Reinforcing substantive religious inequality: A critical analysis of submissions to the Review of Freedom of Religion and Belief in Australia Inquiry

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Journal Article
Australian Journal of Social Issues, 2012, 47 (3), pp. 297 - 318
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The parties contributing to the Freedom of Religion and Belief in Australia Inquiry had a strong interest in the role of religion in society. Those making submissions were parochial about the status and importance of their own faith, less positive about religious diversity, more likely to be culturally supremacist, and more likely to independently express anti-Islamic sentiment than the general population. A large proportion of submissions (40 per cent) included the religio-centric assertion that Australia is a Christian nation. Alternative voices - that Australia is a multi-faith country or those that saw Australia as secular - were much less 'present' in the submissions. Most submissions argued for the retention of religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws and against anti-religious-vilification legislation that would protect religious minorities. Christian-centric voices purposefully undermined movement towards more inclusive social policy and protection of rights. The Christian majority insisted that their position of dominance be affirmed in Australia. The failure of the inquiry to advocate for policy and legislative change to expand religious freedoms (especially to minorities) was a performance of professed 'state neutrality' that reproduced substantive inequality. The public submission process was an effective mechanism for reinforcing a privileged relation between the state and Christian organisations, and fails the tests of both fairness and more substantively equality.
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