halved unwanted teen pregnancies.

In Queensland, doctors operate in fear of contravening the law, relying on a legal precedent where the procedure is allowed if the health of the woman is endangered.

This ambiguity has real world consequences: a Cairns couple faced a criminal trial in 2010 and this year a pregnant, 12-year-old girl had to get the Supreme Court’s imprimatur for a termination.

Miscasting a heart-rending dilemma many women face as an “open season” to murder babies diminishes the rights of women, ascribing a sinister motives where none exist, and deliberately obscures the necessary balancing of rights.

Further, to cry “murder” in defence of a developing human embryo, a human in potential but not yet in reality, constitutes a category error.

There is simply no method to measure the rights of a foetus at every stage in its development. No point, from conception to birth, provides an easy or agreed milestone for when a foetus becomes a person: the point at which one of our systems of human rights could be applied.

International law rules that the rights of the woman take precedence over the foetus. To argue the opposite irrationally weighs the rights of the unborn and developing, over the fully developed woman.

Although the pro-life argument is consistent in Catholic dogma, conservatives and Christians have not always opposed terminations.

When thousands of poor, US women were dying from unsafe abortions in the 1960s, due to laws identical to those in Queensland, it was the New York clergy who took up the pro-choice cause.

The 1973 book, Abortion Counselling and Social Change, describes how Jewish and Protestant religious leaders evinced a “pastoral obligation” to help women obtain safe and affordable terminations.

New York legalised abortion in 1970 and the landmark pro-choice ruling in Roe vs. Wade occurred in 1973. But more than 40 years later, Queensland still has the same draconian laws.

Given this disagreement on what God thinks, perhaps we can take a cue from nature. Since half of pregnancies end in spontaneous natural termination and 20 per cent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, God himself must be more permissive than Queensland law.

Rather than trumpeting the length of time we’ve retained abortion laws that are among the most repressive in the world, Queenslanders must stand them no longer.

RobPynecourtesyCourierMail

Independent MP Rob Pyne (image courtesy The Courier Mail)

Mark ‘No religion” on the 2016 Census

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The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes

The Church and its weakening grip over Telstra and taxes – ABC’s The Drum 14 April 2016

News that Telstra has apparently bowed to pressure from the Catholic Church and backed away from public support for marriage equality comes at a time many Australians are reconsidering the role of religion in our society.

Telstra and other corporations had lent their logos to a full page ad run by Marriage Equality Australia in May last year.

The Archdiocese of Sydney wrote to these corporations “with grave concern” about the marriage equality campaign, highlighting how the Catholic Church is “a significant user of goods and services from many corporations”.

Telstra quietly capitulated, saying it has “no further plans to figure prominently in the wider public debate”. According to the Australian, a “person familiar with the company’s decision” said Telstra did not want to “risk its commercial relationship with the church”.

Using its buying power to effectively threaten a boycott is a high handed and cynical move on the part of the Church. Perhaps this sort of behaviour helps us to understand why antipathy towards organised religion seems to be increasing in Australia.

Nearly two in three Australians think tax breaks for advancing religion should go, according to two recent surveys.

According to a new poll by Ipsos, 64 per cent of Australians favour scrapping tax free status for churches and basic religious groups. Less than 20 per cent said tax breaks should remain, and 16.5 per cent were unsure.

More than half (55.1 per cent) of those surveyed disagreed that advancing religion is of public benefit. Only 20.7 per cent said they agreed, with a further 24.2 per cent saying advancing religion may be of public benefit.

The results provide a stunning correlation with last week’s Essential Report, where 64 per cent of those surveyed disapprove of the tax free status of religious groups. Significantly, 39 per cent “strongly disapprove”. Disapproval was consistent across all major parties, with the Liberal/National Party voters recording 63 per cent, and those aged 55 years and over at 73 per cent.

If antipathy to religion and its special treatment continues to grow, the pressure on governments to respond accordingly will eventually become irresistible.

Public opinion has undergone a seismic shift. Rather than ask why remove tax free status, Australians are now asking, “Why not?” The thought that only one in five Australians think advancing religion is beneficial to the public must be deeply troubling for religious advocates.

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John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen

John Howard’s Christian Right Feels Silenced, And They’re Telling Anyone Who’ll Listen – New Matilda 03/01/2016

A screengrab of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, appearing on Channel 9's 60 minutes program in 2012.

“People are too scared to speak”, claims ex-Prime Minister John Howard amidst a mood of growing resentment towards the Coalition’s Christian Right. Howard has called out a “minority fundamentalism” where progressives attempt to silence others. By example, he cites the branding of those who oppose gay marriage as homophobes, and the controversy over the Tasmanian anti-marriage equality booklet.

