Putting our case in Proper Perspective


In our second part of the religious liberty module, we are looking at the contemporary Australian position, in the light of our country’s history since 1788 and the overall world situation today. Roy Williams (a St Thomas’ member) has written a very helpful article on the structure and history of religious liberty in Australia, including the changing position of the Anglican church. He also joined Gerard O’Brien for an interview for the CEC podcast. Roy is a member of the 5pm congregation at St Thomas’, has decades of legal experience and has written a number of books, including one on the faith of Australia’s Prime Ministers.

We released a second podcast episode for this part with an interview between Bishop Michael Stead and Tony Payne from the Centre for Christian Living on the current state of religious liberty in Australia. And a third podcast episode with Martyn Iles' comments on the Draft Religious Freedom bill.

Also included on this web page are resources from Neil Foster (an expert on law and religion in Australia) and Patrick Parkinson (Chair of Freedom for Faith).

You can subscribe to the Christians Engaging Culture podcast here (or by searching for it in your favourite podcast app).

The Australian Scene - Roy Williams and Gerard O'Brien

Podcast duration: 51:18Speakers: Roy Williams and Gerard O’BrienPublisher: St Thomas’ Anglican Church, North Sydney (used with permission)Originally published at: Date accessed: 26/8/19

Not a podcast about Israel Folau - Michael Stead and Tony Payne

Podcast duration: 42:43Speakers: Michael Stead and Tony PaynePublisher: Centre for Christian Living (used with permission)Originally published at: accessed: 4/9/19

Draft Freedom of Religion Bill - Martyn Iles

Podcast duration: 30:28Speakers: Martyn IlesPublisher: Australian Christian Lobby (used with permission)Originally published at: accessed: 12/9/19


Not a podcast about Israel Folau

We think this podcast episode is so good that we had a bonus episode in our podcast feed just to include it! Tony Payne is joined by Anglican bishop Michael Stead ‘to discuss why the cause of religious freedom is worth fighting for in our democracy, what the Australian government’s proposed “religious discrimination” legislation is likely to deliver (and not deliver), and what the implications of all this are for Christian individuals and organisations.’

Tony Payne interviews Michael Stead, Bishop of South Sydney and the Chair of the Religious Freedom Reference Group. You will find answers to questions such as:

  • Should we welcome persecution of Christians? Or should we resist the erosion of these democratic freedoms – freedoms of belief, thought and speech?
  • Is religious liberty really under threat?
  • Is religious liberty a power and privilege play by Christians? What about other faiths?
  • What sort of legislation on religious liberty is likely? Is it adequate?
  • How do we balance the competing rights for religious liberty?
  • How can we exercise our Christian stewardship in relation to getting involved in the debate about religious freedom?

Duration: 41:12Speakers: Tony Payne and Michael SteadPublisher: Centre for Christian LivingDate accessed: 1/8/19

The Australian Scene

The video version of the podcast, where Gerard O’Brien sits down with Roy Williams to discuss his paper (above).

Duration: 49:43Speakers: Gerard O’Brien and Roy WilliamsPublisher: St Thomas’ Anglican ChurchDate accessed: 26/8/19

Religious Discrimination Bill | The Abortion Debate

This was a timely video released by the Australian Christian Lobby during our module on religious liberty. In it, Martyn Iles discusses the draft religious freedom bill and how it doesn't provide the protections needed by Australians.

Duration: 41:32Speaker: Martyn IlesPublisher: Australian Christian LobbyDate accessed: 13/9/19


Roy Williams prepared an excellent article for St Thomas’ on the historical and legal position of religious liberty in Australia. Among other things, this article expands upon the following four points:

