A Bleak Week for Freedom in Australia

Our national anthem begins with the triumphant line Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

But after some troubling news headlines in the last few days, that word free is less true than it was a week ago.

Australia’s freedoms—in particular freedom of speech and freedom of religion—are suffering huge blows at the moment. This is good news for no one.

I don’t normally blog about the news cycle, but this week I’ve felt compelled to. You’ve probably heard about one of these headlines. The other two you may have missed.

A Christian conference was censored by Facebook

A couple months ago I had the honour of meeting distinguished legal scholar Augusto Zimmermann.

This coming June, along with some of the brightest legal minds from Australia and around the world, he is hosting a conference called Religious Freedom at the Crossroads: The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment in the West.

“Australia’s freedoms are suffering huge blows at the moment.”

When he and others shared the conference link on social media over the weekend, Facebook censored it, claiming that the conference violates their community standards.

Don’t skip past that. The biggest social media platform in the world censored an event highlighting the rising intolerance of Christianity.

Did you catch the irony?

A Christian woman saving unborn children was ruled a criminal

In 2016, Kathy Clubb was arrested for offering help and hope to mothers near an abortion clinic in Victoria. Recent laws had made it illegal for pro-life activists to be within 150 metres of such a facility.

She decided to challenge this law since it goes against Australia’s Constitution, which grants Australian citizens freedom of political communication.

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help.”—Martin Iles

On Wednesday, the highest court in Australia dismissed her challenge and forced her to pay a fine and all of the court costs.

In the words of Martin Iles, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby:

“Kathy’s crime amounts to a simple offer of help. The ministry she is a part of has seen over 300 babies lives saved in recent years, and their mothers given the help they need at a difficult time. This work is now illegal. The woman who did it is now a criminal.”

There’s a bitter irony in this story too. Former Greens leader Bob Brown faced similar charges for protesting against logging in an exclusion zone. But his case was acquitted by the High Court.

Since when are trees worth more than babies?

A Christian rugby player was sacked for expressing his faith online

The story about Israel Folau got all of Australia talking—and rightly so. On Tuesday, Australia’s highest-profile rugby player posted the following words on Instagram:

“Those that are living in sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.” 

The post made reference to drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.

“The story about Folau got all of Australia talking.”

Let me be clear that this is not my preferred method of evangelism. But to be fair, Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint—basically, a paraphrase of a Bible verse. 

For this sin, Rugby Australia has vowed to tear up his $4 million contract. No matter that it’s a World Cup year and Izzy was slated to be Australia’s star player.

No matter that Rugby Australia turns a blind eye when other players are charged with drunken misdemeanours every month or so.

“Folau was simply expressing a mainstream Christian viewpoint.”

A statement released by Qantas, the major sponsor of Rugby Australia, couldn’t be more ironic: “These comments are really disappointing and clearly don’t reflect the spirit of inclusion and diversity that we support.”

What about inclusion for Folau?

In the name of diversity, are Christians who are public about their faith no longer welcome to play high-profile sport in Australia? Are we going mad?

Your Freedom Might Be Next

Thankfully, in Australia we still enjoy some of the most amazing freedoms in the world. But there’s growing evidence this may not last.

Recently, Open Doors—the global authority on Christian persecution—predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.

“Our freedoms were hard won.”

Think what you like of Folau’s Instagram account, or Clubb’s views on abortion, or even the topic of Zimmermann’s conference.

But if you shrug your shoulders at the events of this week—or worse, think that justice has somehow been served—then you simply don’t understand how rare freedom has been in the history of this planet.

Our freedoms were hard won. And they’ll be even harder to win back once they’re sunk. You may dislike the people who lost their freedoms this week, but yours might be next.

“Open Doors has predicted the end of religious freedom in western nations.”

Reflect for a moment on the famous poem First They Came by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, penned during the Nazi’s rise to power.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And when you’re done reflecting, please pray for Australia.

7 comments

  1. Robin Carter · April 12

    Hi Kurt
    Just wondering if christians would be equally as concerned about religious freedom if a Muslim rugby player had tweeted ‘Allah Akbar God is greater. Believe or be damned for eternity’ and lost his contract. To be consistent about religious freedom we would be just as outraged about a Muslim being sacked. If not it it shows there are other issues than religious freedom at play in this incident
    Just a thought for reflection
    Blessings
    Robin

    Like

    • kmahlburg · April 13

      Hi Robin, great question. A few thoughts on this. No such stories come to mind, but on principle, sure I think equal concern would be appropriate. The reason I’ve sided with Christians in this post is not just because I am one, but because so few others are standing with Christians. In the mainstream media it’s one-way traffic against followers of Jesus. For me to even point that out is hardly controversial now, even if it was two years ago. The other reason I’ve stood with Christians is because it’s Christian ideas and values that historically gave us our great freedoms in the first place (https://kurtmahlburg.blog/2019/03/25/jesus-is-the-most-influential-person-in-history/) – and so I would argue that it’s in every citizen’s best interests to allow Christian ideas in particular to be given a hearing in a nation that was founded on, and that has benefitted greatly from, Christian ideas. In that sense, yes, there are other issues at play. Love to hear your thoughts in response.

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      • Ezekiel · April 14

        Good response Kurt. Robin what you’ve said is very true, and hopefully, the followers of Jesus in this country would stand up for justice in that scenario. I’d also point out that in our current politically correct climate I’d be amazed if a Muslim would be sacked under that scenario because there’d be a huge outcry of racism from the media and others. One only has to think back to the lack of outrage when ISIS was throwing suspected gay people off buildings. While he doesn’t play for a team, Anthony Mundine’s career has barely suffered in spite of some of the things he’s said very publicly over the years.
        Unfortunately, as humans, we have a tendency to blindly support/believe those we like or are close to, but take the opposite approach to those we may dislike or are suspicious of, as seen in the responses to the recent disclosures/allegations against George Pell and Michael Jackson. I heard many vociferous responses from detractors of both which pointed out how evil they are, yet at the same time, their supporters were equally convinced they couldn’t possibly have committed these acts. And this, in spite of the fact that most of the vocal people either barely know or haven’t met the accused, so are not really in a position to pass accurate judgement.
        I find it interesting that Jesus so often didn’t judge people, even though he was well qualified to do so, rather He showed love, kindness and compassion. More often than not the person he was interacting with responded in a way that showed they’d searched their own heart and had become aware of their own faults and failings. He then usually encouraged them to act of that discovery in a positive way.
        I’m learning to not judge but instead to show love, kindness and compassion, and as a flawed human, I’ve got to say, it’s not easy. However, it’s the way Jesus did it, and we are told to live as Jesus did, so I’m trying hard to follow his example.

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  4. Jenny · April 16

    I believe we will see revival when persecution comes. Many have become complacent about our faith and as we step out and tell of Jesus the more persecution will come. The more it does we will rise up as Christians on fire for Jesus not lukewarm anymore.

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