A leading religious freedom expert has laid out the issues ahead for Christians expressing their faith in public, saying the looming battleground is not private, but public, beliefs.
Delivering the 2020 New College lectures, “Family and Faith in a Multicultural Society”, Professor Patrick Parkinson said he didn't believe freedom of worship would be restricted in our lifetimes.
"I cannot see it happen and there's a very good reason why I can't see it happen, that's because no one much cares whether I go to church on Sundays ￼or play video games on Sundays,” he said. “It doesn't matter to anybody else. I have the freedom to do what I want on Sunday mornings and I don't expect that to change because no one else is affected by my exercise of the right of freedom of worship.
"What is threatened is not what I do on Sundays but what I do on Mondays and throughout the working week. Increasingly, in my experience – and I'm sure in many of yours as well – there's a mood of hostility towards people of faith, to the extent that they express their beliefs in the public square.
“Nobody minds terribly much what views you hold in private but it is when I go into the public square that it can generate significant hostility."
Professor Parkinson, who is Dean of Law at the University of Queensland and a specialist in family law, child protection, law and religion, warned that this should not be regarded as “particularly anti-religious phenomena” but as a wider threat to freedom of speech from “virtual lynch mobs”.
“... an ever-increasing array of things that people disapprove of are described as violent or abusive.”
"Some of the most strident denunciations we've seen today are by progressives attacking others who would describe themselves as left of centre or even left-wing – certainly progressives themselves, particularly traditional feminists,” he said.
“Try saying on Twitter that only women menstruate, or that what it means to be male or female is defined by the reproductive function of our genitalia, and all hell will break loose... as [author] J.K. Rowling has found out recently.
“Disproportionately this seems to impact upon speech expressing religious views – views which used to be mainstream. And it's precisely because they used to be mainstream [that] they are the most quickly, emphatically, condemned￼￼￼￼."
Professor Parkinson said it could be seen as a quasi-religious movement.
"Having a cause, a struggle, gives meaning and purpose for those whose lives are otherwise without meaning or purpose,” he said. “It also provides a ready packaged set of beliefs and gives a sense of belonging… [and] there is, oddly enough, pleasure in self-righteous rage."
As an academic himself, Professor Parkinson said another reason religious freedom was under threat was because certain sections of the academic community practised what he called “definition inflation”.
"This is a deliberate strategy to [sometimes] stretch beyond all reasonable recognition words that have emotive power,” he said. “We all condemn personal violence, as we should. We condemn abuse. So, what happens is that an ever-increasing array of things that people disapprove of are described as violent or abusive.
“Recently, the Australian Feminist Law Journal published an article in which the author asserted that ascribing [a] sex to a baby on a birth certificate is ‘intrinsically violent'. I never thought I'd see the day when a humble birth certificate would be bundled into the back of a police car and charged with an assault. That seems to be the world in which we now live.”