  1. Australian Christians still enjoy a large measure of freedom. Despite worrying recent developments, and without downplaying the need for vigilance, religious liberty is already protected by Australian law to a substantial extent. There is scope for significant legal reform - in particular, the enactment into Australian domestic law of a positive right to religious liberty, equivalent to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even so, compared to religious minorities in many other countries, Australian Christians are blessed. Accordingly, we must be grateful.
  2. Australia is no longer a majority “Christian” country – if it ever was. Christians in Australia must be conscious of our limited numerical clout nowadays. Things have changed a great deal since Federation in 1901, and even since the 1970s. We are an increasingly disliked and distrusted minority. Accordingly, we must shed any notion of entitlement and be realistic and courageous.
  3. When Christians were ascendant in Australia, religious liberty and freedom of conscience were not always extended to other religious minorities – fully or at all. Anglicans have an especially poor record in Australia in this regard. The historical details are sobering, yet now we find ourselves a target of (relatively mild) discrimination, and seek mercy. Accordingly, we must be repentant and gracious.
  4. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are not absolute freedoms. In the Australian context they have several different aspects or manifestations. Six may be listed in descending order of breadth - see the 'target' graphic on this page for a pictorial representation. The further out from the centre of the ‘target’, the more often the relevant freedom will conflict with other rights and freedoms. (For example, Israel Folau’s freedom of speech arguably conflicted with the right of his employer to enforce a commercial contract which was voluntarily entered into, and, more controversially, the ‘right’ of people not to be subjected to ‘hate speech’.) We must be informed about these nuances.

Estimated read time: 19:30Author: Roy Williams

Defending Religious Liberty

This article argues for the importance of protecting religious liberty in Australia, and makes legal suggestions on how this could be achieved.

As the article says, ‘It is better for society if that society fosters an environment where people are able to voice those thoughts, rather than be silenced and left to stew in resentment.’

Estimated read time: 8:20Author: Morgan BeggPublisher: Institute of Public AffairsDate accessed: 1/8/19

The Government’s Plans for Freedom of Religion Legislation

The Government will be introducing three pieces of legislation in the near future. All of this legislation is welcome; but it is important to recognise that these are relatively modest and uncontroversial steps to better protect religious liberty. Some big issues have been left until after a report of the Australian Law Reform Commission due in April 2020, and will need to be addressed later next year. Other big issues are not currently on the Government’s agenda at all, such as better protection for freedom of speech on matters of faith, and freedom of conscience. The issue of how schools deal with children and young people who express uncertainty about their gender identity is also now emerging as a problem that may need to be addressed legislatively, although it is not an issue only for faith-based schools.

In the long-term, if these big issues are not addressed, the situation for people of faith will continue to deteriorate. This article provides a concise summary of the current state of play.

Estimated read time: 18:20Author: Patrick ParkinsonPublisher: Freedom for FaithDate accessed: 1/8/19


Independent Review For The UK Foreign Secretary On Persecuted Christians

On Boxing Day 2018 the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Hunt, commissioned an Independent Review into the global persecution of Christians. The review is being conducted by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen, and his interim findings are most disturbing.

In particular, the Bishop has found that persecution of Christians is approaching genocidal levels in the Middle East, northern Africa and the Philippines. His overall conclusion so far: “Persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity.

Estimated read time: 79:40Author: Rt. Rev. Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of TruroPublisher: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United KingdomDate accessed: 25 June 2019

Open Doors Website

Open Doors is an organisation whose ministry is solely to the persecuted church.

This website contains some chilling statistics and other helpful information and prayer points.

Publisher: Open Doors Australia IncDate accessed: 28 June 2019


If you are challenged by someone to explain why Christians in Australia should now be treated with respect (in the form of additional legal protections), when so often in the past we failed to extend even a basic level of respect to other religious minorities, admit that we ‘deserve’ nothing. We have no moral ‘right’ to receive mercy from the state or anyone. Yes, we now look like hypocrites. But remind the person that - whatever he or she thinks about us - mercy is at the heart of the Gospel! God is infinitely merciful to anyone, however sinful, however hypocritical, who is prepared to repent and follow Christ.

If the opportunity arises, remind the person you are talking to that the very notion of “human rights” is a long-term by-product of the Christian Gospel. The central ideas were and still are: everyone is equally created in God’s image, everyone is sinful in the sight of God, anyone can be put right with God by placing their faith in Jesus, the Son of God. These notions did not exist in the Greco-Roman world and were not invented by Enlightenment philosophers.


Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 4:14–16 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.


1. Given the truly atrocious extent of religious persecution overseas, including persecution of our fellow Christians, how should we approach the task of arguing for the preservation and extension of Australian religious liberty laws?

2. In 1988, the Hawke Government proposed a wide expansion of the religious liberty protections in section 116 of the Constitution (which, among other limitations, does not constrain state parliaments). The proposal was opposed by many Christian churches (and the Liberal and National parties) and defeated at that year’s referendum. Are we now prepared to extend every freedom that we claim for ourselves to people who hold beliefs with which we may trenchantly disagree – atheists, New Agers, cultural Marxists, Muslims, whomever? If not, why not?


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for blessing Christians in Australia with a large measure of religious liberty. We are conscious that tens of millions of people overseas are not in our blessed position. We pray that you might help and sustain those of our Christian brothers and sisters across the world who are persecuted for their faith in a way that we can barely imagine. Help us to make a wise case for the preservation and extension of religious liberty in Australia, in a manner that befits your son Jesus. In particular, help us always to remember, and to be prepared to admit that too often we have failed to extend religious liberty to people of other Christian denominations and other religious worldviews. Please direct our hearts and minds so that we do not make that mistake again.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Expert Panel Review on Religious Freedom (the Ruddock report)

The so-called Ruddock report was commissioned by the federal government in November 2017. The report was delivered to the government in May 2018 and finally released to the public in December 2018, along with the Morrison Government’s proposed response.

Key points to note:

  • The Morrison government has accepted 15 of the Panel’s 20 recommendations (10 ‘directly’ and 5 ‘in principle’)
  • Perhaps the most important recommendation to have been accepted is the enactment of a new Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act (or equivalent) - though this would not create a positive right to religious liberty
  • The government has as yet done nothing to implement any recommendation
  • Five recommendations have been referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission - those relating to the right of religious organisations, including faith-based schools, to employ staff who adhere to the beliefs of the religious organisation
  • A few of the recommendations accepted by the government in fact involve taking away existing ‘religious’ exemptions from State and territory anti-discrimation laws

All of the pertinent documents are at this website.Publisher: Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and CabinetDate accessed: 28/6/19

Anti-Discrimination “Equality” Law Exemptions Do Not Lead to Fairness for All: An International Perspective

‘Although exemptions are often billed as a compromise, the evidence suggests that they will never be enough to satisfy those who think religious believers are discriminating and getting away with it. The “compromise” soon becomes a zero-sum game with only one winner.’

Estimated read time: 10:20Author: Paul ColemanPublisher: Public DiscourseDate accessed: 1/8/19

Labor and the Coalition - Responses on Religious Liberty

A very useful summary of the official positions of the two major political parties in Australia, combined with some hard-hitting commentary. According to Freedom for Faith, neither of the major parties has responded satisfactorily.

Estimated read time: 12:50 Author: Prof. Patrick Parkinson Publisher: Freedom for FaithDate accessed: 27/6/19

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Submission to the Commonwealth Expert Panel on Religious Freedom

‘This submission focusses on the intersection between freedom of religion and other human rights first in international law, second in Australian law, and third in the lived experience of Australians.’

Estimated read time: 44:00 Author: Martyn IlesPublisher: Australian Christian LobbyDate accessed: 20/8/19

Religious Liberty in Australia - Expert Blog

The blog posts on this website are written from a sympathetic but balanced Christian perspective and are updated regularly.

We recommend, in particular, the paper ‘Religious Freedom in Australia’ (1 May 2019). It traverses:

  • S 116 of the Constitution
  • Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which has not been incorporated into Australian domestic law)
  • The common law
  • Prohibitions on religious discrimination under certain state and territory laws (important note - there is no such prohibition under Commonwealth or NSW law)
  • ‘Exemptions’ for religious bodies from certain Commonwealth and state anti-discrimination laws
  • The recommendations and limitations of the Ruddock Report.

Author: Neil Foster (Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle Law School)Publisher: Law and Religion in Australia (Neil Foster’s blog)Date accessed: 28/6/19

This page was posted on: 26/08/2019