We see this phenomenon regularly – the pre-emptive branding of an opponent’s view by some type of slur. But this applies to all sides of politics. Cory Bernardi heckled Bill Shorten calling him “a fraud”. Shorten responded in kind, dubbing him a “homophobe”. But then, a doe-eyed Bernardi complained that “it’s disappointing someone seeking to be PM resorts to name calling”.

Tut-tut – glass houses and all that.

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Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason

Slurs Are A Poor Counterfeit For Reason – The Huffington Post 25/02/16

CORY BERNARDI

(image courtesy The Huffington Post Australia)

In the current charged atmosphere fuelled by cultural issues such as same-sex marriage, it’s unsurprising to see some erecting invisible force-fields around their beliefs. Senator Cory Bernardi claimed the Safe Schools anti-bullying campaign attempted “to indoctrinate kids with Marxist cultural relativism”.

Bill Shorten branded Bernardi a homophobe. Slurs are a poor counterfeit for reason, as are conspiracy theories. As we’ll see, relativism is a charge that likes it both ways.

Bernardi described Shortens jibe as “a really sad indictment on the modern character of political debate”. Whilst true, this is not coming from the saviour of reason.“Bestiality” and “Burqas” are words inversely associated with that comparison. When he joined the Coalition front bench as a comparative young man, some feared his star had risen too soon — he’d become an anachronism before his time.

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Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces?

New Matilda 22 February 2016 – Can Australian Catholicism Save Itself From Its Ultra-Conservative Forces? (images courtesy New Matilda)

(IMAGE: paul bica, Flickr).

The leaked allegations of child abuse against Cardinal George Pell aren’t surprising, nor should they particularly diminish anyone’s opinion of him. Simply, there’s no room below rock-bottom. No need then for a new Tim Minchin song, or any reappraisal at all. Whether they have basis in fact remains to be seen.

The only certainty is that, regardless of the conclusion of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, or the outcome of police investigations, Pell will never face a punishment commensurate with his failures.

This is just the latest in a series of recent public relations disasters for the Catholic Church. The aftershocks will reverberate for some time. But amidst these ructions, Australian Catholicism might find a ray of hope in casting out some of its more vocal and acidulous conservative colleagues. A more progressive and non-partisan church leadership would be a good thing – and dare I say, one more in line with the Christian values espoused by Jesus.

Pell cited health grounds to avoid appearing in person for the hearings of the Royal Commission. Given the year-long investigation into multiple allegations of abuse against him by the Victoria Police SANO taskforce, many will conclude he had other reasons for refusing to come. Pell cannot be compelled to answer questions whilst he remains in Rome.

It’s not the first time allegations of sexual abuse have been levelled at Pell. In 2002, a church-inquiry found insufficient evidence to uphold the charge Pell molested a boy on a Phillip Island holiday camp in the early 1960’s. In contrast to Pell’s claim that he was “exonerated”, the Southwell inquiry concluded the testimony of both Pell and his accuser were credible, but there was insufficient cause to establish the allegation.

Having affixed his wagon to conservative forces, Pell’s own troubles exacerbate the steady worsening of community sentiment towards conservative Christianity. Read more here.

(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)
(IMAGE: Jody Claborn, Flickr)

 

 

Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free

The Huffington Post Australia has published my article originally published in New Matilda as No More Tax Loopholes: It’s Time for Faith Groups and Religions to Render under Caesar.

Only The Ghosts Of Christmas Past Know Why Advancing Religion Is Still Tax-Free – Huffington Post Australia – 07/01/16

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar's, And To God The Things That Are God's. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

And Jesus Answering Said Unto Them, Render To Caesar The Things That Are Caesar’s, And To God The Things That Are God’s. And They Marvelled At Him. After A Work By Bartolomeo Manfredi. From Les Artes Au Moyen Age, Published Paris 1873. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

Jesus was quite clear on the question of tax, famously advising the Jews to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Fast forward to contemporary Australia and there’s precious little rendering going on. In fact, successive federal governments have seemed determined to render unto God the things rendered unto them by the voting public.

Nominating the purpose of “advancing religion” is one of the ways not-for-profits can gain tax-exempt status. In doing so, faith groups also avoid many state taxes, stamp duties and local government charges. Tax-free status is granted on the basis that advancing religion is unequivocally beneficial to the public.

We can trace the origins of this presumption to the 400-year-old Statute of Elizabeth. Evidently, the following four centuries of barbecuing heretics and warring over the finer points of doctrine haven’t quite dispelled this shibboleth.

The other charitable purposes covered by the Charities Act are directly beneficial to the public. No ambiguity pertains to purposes such as alleviating poverty, caring for the aged, and providing social welfare. Indeed, many faith-based service providers obtain tax-free status by nominating one of these genuinely charitable purposes. Thus, genuinely charitable faith groups would suffer no disadvantage from scrapping “advancing religion”.

