Freedom of association

Sanity prevails: Evangelical Union at USyd won’t be deregistered

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The University of Sydney Union has abandoned their plan to deregister the Evangelical Union.

Faith-based societies at the University of Sydney were facing deprivation of monetary resources and access to campus facilities over their requirement that members be Christian.

However, in a big win for freedom of association on campus, the union announced in a media statement today that faith based clubs and societies would be able to decide the conditions of their membership:

After long and thoughtful consultation with our religious communities on campus, the University of Sydney Union Board of Directors resolved at the April Board Meeting to amend the C&S Regulations to allow faith based declarations as a condition of membership and Executives of faith based clubs registered under the USU C&S program.

The Board has listened to its members and acknowledges the importance of such declarations to some of our faith based clubs and societies.

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First they came for the Evangelicals, now they’re coming for the Catholics

The University of Sydney Union is at it again, this time targeting the 88-year old Catholic Society over the requirement that executive members are Catholic.

In a repeat of the situation facing the Evangelical Union, the Catholic Society is facing deregistration because of their “discriminatory” policy.

The Australian reports on this latest attack on freedom of association on campus:

“It’s a surreal situation,” ­society president Francis Tamer said. “We have been told we are discriminating against people ­because you have to be Catholic to be on the executive. Of course you do — we are the Catholic ­Society.”

One of the university’s best known Catholic alumni, Tony Abbott, agrees, saying “it seems like a hell of a double standard” given that Sydney University has long offered both a “women’s room” and a Koori Centre for ­indigenous students…

Similarly, Liberal and Labor clubs on campus have pointed out that they would expect their members to be Labourites and Liberals.

In the other ongoing case at Sydney University, the Evangelical Union voted 71-1 to not remove their requirement that voting members identify with Jesus Christ.

In response, the Union has delayed the decision to deregister the Evangelical Union, stating that the final decision is yet to be made due to legal complexity.

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News of the predictable

Bike gang members on the Gold Coast dodge laws by pretending to “disassociate” for the time being:

Cunning Gold Coast bikies have publicly declared themselves not to be bikies to skirt tough laws banning them from associating with each other.

… Detective Inspector Brendan Smith said many bikies, particularly former Bandidos, had dropped the title but not the association.

“Since the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment laws were introduced we have seen many power players claim to be disassociated,” he said.

“They say they are no longer bikies and continue to meet without fear of strict laws.”

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Union membership at lowest rate in over 100 years

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.19.43 AMAustralia’s union membership is at its lowest point in over a century, according to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

The latest employment data, released today, shows that union membership fell by more than 2 per cent—over 200,000 people—in a single year. The Australian reports:

Trade union membership declined markedly between August 2013 and 2014, according to fresh statistics published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The ABS figures show the number of people who were trade union members in their main job fell from 17 per cent in August 2013 to only 15 per cent in August 2014.

The fall in union membership occurred across the economy, with union membership in the private sector falling from 12 to 11 per cent, and public sector membership falling from 42 to 39 per cent.

This means that Australia’s rate of union membership is now less than a quarter of what it was at it’s peak in 1962 (61 per cent). Since 1992, it’s fallen by over a third, from 40 to 15 per cent.

This leaves the Australian Labor Party (ALP) as the sole place where union membership has flourished—as IPA research has found, 17 of 25 sitting ALP Senators (68 per cent), and 23 of 55 ALP MPs (42 per cent), are former union officials.

This glaring disparity between union membership and political power is a direct result of the deep interconnected relationship between the ALP and the union movement. Such disproportionate influence of a single interest group is a problem for Australian democracy.


For more on union influence in the ALP, read the IPA’s 2015 report: Unions in Labor: A handbrake on reform (by myself and James Paterson)

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What’s good for a media release is not necessarily good for freedom of association

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Around Australia, anti-association laws have already proven themselves to be highly arbitrary and have led to some serious unintended consequences. But anti-association laws have one advantage: they make good law and order media releases.

Hence the Victorian government introduced into parliament earlier this month its own Criminal Organisations Control Amendment (Unlawful Associations) Bill 2015, designed to prohibit “habitual consorting” and unlawful association. You can read the Attorney-General Martin Pakula’s second reading speech here.

I explained the problems with anti-association and anti-consorting laws in the Drum when, in 2012, the NSW government was offering its own reforms:

Consorting laws are good for smoothing the wheels of prosecution – if you think the goal of a legal system is to maximise prosecutions. But their ability to prevent or punish serious criminal activity are limited.

Consorting laws are clearly unjust for those accused of consorting. But they are cruel for those who have been convicted and punished for a crime. A malicious police officer could eliminate a released criminal’s freedom of association simply by issuing his friends with a warning.

When governments face law and order problems, the urge to “do something” must be overwhelming. The newspapers call for action. Talkback radio calls for crackdowns. Police call for more police power.

But police and prosecutors already have a long list of offences they can charge, and they have ample powers to do so. Nobody seriously believes motorcycle gangs are an unprecedented threat that a modern legal system is powerless against, yet for some reason everybody acts as if they are.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Freedom of association – a freedom that extends even to those who have in the past been convicted of a crime – is one of those essential liberties.

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Beware any government committed to “anti-discrimination”

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Victoria’s Equality Minister Martin Foley

 

The Victorian state government is grandiosely committed to expanding anti-discrimination laws throughout the state, and is prepared to throw aside any freedom it sees to achieve it.

