St Mary's Cathedral

Freedom of religion does not include a right to make things up

Freedom of religion was born out of the need to protect adherents of various religious beliefs from persecution by each other, to achieve public stability – a fundamental condition for a functioning and prosperous society.

ReligionIt’s clear those who prescribe to a literal interpretation of their respective religious texts, including the bible, view homosexuality as a sin, and consider it morally unacceptable with no room for allowances.

That is their belief.

Rightly, or wrongly, freedom of religion entitles them to hold that belief.

Of course many religious conservatives are also smart enough to recognise that in a liberal, modern, educated, progressive and secular society ‘because the bible says so’ is becoming a less and less acceptable explanation of their faith-based persecution of homosexuality, even by other people of faith.

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Consequently, there has been a growing tendency to try to cloak institutional religious bigotry and prejudice against the LGBTI community in purportedly ‘scientific’ research or studies, which somehow always seem to cast a bad light on homosexuality.

An example of such ‘studies’ was the ‘New Family Structures Study’, (NFSS) by sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The study is believed to have been commissioned and designed to sway the courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States of America, during their deliberations on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. Clearly it was unsuccessful in that regard.

Since the NFSS was published in the sociology journal Social Science Research, hosted at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, a widespread scientific consensus emerged that the ‘study’ is methodologically flawed. It was further revealed the ‘study’ was backed and financed by the Witherspoon Institute, a certified US hate group, allegedly with the intention of using the findings of the ‘study’ to fight against LGBTI equality, by ‘proving’ that children raised by same-sex parents were seriously disadvantaged.

The Social Science Research journal was subsequently subject to a lawsuit to clarify the circumstances in which the publication of the ‘study’ was fast-tracked, given a mere six weeks lapsed between the submission of the ‘study’ and its publication, while most articles published in the same issue took around a year between submission and acceptance.

Darren Sherkat, professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University and a member of the editorial board of Social Science Research, gave an interview to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, in which he explained the outcome of his internal investigations into the publication of the ‘study’ by the journal.

Regnerus’ findings have been also disowned by his own university and the Chair of the Department of Sociology at the College of Liberal Arts of the University of Texas stated:

… Dr. Regnerus’ opinions are his own. They do not reflect the views of the Sociology Department of The University of Texas at Austin. Nor do they reflect the views of the American Sociological Association, which takes the position that the conclusions he draws from his study of gay parenting are fundamentally flawed on conceptual and methodological grounds and that findings from Dr. Regnerus’ work have been cited inappropriately in efforts to diminish the civil rights and legitimacy of LBGTQ partners and their families.

in March 2014 Regnerus presented himself as an expert witness during a court challenge to Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage. This is what Judge Bernard A. Friedman thought of his testimony:

The Court finds Regnerus’s testimony entirely unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 “study” was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it “essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society” and which “was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study.”

While Regnerus maintained that the funding source did not affect his impartiality as a researcher, the Court finds this testimony unbelievable. The funder clearly wanted a certain result, and Regnerus obliged. Additionally, the NFSS is flawed on its face …

Whatever Regnerus may have found in this “study,” he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort to compare the outcomes of children raised by same-sex couples with those of children raised by heterosexual couples. It is no wonder that the NFSS has been widely and severely criticized by other scholars, and that Regnerus’s own sociology department at the University of Texas has distanced itself from the NFSS in particular and Dr. Regnerus’s views in general and reaffirmed the aforementioned APA position statement.

Meanwhile, accepted, peer-reviewed social science continues to indicate that children raised in same-sex households are not disadvantaged.

If you stray into the realm of science, whether social or natural, in an attempt to justify and rationalise your bigotry and prejudice, you will be subjected to the same standards of the scientific method as anyone else in the field of science.

Making malicious assertions against the LGBTI community because of the negative stance of your faith towards homosexuality, without any demonstrable evidence or facts to support it, will also be subjected to challenge and review.

Jim Wallace, the ex-head of the so-called Australian Christian Lobby learned this the hard way when back in 2012 he asserted the following:

I think we’re going to owe smokers a big apology when the homosexual community’s own statistics for its health – which it presents when it wants more money for health – are that it has higher rates of drug-taking, of suicide, it has the life of a male reduced by up to 20 years …
Christian lobby defends gay slur, The Sydney Morning Herald (6 September 2012)

This false assertion had circulated around in homophobic circles for well over a decade. It raises its ugly head time-and-time again, but it is merely a variation on the tired, old disingenuous slur of comparing homosexuality to various substance addictions, from alcoholism to drug addiction, and the occasional release of some utterly unfounded ‘statistics’ on the ‘health dangers’ of homosexuality.

These ‘statistics’ can usually be traced back to the same few disreputable, anti-gay sources who devote their lives to producing ‘evidence’ homosexuality is an ‘unhealthy lifestyle’. They have been shown to be either completely incorrect, without any scientific foundation, even downright fraudulent in some cases, or based on old studies completely taken out of context, to arrive at contrived and false conclusions presented as facts.

The so-called ‘Gay Obituary Study’, on which Jim Wallace is understood to had relied upon to make his assertion, was conducted by Paul Cameron, the founder of the Family Research Institute. Cameron’s ‘study’ has been thoroughly discredited and did not comply with any basic scientific standards. It is also of relevance that the Family Research Institute is another designated US hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, and Paul Cameron himself has been removed by the American Psychological Association from its membership in 1983 for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.

To put simply, religious freedom entitles you to observe and practice your faith unhindered. It does not include a right to make things up to justify your bigotry and prejudice, and expect they will not be subject to challenge and review.

The historical privileges the churches enjoyed for centuries enabled them to create their own alternative reality, largely unchallenged – this will be no doubt a hard habit to kick.

This brings us to the current troubles of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, which is being touted around the world as an example of how religious freedom and freedom of speech are being threatened by marriage equality and the gays. The Catholic Church of course is a long time foe of the LGBTI community and marriage equality.

This is despite a 2014 Crosby|Textor survey which indicated that 67% of Australian Catholics support marriage equality. If this number stands up to scrutiny, the Catholic Church in Australia is in the curious position where it no longer actually represents the views of Australian lay Catholics.

What got them into trouble this time was the distribution of a booklet titled ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage‘ to Catholic school students earlier this year. The booklet caused significant outrage among students and parents. The document was originally published online by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in late May.

Subsequently, a complaint was lodged by Hobart transgender activist Martine Delaney with Equal Opportunity Tasmania, on the grounds the booklet goes beyond freedom of speech and is offensive and insulting. Ms Delaney’s complaint alleges the booklet breaches section 17 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), which prohibits offence and ­humiliation on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Cue the outrage in the name of freedom of religion and speech.

However, the complaint goes to very specific aspects of the booklet. In particular, it takes issue with the description of same-sex-­attracted people as not ‘whole’, and the reference to children of same-sex couples as not ‘healthy’, and that such children will be ‘hurt’ and ‘messed with’.

Freedom of religion and speech are important cornerstones of our society, and the churches are entitled to communicate their religious doctrines to the people. However, those rights come with responsibilities, and have limits.

Asserting that LGBTI people are not ‘whole’, or that the children of same-sex couples will be ‘hurt’ and ‘messed with’, when there is simply no evidence to support such unsubstantiated and sweeping statements, oversteps the mark of civility, good taste, the law, and the bounds of freedom of religion and speech.

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To demand protection for the spreading of malicious lies and misinformation goes beyond the acceptable standards of a liberal, progressive society, and the protection of religious freedom. Such demands make a mockery of, and demean free speech. Opposing marriage equality is not in itself discrimination, nor does it make you a homophobe, but making up harmful lies to lend legitimacy to your opposing views is.

You may be ‘entitled’ to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own concocted ‘facts’.

What the Catholic Church is demanding here is not freedom of religion or speech, but the right to make up whatever cockamamie slur they can think of about LGBTI people, and spread it in the wider community with impunity.

Equal Opportunity Tasmania ruled the Catholic Church has a discrimination case to answer over its booklet. The Church has now been invited to respond to the complaint before a further decision is made on whether a hearing should be held, unless the parties can settle the matter.

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