Ruddock Review Aims at Nothing: Hits It.


The Ruddock Review of Religious Freedom has aimed at nothing and hit it.

Which is a great pity.  It’s not clear from the leaked reports on the review that any lessons have been learned from some of the litigious actions going on overseas.

Worse, if the reports are correct, the review’s inability to say anything other than what we already know will do nothing to allay the fears on both sides of our increasingly deep cultural divide.

As one commentator says: both sides win some and both sides lose some.

And given all the energy put into the review, and the high stakes, that’s not good enough.

The review’s vanilla nature sounds like it’s trying to be a balancing act between competing rights.  And that’s all well and good if we assume the goodwill of people towards those on the other side of the debate.

Yet the evidence for such an assumption is fairly thin if overseas evidence – and noises that have been made here – are any indication.

And it seems unlikely to head off the litigation that we’ve seen overseas in the US and the UK, where activists can drag people through the courts for years.

Indeed today the Asher’s Bakery case in Belfast is being decided by the UK’s highest court later today. That’s taken four years of too-ing, fro-ing and a heck of a lot money, energy and time.

And all the while headlines call out things that are not actually happening, or if they are, are not representative.

So for instance, this in the Sydney Morning Herald today, which hasn’t been shy in showing where its support lies:

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An “enshrined” right eh?

Religious schools would be guaranteed the right to turn away gay students and teachers under changes to federal anti-discrimination laws recommended by the government’s long-awaited review into religious freedom.

It’s interesting how primary and secondary education has become the battle ground in this matter.  Interesting, but not surprising, given faith-based schools occupy such a key position in the public square.

The image painted in the quote above is of locked wrought iron gates; hundreds of anguished students and teachers being turned away to the horrors of outer suburban government schools, while staff gleefully wave them goodbye with Bibles (or Korans).

It’s a furphy.  Well half a furphy at least.

Open enrolment faith schools already have plenty of students who identify as gay.  Indeed I know of homosexual students in relationship with each other at Christian schools, and who come from households with same sex partners.  The school seems to cope quite well.

Indeed why should a Christian school with an open enrolment policy expect non-Christians to live like Christians?  Surely part of the role of the school is to explain and exemplify the gospel in such a way that the Christian sexual ethic is attractive to its students on the basis of the foundations of the gospel.

That’s never been the issue.  The issue has always been whether a faith based school can receive government monies while holding to a sexual ethic for its staff that cuts against the cultural, secular grain that is now  itself “enshrined.”  Cos let’s not be squeamish about it, this Sexular Culture is extremely religious.

Insofar as the report says that schools can continue as is, as long as they are public about it, then the activists are still going to activate.  That is, after all, the nature of activism

So watch this space when teachers start coming out in Christian schools. That’s the minefield there.

The Herald reports that the review:

recommends the states ensure existing same-sex teachers are not discriminated against if they get married to a same-sex partner.

The tension is more likely to be when a single teacher, who previously said they were straight, comes out as gay, and publicly announces they have a partner. For any school that holds to a traditional Christian sexual ethic that’s going to be problematic

And that’s the door stop moment right there, where a principal principal looks like a rabbit in the headlights.

The story writes itself: Old-fashioned institution run by church group versus young, much-loved History teacher who only wants to be happy with the one they want to marry.

In other words, actualities seem to be beyond the Ruddock Review’s esoteric messaging.

The good news is that the review sees no real concern for religious freedoms in Australia  As the Herald report says:

However the report…dismisses the notion religious freedom in Australia is in “imminent peril”, and warns against any radical push to let businesses refuse goods and services such as a wedding cake for a gay couple. 

And yes, perhaps “Peril” is a bridge too far to describe religious freedom in Australia.

But then again if you’re a Christian wedding photographer your career or livelihood or house is not in peril. Until it is, of course, if you refuse to photograph a gay wedding.

Note to younger people considering their career options: decide now the decisions that you’ll never compromise on in this area.

In conclusion what did we expect from the review?  We’ve only been given a taste of it, but it appears  – like some much that is birthed from politics in the West these days – certain to please no one.

And how can it?  Politics is downstream of culture.  It cannot set a social agenda, merely follow it.

People who hold that any discrimination on sexual ethics is extreme bigotry and a risk to the mental health of those involved will still hold to that view.  And they’ll push for litigation.

People who hold that a secular culture should be robust enough to allow -indeed subsidise – alternate ethical communities, particularly religious schools – will still hold that view, and they’ll gear themselves up to fight against litigation.

And so it continues.