Religious Liberty: How Important is Freedom of Conscience?

Religious liberty and freedom of conscience in today’s world is a highly debated topic with the state and religious organisations aiming to find a balance that will prove beneficial to all.

At the Ninth Annual Religious Liberty Lecture and Conference, which took place on Friday, February 24, participants tackled this matter, with speakers covering key topics around why religious schools exist; how to protect religious schools and religious students; whose conscience deserves protection in Australia; and if the state should decide who attends religious services and become a member of any faith.

Among the key speakers there was Nicholas Aroney, Professor of Constitutional Law at The University of Queensland and an External Fellow of the Centre for Law and Religion at Emory University. Professor Aroney discussed the fundamentals of education against its role in providing human nature and character.

“Good laws and universal education are not enough. Education is primarily concerned with the transmission of knowledge and the development of skills – to train the next generation of workers.

And it becomes increasingly specialised as they age. Education does not just impart knowledge and skills,it must also contribute to human character and attitudes”, Professor Aroney said.

Associate-Professor Mark Fowler, an Adjunct Associate Professor at his alma mater, the University of New England School of Law, and an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame School of Law, Sydney, explained the way the Australian Law Reform Commission had misinterpreted the international treaties, which Australia is a party, in the arguments it had said justified the removal of the exemptions for religious schools in the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

“Art 18(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights makes it clear that freedom to manifest one’s religion includes the right for religious communities to create institutions and run them in accordance with their own ethos, and for parents to choose to have their children unconstrained by the dictates of contemporary political correctness.

There is no reasonable foundation for the claim that the removal of that ethos is ‘necessary’ within the meaning of established international law” Professor Fowler said.

Two books were also launched at the event that dwell on religion, proving to be timely pieces of adding knowledge to these current conversations:

  • Mark Hill KC and A. Keith Thompson (ed) Religious Confession and Evidential Privilege in the 21st Century (Shepherd Street Press, 2022)
  • Rabbi Shimon Cowen A Populism of the Spirit – Further Essays on Politics and Universal Ethics (Connor Court, 2023)

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