Religious 'censored' by secular state

A silent censorship of religion in public debate could put religious liberty at risk in Australia, a visiting moral philosopher warned yesterday.

Samuel Gregg argues that the trend means religious communities should reconsider accepting government money for their schools and charities before it is used as a bargaining tool against them.

Dr Gregg, visiting professor at Melbourne's John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family, which is attached to Lateran University in Rome, gave the annual Acton Lecture in Sydney last night. He said "doctrinaire secularism" was playing a bigger role in political debate and legal judgements and steadily eroding religious liberty. Dr Gregg said freedom of religion meant more than just freedom to go to church, a mosque or synagogue; it included debate in the "public square". But the secularist state held that any public action motivated by religion was unacceptable. This subtle censorship amounted to promoting atheism as the unofficial state religion.

"Faith communities need to think seriously about their relationship with the state, especially when it comes to state funding of schools and charities," he said. "One has to wonder how long it will be before people in positions of power use these financial linkages to tell people how to behave."

Dr Gregg said this had already happened in the US and Canada, with courts defining what could be religious activity, and ordering religious groups to do things.

He also said faith communities should stop lobbying on political issues best left for prudential judgement. "I have often wondered to what extent such lobbying... trivialises the religious communities' prophetic voice on fundamental issues of moral culture, of good and evil, of life and death."