This week I saw an Australian Senator say on television that if you believe in the tenets of a certain religion, then there is no place for you in this country.
The senator was Jacquie Lambie, the show was Insiders and the religion was Islam (clip here https://youtu.be/o63FGy3mPWI)
Ok, so, lets unpack some potential ramifications of holding this position, because I am not satisfied with politicians and agitators cherry picking their positions on various religions, races or sexes.
In basic terms, Senator Lambie said that if you want to follow Islam then you should live in another country, and not Australia. Based on your religious beliefs, and their incompatibility with the Australian way of life, according to her there is no place for you in Australian society.
First of all, this is absolutely a form of discrimination, religious bigotry in full effect, pointed very directly at Muslims. But I want to take it a it further…. If you take the position that we want to start discriminating against people because of their religious beliefs, then It follows that you must believe that being religious does not necessarily mean that you are a good person. Piety is not a condition that guarantees that you do the right thing, or put the country’s constitution and laws first, ahead of faith.
But… It might surprise some people to know that if organisations who are ‘advancing religion’ have an opportunity to apply for tax benefits as a charity. Currently advancing religion is enough of a purpose to become a charity and thereby avoid income tax, GST and Fringe Benefits Tax, among other tax benefits. It is assumed in Australia, that advancing religion, not any particular religion per se, but Advancing Religion is on par with Advancing Education and Advancing Social and Public Welfare as a charitable outcome.
If we take Jacquie’s stance that simple adherence to the second largest religion on the planet is contrary to Australian values, then surely we must remove “advancing religion” as an avenue to tax exemption or DGR Status (Deductable Gift Recipient Status)?
By saying that you believe Islam to be detrimental to the Social and Public Welfare of Australia, you are effectively saying that religion, in and of itself, is not a positive thing.
So let’s tax religion.
The religious institutions in Australia are sitting on billions of dollars of infrastructure, investments and property holdings all over the country, tax free. Having Advancing Religion as an opportunity to not pay tax, is costing the country hundreds of millions, if not billions of revenue, locked up in religious organisations. Revenue that could be shifted to organisations that advance social welfare and education perhaps.
Some people might be thinking “But wait I go to church and I think it’s good, they shouldn’t have to pay tax.”
So let’s look at what a religion actually is so we know what we are talking about.
As part of the High Court case New Faith v Commissioner of Payroll Tax (1983), the Court held that "For the purposes of the law, the criteria of religion are twofold:
first, belief in a Supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and
second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief, though canons of conduct which offend against the ordinary laws are outside the area of any immunity, privilege or right conferred on the grounds of religion."
That’s right, belief in the supernatural is not only an opportunity for tax exemption, IT IS A PRE-REQUISITE.
Others still love their particular religion so might think taxing religion is a dumb idea.
Which is fine, but then stop complaining about Islam. You are taking the side of the government and the ATO, that the advancement of religion, any religion, let alone the second most popular religion on the planet, is a good enough reason to be listed next to advancing social good. It is not, therefore, a reason to then detain, deport or discourage people from coming to; or living in, Australia. Full stop. Pick a side.
A quick check of various YouTube videos and Facebook posts will reveal what appears to be at times an overwhelming sentiment “But all Muslims are terrorists”, “I don’t see any Christians beheading people”, “Islam is trying to destroy the country”, “Sharia Law is trying to make everyone do terrible things to everyone else”
Let’s unpack that sentiment for a minute, looking at the negative social impact of a couple of religious institutions.
There have been 4 noted ‘Islamic’ terrorist attacks in Australia since we have been concerned with the Islamic terrorist threat in 2001.
Endeavour Hills stabbings (2014), Sydney hostage crisis (2014) ,2015 Parramatta shooting, Minto stabbing (September 2016). Now these have been noted as acts of terror, and there are some conjectures about the mental stability of some of these offenders and whether these are really acts of overt terror because of Islamic beliefs, or predominantly the work of mentally unwell individuals who have foreign sounding names. They have not been harboured in Australian institutions, and indeed we have an issue with Australians going overseas to join the Islamic State in other countries fighting for extremist views.
No doubt about it, in the world, there are religious extremists. Islamic, Christian, Hindu all over the world. They incite people to violence and pose a real threat. Our law enforcement agencies so far have done a fantastic job of protecting us from the impact of such threats.
Looking only at the impact of Islamic terrorism is not telling the full story however. In Australia, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has been so serious and systematically covered up over the past 40 years, that a Royal Commission was created to investigate these crimes.
As a result of this enquiry “Nearly 2,000 Catholic Church figures, including priests, religious brothers and sisters, and employees, were identified as alleged perpetrators in a report released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”
“In her opening address, Gail Furness SC said a survey revealed 4,444 allegations of incidents of abuse between January 1980 and February 2015 were made to Catholic Church authorities”
I had to get the calculator out, because that seems like a lot and my mental arithmetic isn’t great. That works out to nearly 127 allegations EVERY SINGLE YEAR FOR 35 YEARS. Nearly 2.5 a week for the entire 35 years. That's 4,444 allegations of abuse inside institutions of Jacquie Lambies own identified faith.
So, advancing religion? A great cause? A cause that in and of itself can stand beside advancing education and social and public welfare?
If you want to entertain the idea of persecuting people and limiting their opportunities based on their behaviour not lining up with “Australian Law” “Australian Values” or the “Australian Constitution” then I think we should apply that filter evenly across all religious institutions, and all citizens and see where that leaves us.
If you aren’t comfortable applying that logic evenly across the whole sector, then stop singling out Muslims as being some intrinsically evil institution. Most religions preach tolerance, love and looking out for each other… Not all practitioners do a good job of following these beliefs. Extremism and opportunism in any form can lead to acts that defy logic and have terrible consequences.
We need to prevent extremist actions, for any reason, through the promotion of equality of opportunity and providing avenues to upward mobility to any and everyone who lives in Australia. This is the best way to ensure any disenfranchised member of society feels that they have a place and an opportunity to get ahead without having to resort to extreme views to feel a sense of belonging or importance.
If Jacquie is to stand by her words that “It’s either one or the other, you either show your allegiance to Australian Law and the Australian Constitution but you can’t have 50/50” then let’s apply it equally rather than fear mongering towards the Islamic community. If we are to continue to talk about banning Muslims then we need to talk about removing advancing religion as a charitable outcome and tax the institutions. If we are not prepared to change the charitable status of Churches and other organisations, then we must stop the discussion discriminating against Muslims right now.
Be respectful, be thoughtful, be fair, and as always, Just Be NIce.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports