Cardinal Pell, that is.
(Zenit) Cardinal Pell on Peace and War
"The Battle for Public Opinion"
SYDNEY, Australia, OCT. 30, 2007
Here is an excerpt from the address delivered Monday by Cardinal George Pell before the Sydney Institute, a nonprofit current-affairs forum. The cardinal, who is the archbishop of Sydney, spoke on "Prospects for Peace and Rumors of War: Religion and Democracy in the Years Ahead." The event marked the launch of Cardinal Pell’s book "God and Caesar: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics and Society," published by Connor Court and Catholic University of America Press.
A large battle is likely to open up over human rights and anti-discrimination legislation. Last week English papers carried reports that a couple with an unblemished record as foster parents to 28 vulnerable children have been forced to give up this work. As committed nonconformist Christians they were unable to teach the children they are fostering that homosexual relationships are just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages.
This requirement was imposed under the Sexual Orientation Regulations, the same laws which forced Catholic agencies out of adoption services earlier this year. The British government refused to grant church agencies an exemption from the laws, even though it meant that the country would lose one of its most successful adoption services.
In Australia, the concept of exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to allow church agencies to go about their work in a manner consistent with their beliefs continues to survive. But it was subject to sustained attack during the debate in the United Kingdom over the Sexual Orientation Regulations. These laws prohibit any discrimination against homosexuals by anyone providing "goods, facilities and services". This makes them practically all-encompassing, with exceptions only for a small number of narrowly defined religious activities, primarily services held in churches. Church adoption services were therefore confronted with the prospect of being forced to place children with homosexual couples, contrary to their beliefs.
When the Catholic bishops petitioned the government for an exemption for church agencies a member of the Scottish parliament said it would make "a mockery" of society’s decision "to end discrimination" if exemptions were granted "to those groups most likely to discriminate". The English philosopher AC Grayling said the Catholic bishops’ request posed "the threat of a possible return to the dark ages. We are trying to keep a pluralistic society, and elements in the Christian church and other religions are trying to destroy it".
The American academic lawyer Ronald Dworkin said the laws were "necessary to prevent injustice", and argued that respect for religious freedom does not mean accommodating any "preference” designated as religious. Even though supportive of an exemption for church agencies on adoptions, Dworkin claimed that, as a matter of general principle, allowances should be made only for the "central convictions" of religious believers, and must not extend to the state allegedly taking the side of religion on questions such as abortion or same-sex marriage, by restricting or prohibiting them.
At the heart of this attack on the concept of exemptions for faith-based agencies lies a false analogy drawn between alleged discrimination against homosexuals and racial discrimination, and this is already beginning to appear in Australia.
This analogy allows opponents of exemptions to dismiss the objection that the law makes exceptions all the time - for example, for halal abattoirs, or for Sikhs to wear turbans, or for pacifists to avoid military service - by pointing to the legitimate absence of exceptions in laws against racial discrimination. Opposition to same-sex marriage is therefore likened to support for laws against inter-racial marriage (which continued in some US states until the 1960s), and opposition to homosexual adoptions is likened to refusing to adopt children to black parents.
The analogy is false because allowing blacks and whites to marry did not require changing the whole concept of marriage; and allowing black parents to adopt white children, or vice versa, did not require changing the whole concept of family, or for that matter, the whole concept of childhood. Same-sex marriage and adoption changes the meaning of marriage, family, parenting and childhood for everyone, not just for homosexual couples. And whatever issues of basic justice remain to be addressed, I am not sure that it is at all true to say that homosexuals today suffer the same sort of legal and civil disadvantages which blacks in the United States and elsewhere suffered forty years ago, and to some extent still suffer.
All the same, the race analogy has been very effective in casting the churches as persecutors. So, in the United Kingdom, and also in Massachusetts where a similar issue arose in 2006, warnings that the Catholic Church would be forced to close its adoption services if exemptions were not granted were described as blackmail.
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English precedents remain powerful in a cultural and legal sense, especially throughout the Anglophone world, but the religious situation in Australia is somewhat closer to that of the United States rather than post-Christian Britain. Both our Prime Minister and his challenger are serious Christians. Neither the British Prime Minister nor his alternative are in this mould, and the Catholic community here is larger and with a much longer and stronger tradition of contributions to public political life than in Britain, whose history and traditions are still residually anti-Catholic.
All the same, this case shows what can happen when bills of rights are interpreted from the premises of a minority secularist mindset, especially when it is sharpened, as in Europe, by fear of home-grown Islam. Reading freedom of religion as a limited right to be offensive to which only a limited toleration is extended is not acceptable in a democracy where many more than a majority belong to the great religious traditions - even more so when it is claimed that this is “necessary for democracy”. Democracy does not need to be secular. The secularist reading of religious freedom places Christians (at least) in the position of a barely tolerated minority (even when they are the majority) whose rights must always yield to the secular agenda, although I don’t think other religious minorities will be treated the same way.