Response to Julie Szego at the Sydney Morning Herald

By Vice-President Paul Facey

I · Preface

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an opinion piece calling into question the validity of religious freedom over the rights of LGBT students to not be “discriminated” against. The author, Julie Szego, argues that qualities such as sex, sexuality, race, etc. are unchanging, and thus are more fundamental than religious views, which are subject to frequent change. Because of this, the right of LGBT students to not be “discriminated” against takes precedent over the views of religious institutions.

Furthermore, the stern defence of religious freedom by the Liberal-Nationals is anachronistic, as Australia proved that it is more tolerant of LGBT behaviours with the 2017 postal survey.
With all this, religious institutions are supposedly playing the victim when they have historically been the bully.

This is a basic summary, it is not exhaustive. We prefer people read the full article for the best understanding of this critique.

II · Definitional Deficiencies

An immediate issue in Szego’s argument is the definition of “discrimination”, or rather the lack of definition in this article; what are the bounds of acceptable discrimination?

We obviously discriminate against things every day. I am discriminating by choosing not to eat the laptop I am writing this on. I – and hopefully others – discriminate against t-shirts covered in mud when choosing an outfit for a formal occasion.
Now, progressives like Szego will rightly argue that discrimination against objects for our well-being and discriminating against people are qualitatively miles apart, and this is true. But then we have another issue; do we not rightly discriminate against unskilled teenagers by refusing to make them the managers of multi-national corporations? Or, closer to Szego’s concerns, what about not allowing a “homophobic” fundamentalist to lead the Human Rights Commission?

So, there are clearly cases of acceptable discrimination against individuals, rendering the blanket condemnation of “discrimination” at best ill-informed and at worst dishonest. Now we have to work on two different definitions; acceptable and unacceptable discrimination. But now we have yet another problem; who gets the moral authority to define acceptable and unacceptable discrimination?

III · A Claimant to the Moral Throne

Szego’s argument – that religious views are less fundamental than sexuality and race, and are thus less important – has a fatal flaw in the form of her assumed claim to moral truth. What moral foundation does she base her claims on? And why should I accept it? Could it be as simple as her personal intuition?

She may reply that this is not merely her view but a societal consensus (as she implies with her comment on the postal survey). But the problem is pushed further; what about current societies like Pakistan which advocate for the deaths of apostates from Islam, is that moral merely because most people say so? I doubt she is prepared to make that step.

She speaks of her progressive values as transcendent of the opinions of dissidents like religious institutions (see her “basic morality” comment), so she clearly believes in some form of objective basis. Either way, the problem remains; she claims to hold or know of a greater moral authority, one which she simply assumes from the outset with no obligation of defending it. I, and many of her other ideological opponents, hold to the one living God and his word as the ultimate moral authority, with rationality as a tool to apply the scriptures to new situations. Unless she can demonstrate her position as true by the Christian moral compass, her argument is entirely circular if directed at people like me.

IV · The Secularist Sloganeering

Szego says the following:

“As a pluralist, I’m instinctively nervous about anything that smells like totalitarianism”.

So, if the simple odour of totalitarianism will set her off, why is she not alarmed by further government regulation over the rights of the religious? She explains her workaround:

“The religious freedom “debate” is really an instance of the bully, accustomed historically to throwing their weight around, trying to play the victim. The bully here being religious institutions: enabled by their cheer squad in Parliament and the media, these institutions continue to enjoy privileged status under our tax system while simultaneously demanding taxpayer-funded handouts for their schools and insisting on exemptions from secular anti-discrimination laws.”

First, Szego doesn’t show how the religious institutions are or have been bullies historically (perhaps she conflates the schools with the oft-lied about medieval Roman Catholic Church?). Her definition of “bullying” might itself be poor as well, given her tired use of “discrimination” from earlier.

Second, she makes the religious schools and government relationship out to be one of parasites sucking the public treasury dry through the tax system and “handouts”, or at least that they’re dependent on it. In reality, it’s the government that is dependent on these religious/private schools, started by people who didn’t have any obligation to do so, and yet are relieving a massive burden off the public sector. Christian schools in particular carry on the traditions that have sustained Europe for over a thousand years, so European-based governments are the ones obliged to the Christian tradition, and thus Christian schools.

Therefore, the allowance of Christian schools especially to operate by their very reasonable principles (as those principles created the prosperity we enjoy today) is the very least a government could do for them. And even with the liberal secular culture of today, it is only consistent to allow for religious schools to operate by their own principles so long as they are not harming anyone.

V · Conclusion

Szego echoes the typical progressive talking points of this day. She fails to define key words like discrimination, and even doing so would force her into a circular argument. Worse still, her entire argument rests on a moral authority she does not defend once, making all her claims in this article useless. Her caricature of religious schools as “bullies” is also undefined and merely asserted without good reasoning. For these above reasons, her arguments may be dismissed with little effort.

A final thought; she makes a Freudian slip with her comment “If the church won’t bow to the state then it’s high time the state cut the church loose.”

This flies in the face of her claim to be against totalitarianism; what libertarian or progressive would ever want to “bow” to the state? Second, this issue also includes Islamic schools, so why does she single out the Christian church? The Grand Mufti made some pretty colourful comments about homosexual teachers recently, so where’s Szego’s outrage on that? Most likely she is reflecting the common trend of slandering Christianity to the point where critical thought against other, more deadly ideologies is watered down to non-existence.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.