Academic conference on Theology and Jurisprudence- call for papers

I am happy to post this call for academic papers to be presented at a forthcoming conference in Adelaide (South Australia) on “Theology and Jurisprudence”. (For the moment this will be of interest only to those academics who would like to suggest a paper to be presented.)

Call for papers

Theology and Jurisprudence Symposium  

10 February 2023, Adelaide Law School (‘ALS’), South Australia

Proposal submission deadline: 1 November 2022

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Freedom of speech for University student protected

A recent decision of the NSW Supreme Court has applied a rarely used provision in legislation setting up Australian universities to provide a legal remedy for a student penalised for her comments on a controversial issue. In Thiab v Western Sydney University [2022] NSWSC 760 (10 June 2022) Parker J ruled that the actions of Western Sydney University (“WSU”) in penalising the student, Ms Thiab, for comments she had made expressing disagreement with the State’s compulsory vaccination requirements, were unlawful. The case is an interesting example of protection of a student’s freedom of speech through application of the legislation establishing the University, and would apply not only to “political” comments as in this case, but also to religious beliefs.

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Biblical view of sex and gender “worthy of respect” after all

In a good development for religious freedom, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) in its decision in Mackereth v Department for Work and Pensions & Anor [2022] EAT 99 (29 June 2022) has ruled that a Biblical view of human sex and gender is “worthy of respect” and may be protected as a religious belief in an appropriate case. Unfortunately for Dr Mackereth, the outcome of the appeal was that the way he had been treated by the relevant Department in response to his protected belief was a “proportionate” and hence lawful action. As I will explain below, I think this part of the ruling may be challenged. But it is good to see common sense on the issue of the status of his belief, which is one that would be shared by many people in the community.

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Law and Religion elective for later year Law students

This is an announcement which may be of interest to readers of this blog who are, or who know, later year Australian law students. Please feel free to pass this on to others who may be interested.

Students in the final 2 years of their law program are invited to consider applying for cross-institutional study with Associate Professor Neil Foster at the University of Newcastle, NSW, who will be offering the course LAWS6095 “Law and Religion” in semester 2, 2022. The course is open to both postgrad JD students and LLB students in their final 2 years of study. (Of course those who are actually studying at the University of Newcastle are eligible, and I hope many will sign up; but this notice is for those who are studying elsewhere!)

If this is a course you would like to complete, please email Neil (neil.foster@newcastle.edu.au ) as soon as possible, and in any event before the end of March 2022. If you would like credit for the course as part of your Law studies, you will then also need to apply to your own University for this.

 The course description is:

“The course offers an overview of the interactions between law and religion. It lays the foundation for the area by discussing the historical connections between the development of the legal system and religion in the West, surveys major world religious perspectives on law, and then explores in more detail the classic issues of ‘establishment’ (to what extent is, or should be, religion given a privileged place in the law?) and ‘free exercise’ (how does the legal system acknowledge and uphold the right of free exercise of religion and balance that with other human rights?). It also explores some of the intersections between religion and other important legal areas such as criminal law and the law of private obligations. Students have the opportunity to develop essential problem solving and communication skills with specialized knowledge and skills for research, which will equip them for high level professional practice and further learning in this important area.”

The course will be taught for 3 hours per week for 12 weeks in semester 2: a 2-hour “live” seminar (with most people in the room, assuming COVID restrictions allow, but also an “online” option for those located outside Newcastle), and one hour of purely online content. Learning outcomes will be:

“On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an advanced and integrated understanding of both the foundational elements of, and recent developments in, the discipline of law as it relates to religious belief;

2. Generate and evaluate complex ideas and concepts at both a concrete and abstract level on law and religion topics;

3. Employ research principles and methods applicable to the both domestic and international law in the area of religious belief, and apply cognitive, technical and creative skills to investigate and analyse complex information and problems to apply the law to solve those problems;

4. Use high level oral and written communication skills to interpret and transmit knowledge, skills and ideas to specialist and non-specialist audiences;

5. Engage responsibly with those who have differing opinions on important issues in a professional and respectful way;

6. Plan and execute a research-based project with a high level of personal autonomy and accountability;

7. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of their own presuppositions and developed skills in critical thinking which will allow them to effectively identify and evaluate the validity of these and those held by others.”

For those who are wondering about the educational benefits of such a course, you can read about them in a recent article published on SSRN: see Witte, John, “The Educational Values of Law and Religion Study (2021)” in William Schweiker, et al., eds., The Impact of Academic Research on Character Formation, Ethical Education, and the Communication of Values in Late Modern Pluralistic Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH, 2021), 67-98, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3959083 .

Religious Freedom Weekend June 11-13, 2021

Let me commend this event, the “Religious Freedom weekend” to be celebrated over June 11-13, 2021; details available at this website: https://www.religiousfreedomweekend.com.au . The weekend is being sponsored by Freedom for Faith, a legal think-tank supporting religious freedom in Australia which I am proud to be associated with. This is not a conference, but simply a weekend where we are encouraging believers all over Australia, and those who just support the important human right of religious freedom, to celebrate religious freedom and consider what they can do to support this right.

There is a Resource Pack outlining some current challenges, with some suggestions for prayer for churches and other religious groups. There is a call which can be sent to Members of Parliament to support proposals to protect religious freedom, especially through laws prohibiting religious discrimination. Church leaders can also email for further resources.

I think this is a great resource and encourage all those who read this blog to support it and share it with others!

Gender Identity Laws and Basic Freedoms

I am presenting a paper on Feb 8, 2020 at the NCC National Conference 2020 “Strengthening Family, Faith, Freedom and Sovereignty in an ideologically hostile world”. The paper concerns the interaction between laws on “gender identity discrimination” and other basic freedoms, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The paper can be downloaded here:

Opposing same-sex marriage is not “vilification”

The recent NSW decision of Passas v Comensoli [2019] NSWCATAP 298 (18 December 2019) provides an example of someone who has been penalised for “homosexual vilification” as a result of comments concerning same-sex marriage. However, it does provide clarification that merely to express disagreement with the introduction of same sex marriage does not amount to such vilification under NSW law.

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Losing a job for believing that biological sex is immutable

An astonishing decision from an Employment Tribunal in the UK has ruled that it is acceptable to dismiss an employee because of their view that sex is biological and immutable (unable to be changed). In a preliminary ruling in Forstater v CGD Europe (18 Dec 2019; Case No 2200909/2019, Employment Judge Tayler) this view was found to be “incompatible with human dignity and [the] fundamental rights of others” (para [84]), and hence not a protected “belief” for the purposes of a claim of “belief”-based discrimination under the UK Equality Act 2010. While this case is not based on a religious belief, it brings into sharp focus a number of issues connected with religious beliefs and the workplace.

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