Freedom of religion under the spotlight at St Thomas More Forum
Few human rights are as fundamental as the right to practice one’s faith yet it’s one people have to work hard to defend, according to Andrew Wallace MP.
That was the central theme to emerge from Mr Wallace’s keynote address to the St Thomas More Forum on 22 March.
Speaking before a well-attended audience in the Canberra suburb of Campbell, Mr Wallace said freedom of religion was important because it was a “precious asset” that government, church and society must be united in protecting and promoting.
“We cannot understate how crucial the freedom of religion or belief is to our national character, democratic order, and church teaching….And it is under threat,” he added.
In wide ranging remarks that covered global and national developments he referred to threats to freedom of religion from religious extremists and other groups across the political spectrum.
Locally, he said he was especially concerned about the future for the teaching of faith in our schools which had played an important role in civics education and the teaching of communal values such as “service above self”.
Mr Wallace also discussed last year’s religious discrimination bill, debated in parliament but subsequently withdrawn.
Speaking to the Catholic Voice after his address, the former barrister and current sitting member for the Queensland federal electorate of Fisher underlined we should celebrate freedom of religion.
“Successful civilisations have always protected religious freedom, not necessarily freedom of the Christian religion, but the ability to be able to practice one’s faith. It’s a fundamental tenet of our democracy,” he said.
Mr Wallace was educated by the De La Salle brothers in Melbourne and later joined the Pallottine Order on the journey to the priesthood. The latter didn’t eventuate. However marriage and family did follow, along with legal studies and being ‘called to the Bar’. He entered politics in 2016.
He was the speaker of the House of Representatives under the previous government when the religious discrimination bill was debated.
As speaker he was prevented from expressing a view but he told the Catholic Voice he was uncomfortable about the bill, believing codification of religious freedom to be problematic.
Enshrining religious protection in legislation could become a “double-edged sword”, he said, and result in “unintended consequences.”
“In essence, the combination of our existing discrimination laws and common law has served us very well in Australia.”
Mr Wallace’s full address is available at: St Thomas More lecture – Freedom of Religion
The St Thomas More Forum is a pastoral initiative of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn’s St Thomas More Parish at Campbell in the ACT. It was established to raise issues to promote thought, discussion and debate on the challenges of faith in public life, in the workplace, and the family. The first forum was held in July 2005. Mr Wallace was the forum’s 88th speaker.