“Without this freedom being protected in some way from the increasing reach of anti-discrimination law, these institutions and communities will not be able to fulfil their roles and social functions.”
The CIS commissioned a survey of 1072 Australians and found that 78 percent agreed that respecting religious traditions and beliefs should be an important part of a multicultural society.
It also found that 56 percent believe people should not be allowed to ridicule the religious views of others, while 54 percent believe religious perspectives should be permitted in public debates — even when others find those views offensive.
They held these views even though 52 percent believed that religion is a divisive rather than uniting force in Australia.
“This suggests Australians accept that some divisiveness in society is tolerable — or at least inevitable — as the price of the place of religion in Australia, and prioritise respect for diversity of religion above unity of society.”
Despite this 64 percent of Australians do not think organisations should be allowed to refuse to employ someone on religious grounds.
According to one of the report’s authors, Monica Wilkie, this could cast light one why the government is finding such political resistance to its bill, which would not extend protections to hire and fire on religious grounds to hire and fire staff on the basis of religious to belief to those religious organisations that engage primarily in “commercial activities”.
Ms Wilkie said she believed Australians misunderstood how placing such limitations on church organisations would eventually have a negative impact on individual religious freedom.
“People come together to worship and pray, once you start eroding those institutions, that will flow through to the individuals,” she said. She noted that that religious organisations such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes were popular in Australia in part due to their religious character.
The report declares that the CIS is a secular think tank with “a long-standing interest in the preservation of Australia as a mature liberal democracy in which all are able to live together harmoniously despite differences of religious belief.”
Ms Wilkie said the loss of faith in religious institutions could be related to a broader growing mistrust in other pillars of society, such as political parties and unions, which are also seeing a decline in membership.
It might also have been exacerbated by the revelations into the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Nick O’Malley is a senior writer and a former US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.