Prohibitions on peaceful speech and coercive powers to restrict religious liberty and freedom of association are all on the cards, as the government sets a course to ‘put equality back on the agenda in Victoria‘.

For this government, “equality” means special rights for some people, and diminished liberties for others. Doesn’t that sound a little discriminatory?

Just last week, the government gave its support to prohibitions on singing and displaying certain materials around particular favoured buildings. In this new age of anti-discrimination, the right to walk around certain buildings without seeing something disagreeable is paramount to freedom of speech.

Earlier this week, the Attorney-General not only failed to reject, but will consider extraordinary proposals from some “human rights” groups to give the state equal opportunity commission the power to conduct its own investigations, without first needing to receive a complaint. For some, equal opportunity laws are so essential that they must also be easy to enforce – so easy in fact, that the burden of proof is placed on the accused person to make their case, while also relieving that person of the right to silence.

That this did not immediately raise multiple flags with the first law officer of the Crown is worrying, to say the least.

The government’s view of religion and free association is also particularly concerning. Over the weekend, the state’s very own Minister for Equality, Martin Foley, “rubbished” the possibility of a religious exemption in legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt children. In ruling out the sort of exemptions other state’s provide, Foley said ‘let’s be clear: this is 2015’.

This, in conjunction with the Labor party’s commitment to make it next to impossible for private, faith-based schools to selectively employ people who share their values, sends a clear message: Freedom of speech, association and holding to a religious belief are a thing of the past, and rights to non-discrimination must now reign supreme.

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Tasmanian upper house to debate anti-discrimination amendments

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Tasmanian Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff

The Legislative Council of Tasmania will today debate amendments to possibly the most restrictive anti-discrimination laws in the country.

The laws in question concern the rights of religious schools to selectively admit students based on their religious belief.

This is important for religious schools. Being compelled to admit students who do not share their faith weakens the character of the school, and diminishes their ability to immerse their students in a religious education expected from parents.

Under the current Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, sections 55A and 55B require faith-based schools to request permission from the state Andi-Discrimination Commissioner to give preference in enrolments to students who share the faith of the school. Most schools are unable to meet the requirements, and those that could are discouraged by the regulatory burden.

Last month, education minister Jeremy Rockliff introduced the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2015, which replaces the burdensome sections 55A and 55B with 51A, a general exemption for religious school. This will bring the law more in line with all other Australian jurisdictions.

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Having your cake and eating it too

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Earlier this month, a Canadian gay couple demanded a refund from a jewellery store that had been helping the couple design rings for their engagement. They did so after discovering that the owners of the store had displayed a sign that promoted the traditional conception of marriage between a man and a woman. The store has agreed to refund the deposit paid by the couple.

It’s interesting to reflect on this situation given the recent string of anti-discrimination cases against businesses that have refused to serve gay customers. The case of the Canadian jewellery store is the same issue in reverse. In this instance there was no refusal of service, there was refusal of purchase. But there is no law to deal with this unambiguous case of religious discrimination; no tribunal to which the business owners can take the customer for refusing to buy their products.

Nor should there be. That would be absurd. And there’s the rub: the absurdity is directly proportionate to the absurdity of allowing customers to take businesses to court over refusal of service. Voluntary economic exchange is a two-way street. Both the buyer and seller are entitled to take any factor they like into account in deciding whether to engage in the exchange, including the political and religious beliefs of the individuals with whom they are seeking to engage in trade.

The Canadian couple who demanded a refund are entitled to do so. But neither the jeweller nor the customer should be able to coerce the other to engage in economic exchange. It really is that simple.

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Religious liberty and the secular state: the Canadian approach

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The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa.

A recent case in the Canada’s highest court has unanimously rejected an attempt by a provincial government to force a private schools to teach from a secular perspective.

Here are some of the most important excepts from the judgment:

Freedom of religion means that no one can be forced to adhere to or refrain from a particular set of religious beliefs. This includes both the individual and collective aspects of religious belief… The context in this case is state regulation of religious schools. This raises the question of how to balance robust protection for the values underlying religious freedom with the values of a secular state. The state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that students in all schools are capable, as adults, of conducting themselves with openness and respect as they confront cultural and religious differences… But a secular state does not — and cannot — interfere with the beliefs or practices of a religious group unless they conflict with or harm overriding public interests. Nor can a secular state support or prefer the practices of one group over another. The pursuit of secular values means respecting the right to hold and manifest different religious beliefs. A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.

Loyola is a private Catholic institution. The collective aspects of religious freedom — in this case, the collective manifestation and transmission of Catholic beliefs — are a crucial part of its claim. The Minister’s decision requires Loyola to teach Catholicism, the very faith that animates its character, from a neutral perspective. Although the state’s purpose is secular, this amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about its own religion in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding. This demonstrably interferes with the manner in which the members of an institution formed for the purpose of transmitting Catholicism can teach and learn about the Catholic faith. It also undermines the liberty of the members of the community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school.

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Peter Walsh on free speech and legal parasites

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Nick Cater’s piece from yesterday (posted on FreedomWatch here) makes the point that the late Peter Walsh was not just a passionate supporter of deregulation and economic liberty, but was particularly critical of the authoritarianism that swept the Labor Party.

In that light, Walsh’s Australian Financial Review columns, published after he left parliament in 1993, make for some entertaining, and compelling, reading.

Continue Reading →

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