I previously announced that I was offering a summer course at Newcastle Law School, NSW, on “Law and Religion”. Sadly, the course has had to be cancelled for this summer. The official announcement is as follows:
Unfortunately the course Law and Religion has been postponed to 2019. If you are interested in undertaking this course in the future please contact Associate Professor Neil Foster.
I anticipate it being available again in 2019. In the meantime, for those (law students or others) who would like some recommendations on helpful reading in the area, see this List of highly recommended readings which I have prepared.
Outrage has erupted in the press and in Parliament over the Exposure Draft of a Bill designed to implement a possible “Yes” vote in the same-sex marriage survey. Senator James Paterson, a Liberal Party member who personally supports same sex marriage, has released a Draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 designed to effect this change, but also to provide protection for the religious freedom of those whose faith will not allow them to approve it. But the Bill has been excoriated as “legalising homophobic discrimination” (Senator Hinch, in a question to the Attorney-General, Senate Hansard, 14 Nov 2017, p 21 of draft proceedings), and as a “licence to discriminate” (Senator Wong, as reported by the ABC.)
I think these are outrageous over-statements, and misrepresent the nature of the Bill. I don’t agree with every line of the Paterson Bill, but I think it is a perfectly reasonable attempt to provide an appropriate balance of the rights involved, and should be supported if Australians vote to change the law of marriage in this way.
A recent UK court decision upheld the decision of University authorities to remove a student, Felix Ngole, from a post-graduate Social Work course, because of views he had expressed in a public social media forum about the Bible’s view on homosexuality. In my opinion the decision is a shocking breach of principles governing both religious freedom and freedom of speech, and should be over-turned as soon as possible. For Australian readers, it is also a salutary reminder that when the law on marriage changes, it becomes harder to protect religious and other freedoms.
I am presenting a paper on this topic at the University of Notre Dame (Sydney) Law School’s Second Annual Religious Freedom Conference, “Freedom of Belief, Freedom of Action”. The paper is linked here: Freedom to Provide Religious Instruction paper , for those who would like to read it. It surveys recent challenges to the provision of special religious education in public schools, from a religious freedom perspective.
For those studying Law at University who would like to be able to do a Summer Elective on “Law and Religion”, I will be teaching one at Newcastle Law School (NSW, Australia) over the 2017-2018 Summer term. Feel free to pass this on if you know someone who may be interested. I of course expect some Newcastle students will be taking the course. But it would be possible for law students from other Universities to do so as well. This would be suitable for a later year law student who may be able to apply to their own University for “cross-institutional credit” into their own law degree.
At the moment it is planned to run the course in a compressed form from 22 Jan-2 Feb 2018. There are two versions being offered at the same time, one suitable for those doing an undergraduate LLB and one for those doing a graduate-entry JD. See further information at https://www.newcastle.edu.au/course/LAWS5035 and https://www.newcastle.edu.au/course/LAWS6095 .
The Northern Territory government has released a discussion paper called Modernisation of the Anti-Discrimination Act (Sept 2017). It invites comments by 3 December 2017. You can almost get the tone of the paper from the title! After all, who in this fast-changing age could oppose anything called “modernisation”? But there are a number of concerning recommendations and comments made from the law and religion perspective, and there are some real doubts whether the proposals properly reflect religious freedom principles.
My colleague Dr Alex Deagon from QUT has graciously provided a guest blog post in which he outlines his comments on two major concerns with the proposals to amend the Act. Those who are interested in the interaction of discrimination law and religious freedom should find them very helpful, and may wish to make their own comments in response to the discussion paper. There are other controversial proposals in the paper which may be the subject of future posts.
Two pieces in the Australian online forum “The Conversation” today make misleading statements about the possible impacts of the recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia, and warrant some response. One article suggests that there is no doubt that churches will still be able to decline to solemnise same-sex marriages. The other is a “fact check” on assertions about the mandatory nature of “safe schools” programs following such a change. In my view both pieces are likely to mislead.