Religious Free Speech after Ruddock

I am presenting a paper at the “Religious Freedom After Ruddock” conference being held at the University of Queensland on Saturday April 6. The paper is “Religious Free Speech After Ruddock: Implications for Blasphemy and Religious Vilification Laws”. A copy is available here:

The paper is fairly long but it deals with a number of important issues on religious free speech, and I think it has become even more relevant following the terrible events in Christchurch and calls for increased regulation of “hate speech”. I suggest that there is a role for this, but we need to be very careful to define what we mean by this phrase and not open it up too broadly by restricting legitimate debate on important issues.

ANGLICAN CANON LAW: IDENTITY, ECCLESIOLOGY AND ECUMENISM

Professor Mark Hill, QC, one of the world’s leading “law and religion” scholars, delivered the 2nd Sharwood Lecture in Church Law in Sydney and Melbourne in February 2019. He and the organisers have kindly agreed to my providing a copy of the text of the lecture for readers of this blog. The lecture deals with the structure of the Anglican communion, and questions to do with Anglican Canon Law (the internal law of Anglicanism).

The Abstract of the lecture:

One of the unusual features of the Anglican Communion is the manner in which its component provinces (including the Anglican Church of Australia) are autonomous yet at the same time remain in communion one with another and with the See of Canterbury. Emerging as an additional ‘instrument of unity’ for the Communion are identifiable Principles of Anglican Canon Law, drawn from common features of the particular laws of each province. These contribute to the self-understanding of Anglican identity and have a significance in terms of the ecclesiology of the Communion and its constituent parts. The 2019 Sharwood Lecture addresses how the Principles of Anglican Canon Law and a subsequent Statement of Christian Law provide a fruitful subject for study as a form of applied ecclesiology, and bring vision and vitality to the ecumenical endeavour.

The lecture can be downloaded here:

Post-Ruddock Report developments

This is just a brief update on where we are following the delivery of the Ruddock Report last year and the debates about amending the law on religious schools and sex discrimination.

The short version is that there seems to be no news for the moment. Following the report of the Senate committee inquiry into Senator Wong’s bill on 14 February, in which the majority of the committee recommended that the bill be not progressed at the moment, there was no debate on the bill in the last two weeks of Parliament in February. The next time Parliament sits will be for debate on the Federal budget, and whatever other issues have arisen leading up to a probable Federal election in May. It is always hard to predict, but it seems unlikely that the bill will be debated at that stage, so it will probably be one of those matters that will depend on who wins the election.

The Government did previously indicate that it was going to refer the matters raised in the bill to the Australian Law Reform Commission; that will presumably happen in due course but so far there is no indication of the precise terms of reference or when there might be a report.

Finally for the moment, for those interested in the range of legal issues raised by the Ruddock Report, the University of Queensland Law School, in partnership with the Australian Law Journal, is sponsoring an academic conference “Religious Freedom After Ruddock” (Sat 6 April, at UQ). Registration is available here. It looks like being an interesting day, and I will be presenting a paper on questions of “blasphemy” and free speech following the recommendation of the Report.

Voluntary Assisted Dying Proposals in Qld- Guest Blog

I am pleased to be able to post this guest post from Dr Alex Deagon FHEA, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology, who had made a Submission to the Queensland Parliamentary Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee on Voluntary Assisted Dying. 

 In short, his opinion (which I support) is that voluntary assisted dying should not be permitted, but if it is, medical practitioners and institutions should be able to hold and exercise conscientious objections.  This issue, of course, relates to “law and religion” because there are deep religious objections to VAD; but it should be noted that the reasons offered by Dr Deagon are not based on a religious world-view, being instead general public policy considerations. The question of conscientious objection, of course, will also be especially relevant to religious medical practitioners, but again there will be many others who object to the procedure on other moral grounds.

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Religious “vilification” not unlawful in NSW

In an important decision on religion and free speech in NSW, the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ruled today in Ekermawi v Nine Network Australia Pty Limited [2019] NSWCATAD 29 (15 Feb 2019) that it is not a breach of the law in NSW to make offensive comments about a religion. However, the case involved some difficult issues of law, and while the outcome seems correct, it may foreshadow a restrictive approach to free speech in other cases in the future.

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