Rationalism arose as a scientific and reason-based opposition to ideas beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature, and/or commitment to associated principles of behaviour. Beliefs in this sense often pose a challenge to political principles such as democracy, the rule of law and human rights. This gave rise to the agitation for a rationalist approach to life, and the establishment of rationalist movements in the 19th century. While those concerns are still relevant in the 21st century, we recognise that the right to freedom of religion or belief entails state neutrality in matters of religion. That is, the people should enjoy both freedom of religious belief and practice, and from imposed religious doctrine and practice.
Recognition of both the freedom to hold or practice a religion or belief, and freedom from the imposition of religious ideas and practices on others thus raises the need for a secular state, a clear and effective separation of religious influence on state activity, often called ‘separation of church and state’. We hold that Australia is currently a ‘soft theocracy’, that is, the state favours religious institutions by taxpayer-funded grants, tax exemptions, as well as exceptions to discrimination law, and religious influence in law-making.
We recognise the freedom of everyone to have and practice the religion and beliefs of their choice, but we argue that this cannot happen unless the state acts in the interests of public welfare, safety, and the rights of all, regardless of individual beliefs and practices. This is in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Australia is a signatory) which provides that no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair their freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and that freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
To read more about secularism, see our Occasional Paper, ‘Q & A on Secularism’ (coming soon).
The Vice-President is Nick Cao, an honours graduate in economics from the University of Sydney.
The Treasurer is Vic Demcsak, a PhD candidate in physics at the University of Sydney.