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Religious freedom feint has Liberals in knots

  • 17 July 2019


'Never get high on your own supply,' the Notorious B.I.G. once warned. It's an injunction just as relevant to culture warriors as crack dealers. If you're a professional fulminator against Political Correctness Gone Mad, you need regular instances of persecution against straight white men to denounce, so that your supporters can maintain the ragegasms they crave. But the moment you start believing your own rhetoric, you're in real trouble.

Take the Liberal Party's gyrations over the so-called religious freedom law advocated by some within its own ranks. This time last year, Dan Tehan proposed a 'religious discrimination act', purportedly to prevent 'creeping encroachment from the state on religious belief'. He was quickly backed by Senator James Paterson, an alumni of the Institute for Public Affairs and thus an inveterate culture warrior. A report in the Australian nicely captures the haplessness of Paterson's intervention:

'Asked who was currently being discriminated against, Senator Paterson said: "This is a risk that we want to guard against in the future. We don't want people to be mistreated on the basis of their religious views." Pressed on whether the problem exists currently, Paterson said: "I think that's a bit of a negative focus to take on it. People of faith feel like they are being hounded out of the public square ... like their views are not as welcome in being contributed to public debate as others."'

Yes, that's right. Paterson wanted a new law, not to prevent any actually existing discrimination but to guard his ideological allies from any jibes that might prevent them 'feeling welcome' to participate in public debates.

But wait. Isn't that the same James Paterson who has dedicated years of his young life to campaigning against 18C of the Human Rights Act, specifically on the basis that special snowflakes needed to toughen up and embrace the rough and tumble of the agora? 'Freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental things about living in a liberal democracy,' he explained back in 2016, 'and if there are things that we can't talk about, that we can't write about, that we can't debate because it may offend or insult someone, for example, then I think we've lost something really important.'

It's wrong to make people feel unwelcome, but it's okay to offend and insult them. How do you square that particular circle? The short answer is that you can't, as the government is now discovering. The idea