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Threat to religious tolerance from 'modern elites'

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In a stinging attack on “modern elites”, former justice of the High Court Dyson Heydon AC QC has condemned attempts to exclude religion from Australian public debate.

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Delivering the inaugural PM Glynn lecture in Adelaide on Tuesday evening, Mr Heydon referred to Patrick McMahon Glynn’s contribution to the Australian Constitution, notably for ensuring the words “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” were included in the preamble.

“Those words reflected what the elite of the Federation generation saw as fundamental,” Mr Heydon said in his address entitled Religious ‘toleration’ in modern Australia: the tyranny of relativism.

“They do not reflect what modern elites think. The public voices of modern elites are not humble. They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings. And they do not feel any gratitude to Almighty God for their entitlements and rights.”

Referring to recently publicised words such as “burn churches, not gays” and “crucify ‘no’ voters”, Mr Heydon questioned why it was acceptable for one element of public opinion to call for the physical destruction of places of worship and the death of those who worship in them.

“That is treated as merely routine, apparently fit to pass without comment. But it is not seen as alright for those who worship to state publicly the beliefs they hold, and to argue, whether on narrowly religious, or ethical or utilitarian grounds for or against particular policy positions under general debate.

“It is alright for the elite to support a particular point of view, but intolerable for anyone else to oppose it. That is what modern elites call ‘tolerance’.”

While a rise in prosperity had contributed to indifference to religion, Mr Heydon said members of modern elites were “moving away from mere indifference” and embracing a “fanatical anti-clericalism”.

“Some want to destroy faith itself,” he warned.

“The modern elites are tyrants of tolerance. They say: ‘You must listen to what I am going to say. Then you must either praise my virtue or shut up. Because if you try to say you disagree and why, you deserve to be, and you will be, hounded out of all decent society.’ Thus the tyrants of tolerance pay lip-service, but only lip-service, to freedom of religion as a fundamental human right.”

Mr Heydon said Section 116 of the Constitution prevented the enactment of any Commonwealth law prohibiting the free exercise of religion but the “tyrants of tolerance react to what religious speakers may say with orchestrated vilification, insults, derision, scorn, fake outrage and bullying mockery”.

“That howling down can do as much to prevent the free exercise of religion as any law falling foul of s 116,” he said.

“In short, modern elites do not demand tolerance. They demand unconditional surrender.”

Mr Heydon said a “curious feature” of modern liberalism was that it arose from the very religion which modern elites now most despised – Christianity.

“Now the modern elites – the tyrants of tolerance – in seeking to marginalise or silence Christianity are not only rejecting the cultural tradition of Christianity,” he said.

“Not only are they rejecting a large part of the entire life and history of the nation – because Christianity is so integrated with the national life and history that to annihilate it is to destroy that national life, which can live only in memory.

“They are also rejecting that fundamental part of the Christian tradition which is the source of the modern world and of their own favoured position within it.

“They are doing it whether they realise it or not.”

The PM Glynn Lecture on Religion, Law and Public Life has been initiated by the Australian Catholic University’s PM Glynn Institute to honour the contribution of Glynn as one of the founding fathers of the Commonwealth, and as a prominent writer, lawyer and parliamentarian.

Born in County Galway, Ireland, Glynn studied law at the Middle Temple in London and after immigrating to Australia was admitted to the South Australian Supreme Court in 1883. He was elected as a member of the House of Assembly for the Seat of Light in SA and was editor of the Kapunda Herald from 1883 to 1891.

After Federation, he held prominent roles in three federal governments and his views – not always popular with his contemporaries – were deeply informed by his Catholic faith.

Dyson Heydon’s full lecture: SPEECH AT PM GLYNN INSTITUTE 17 OCTOBER 2017

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