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 .
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.
In the context of the current postal survey on changing the law of marriage in Australia, press reports in the last few days indicate that a contractor who had been working for an ACT-based children’s entertainment business has lost her position solely due to her indication of support for a “No” vote in the current postal survey on the issue being conducted in Australia. (See here for a detailed report on the incident quoting both sides.)
It seems worth commenting on the legal implications of the decision to terminate the contractor, especially in light of the “Safeguards” legislation that was recently passed by the Federal Parliament, and on which I recently posted.
The debate on same sex marriage in Australia, and the debate on whether we can have a debate, took some interesting turns in the last week. I have a comment on Mercatornet where I discuss how beer and bibles led to questions about what can be said and who can say it: see “Beer, Bibles and free speech in Australia” .
Can a reserve member of the Armed Forces make controversial, religiously motivated, political comments on a private website contrary to Defence Force policy? Sadly, the answer provided by the recent decision in Chief of the Defence Force v Gaynor  FCAFC 41 (8 March 2017) is, No, not without having their service terminated.
I mentioned the earlier decision of a single judge of the Federal Court in these proceedings in a previous post over a year ago: see Free speech and religious freedom even for ADF members (Dec 10, 2015). In that earlier decision Buchanan J ruled that Major Bernard Gaynor’s termination was unlawful, because in applying the relevant regulations the Chief of the Defence Force had breached the implied “freedom of political communication” under the Commonwealth Constitution. Now the Full Court of the Federal Court (Perram, Mortimer & Gleeson JJ) has overturned that previous decision and upheld the termination. The decision and the way that the “freedom of political communication” is dealt with have disturbing possible consequences for free speech in Australia on controversial political topics, many of which are raised these days by religious beliefs which run contrary to “orthodox” opinions in society at large.
Over the course of three days the local Herald newspaper here in Newcastle (NSW) has been publishing a series of misleading and inflammatory articles designed to put pressure on the NSW Government to stop offering the Special Religious Education program (SRE, or sometimes popularly called “Scripture”) in public schools. Here I want to address a particularly inflammatory accusation implied or made in these articles, that SRE material somehow supports “grooming” of children for sexual purposes. These accusations are completely false and should not have been made in the first place.
The recent (31 Dec 2016) decision of US Federal District Court Judge O’Connor in Franciscan Alliance Inc v Burwell (ND TX, Case 7:16-cv-00108-O; Dec. 31, 2016) (thanks to “Religion Clause” for the report and information) is a significant one. In short, the Obama administration had used the prohibition on “sex discrimination” in US Federal law to enact an administrative regulation requiring Christian health care providers (and some State governments) to provide transgender “transition” procedures, and abortions, to all patients, arguing that denying this coverage amounted to sex discrimination.
This highly questionable interpretation has now been overturned by this very significant decision; even though only a Federal district court judge, it seems to be binding across the whole of the US unless overturned.