Thousands of Australians are involved in endeavours such as helping children in need, providing food and shelter for the homeless, and Meals on Wheels for the aged. This work is laudable regardless of whether they’re faith-based or secular — even more so since many volunteers are unpaid.

Some would argue that “advancing religion” enables these charitable services. But since they’re already available as charitable purposes, “advancing religion” actually incentivises groups who don’t provide charitable services.

In days of yore, advancing religion was beneficial to the public because the public was universally religious. Everyone participated in it. But these days, despite the attempts of recent governments to reassert Christianity in schools, young people are becoming less and less religious.

Non-religion is the highest category for Australians below the age of 25. The more governments try to promote faith, the more public sentiment moves away from it — as if they are mutually repellent forces. Despite all the incentives, religion isn’t “advancing”, it’s retreating.

We commence 2016 a determinedly profane people. Perhaps it’s due to the perspective from our relatively prosperous and peaceful sandy haven in the south oceans. Even more glaring is the contradistinction between living conditions in our secular country, and those which are fervently religious.

An increasing number of Australians answer the Census as “No religion”. By 2017, non-belief will overtake Catholicism to become the largest demographic. Fewer than 8 percent of Australians attend church regularly. Only 15 percent of men and 22 percent of women observe the doctrines of their faith. 84 percent of Australians think religion should have no role in public affairs.

And yet we all subsidise its promotion. If there’s an exercise in futility, this is it. What’s the point in patronising empty churches? Why must all Australians chip in for activities that so few take part in? And it’s not just that so few Australians benefit from advancing religion, many faith groups act in ways contrary to the public interest and to the ideals of charity.

The prosperity gospel of Hillsong Church features pastors who make “bags of cash”, and demands its flock to give a 10th of their income to the church. Its leader, Brian Houston, even wrote a book called You Need More Money.

The fundamentalist Christian Exclusive Brethren, accused of splitting up families, were described by Kevin Rudd in 2007 as an “extremist cult”.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) now excommunicates same-sex couples and their children.

Scientology demands larger and larger payments from its disciples as they climb the rungs of its audit hierarchy. By the time they get to the upper levels, a substantial, life-altering investment has been made. Only then do they hear the science fiction-esque foundational story of galactic commander Xenu, alien spirits called Thetans, and the hydrogen bombs which were dropped into Earth’s volcanoes.

In opposing Scientology, Independent senator Nick Xenophon has proposed a public benefit test to assess the aims and activities of proposed charitable groups. Though similar to a scheme used in the UK, the Federal parliament voted this down in 2010.

The Catholic Church’s moral authority has been crippled by the child sexual abuse scandal. Despite the payouts to victims of sex abuse, the Catholic Church is still likely the wealthiest private institution in the world. Its treasure appears to be on earth rather than in heaven, but if it followed Jesus and sold all it has and gave it to the poor, we’d have an immediate end to extreme world poverty.

Faith groups avoid billions of dollars in tax. The Australian charity sector recorded a 2014 income of $104 billion, with 37.5 percent of groups nominating the purpose of advancing religion. Basic religious charities aren’t even required to submit financial reports. No exact figures exist, but according to the Secular Party of Australia, tax exemptions could cost taxpayers up to $31 billion per annum.

We should cease sponsoring the dogmas of faith, and use the billions of dollars saved on evidence-based policies. Reinvest the money in infrastructure, education, science, technology and healthcare. Consider easing the debt burden on University graduates or use the savings to fund tax cuts for ordinary Australians. Or give tax credits to charity’s unpaid volunteers.

It’s not as if we couldn’t use the money. Our country has a revenue problem, an ageing population and an economy requiring renewal through investment in innovation. Australia is face to face with the challenge of a tech-led global economy. No longer can we rely on simply gouging our wealth from the soil. Never before has the way we spend our tax dollars been more crucial.

Tax dollars must be allocated to programmes providing real and measurable benefits to all. We cannot afford the luxury of subsidising arcane and increasingly irrelevant belief systems which provide little tangible benefit.

The ghosts of Christmas past still haunt our tax policies, recalling a time when religiosity was universal, churches were unblemished by scandal and were still considered the exemplars of moral goodness. Not anymore. Not one of our set of competing religious ideologies has proven itself universally good. If any ideology could substantiate such a grand claim we would have all subscribed to it by now. As Jesus instructed, faith groups must now properly render unto Caesar.

Did Jesus provide atonement for the sins of mankind? Did he pay for our sins? If so, it’s doubtful that he wanted tax credits in return. As we move into a new year, we should consider removing the anachronism of tax-free status for advancing religion, reserving it for activities providing direct and unambiguous benefits to society.