There are a couple of mostly cold wars going on at present, one of which not many people talk about as a war. However, it is one, just the same. It is a war about religion. It is not in the sense of being between religions, or between Catholic and Protestant, or between Sunni and Shia. It is the war against the imposition of religion on normal people; the war between the religious, who want to tell people how to live because of some outmoded belief system, and those who do not want them to.
In Australia, this currently manifests itself as the vicious and senseless brawl over same-sex marriage (SSM), where people like former Prime Minister Tony Abbott developed the plebiscite plan solely to delay and hopefully derail SSM1. This has been aided and abetted by buffoons like Eric Abetz spouting his antediluvian views, to the extent of lying in an attempt to prevent SSM. These included assertions that abortions were linked to breast cancer (they aren’t), and that homosexuality was a “learned behaviour”2 (it isn’t). Cory Bernardi is another religious nutter who is of the opinion that permitting SSM would lead to legalised polygamy and bestiality3. Of course, the malevolent Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has also got in on the act and, like Abetz and Bernardi, will say anything to try to prevent SSM4.
The school chaplaincy program is another manifestation of this wish to insert religion into every child’s life. The National School Chaplaincy Program (NSCP) was set up by the Howard Government in 2006, and there were no formal qualifications required of chaplains. It was only the Education Minister Peter Garrett, in the Gillard Government, who made it mandatory that a Certificate IV in Youth Work, Pastoral Care or an equivalent qualification was required. These changes also allowed schools to hire a ‘secular student well-being officer’ after concerns were raised about religious workers being employed in public schools. The Abbott Government removed the ability to hire secular staff, such that all chaplains had to be affiliated with a religion. Two High Court challenges (2012, 2014) were heard and in the first the Court found for the litigant, that the funding agreement for NSCP was invalid, while in the second it also found for the litigant that the NSCP could not be funded directly through local organisations. A total of $154 million paid to a local organisation in Queensland therefore became a debt. The government of course waived that debt. To overcome these the Federal Government signed agreements to fund the program via the State and Territory governments5.
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”6. This is what the Abbott Government circumvented, by funding the NSCP via the states, because none of the states (except Tasmania) have similar provisions in their respective constitutions.
Telling people what to do with their lives is what Daesh (ISIS or ISIL or Islamic State) and the Taliban and other religious nutters do to extremes. There are numerous misapprehensions about the word Daesh, one of them being that it refers to ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others’. This is incorrect, as it is simply the acronym that the group of murderous nutters marauding about the middle east and elsewhere give themselves, and is the equivalent of ISIS7. The wish, by western media, to impose such a meaning on a simple acronym perhaps stems from a realisation that this is what all religions want to do. It is just a matter of degree.
As the great novelist Robert Heinlein said, ‘Almost any sect, cult or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so’8. The unfortunate thing in Australia is that the creed doesn’t need to be legislated, slyly circumventing the constitution will do.