Cardinal Pell warns of move to silence Christians


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CANBERRA, Australia, NOV. 23, 2009 ( An Australia commission purportedly established to protect human rights seems to be omitting freedom of religion and conscience from its lists, according to Cardinal George Pell.

In fact, as explained by the archbishop of Sydney, there's only one question about the outcome of an inquiry the Human Rights Commission has been doing in Australia for more than a year: "How bad it will be?"

Cardinal George Pell noted his lack of optimism about the project because right from the start, he said, the commission's race discrimination commissioner, Tom Calma, was reported as expressing his concern about a "growing fundamentalist religious lobby" in matters such as same-sex relationships, stem-cell research and abortion.

The same commissioner jointly delivered in August a conference paper about the inquiry, which began by stating, "The compatibility of religious freedom with human rights is the subject of the most comprehensive study ever undertaken in Australia in this area."

Cardinal Pell spelled out the claim underlying that first phrase: "[T]he clear meaning of these words is that religious freedom is not a human right and may not be compatible with human rights."

"This," the cardinal affirmed, "is an astonishing claim from a senior officer of the body responsible for the protection and advancement of human rights in Australia."

Cardinal Pell was evaluating the rights commission's inquiry at a keynote address Friday for an Australian Christian Lobby conference.

He cautioned that Calma and the other writer of the paper, Conrad Gershevitch, conclude by suggesting a greater role for government in managing religious freedom.

"If these individuals have their way," the prelate said, "religious people in Australia can expect much more government restriction and interference, 'even if gentle and gloved.'"

In the road

Cardinal Pell suggested that for the commission and those who share its worldview, "human rights often get in the road of their particular secular agenda."

He explained: "The rights to life, to marriage, to family; the recognition of the family based on marriage as the fundamental unit of society; the rights of parents to determine the moral and religious education of their children; and the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and conscience, are all recognized by the major international human rights agreements.

"They also stand squarely in the road of the radical autonomy project which the extreme left, the anti-religious left is pushing. This is the main reason why these inconvenient rights have been read-down, reinterpreted and displaced by other, newer 'rights' such as those to abortion, euthanasia, anti-discrimination and same-sex marriage, and all they carry with them.

"Is the commission genuinely committed to human rights as agreed between the nations in the major treaties, or is it actually committed to overthrowing some of them for radically different ideas?"

Worse yet

Cardinal Pell further contended that the "Human Rights Commission is part of a bigger problem."

"One way of stating it," he said, "is to ask: Why is it that human rights statutes, such as the Charter of Rights and Responsibilities in Victoria, seem to end up violating and diminishing some human rights rather than protecting them?"

The cardinal went on to illustrate how this charter, with its "small print" stipulates, "rights included in the Victorian Charter can be limited or redefined according to whatever is required 'in a free and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.'"

"This sounds fine and reasonable, but in fact is a recipe for trouble and oppression," Cardinal Pell affirmed. "It significantly exceeds the limitations allowed in international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which only permits some rights to be limited in times of genuine national emergency or when absolutely 'necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.'"

This wording, he cautioned, "gives judges and other decision-makers an enormous discretion to reinterpret, redefine, or simply ignore human rights if there are more important priorities set by the government of the day. The effect is that while human rights are of varied and limited importance, they become secondary to public policy, to the particular values or priorities of governments."

"This is how human rights commissions understand their task and explains why they often produce strange decisions which fly in the face not only of the intention but also the plain meaning of human rights as set out in international agreements and treaties," he observed.

Global issue

Cardinal Pell pointed to similar struggles under way in Great Britain and the United States.

He cited Paul Diamond, a barrister from London who told Australians in a visit last month that "anti-discrimination" has become "an official priority of public policy in the United Kingdom, with serious consequences for the rights of Christians as people who are held to be inherently 'discriminatory.'"

And, the Sydney archbishop continued, in the United States, the issue of same-sex unions could have "enormous" consequences for religious freedom: "Marriage preparation, relationship counseling, decisions about medical treatment by next of kin, school enrollments, sex and relationship education in secondary schools, the hire of parish, school and church facilities for functions and events, and arrangements for married couples in emergency housing, retreat, conference and aged care centers are only the most obvious examples of where Christian beliefs about marriage could collide with public policy on anti-discrimination which prioritizes the equal treatment of same-sex marriage."

"The U.S.A. and Britain are still a long way away from where we are now," Cardinal Pell said. "And that is where we want to keep it."

He said it is important to know what is happening globally with this issue and to "be both vigilant and confident in protecting all human rights, including the right to religious freedom, especially through the parliaments."

"When the human rights industry starts to treat religious freedom as a problem, it makes itself an ugly Goliath. But we should not be cowed," he concluded. "[...] we should remember instead the example of David, and start running at him. We should also remember that David felled Goliath."