Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 33 - No 2 Contents 43
POLICY • Vol. 33 No. 2 • Winter 2017
PETER MULHERIN AND SIMON P. KENNEDY
take on a person who fundamentally contradicts the
ethos of the association. This would threaten the
rights of the association which, by extension, would
also threaten the freedoms of conscience, expression
and association of its members.
Associations: to target or tolerate?
Putting hypotheticals to one side, actual examples
in Australia where associations are being threatened
are becoming increasingly common.
In August 2016, the Daniel Andrews Labor
government in Victoria tried to amend the Equal
Opportunity Act and establish a state-run test to
determine whether religious organisations had
the right to use their faith-based beliefs as a term
of reference for employment. In this situation,
religious voluntary associations including churches,
schools and charities would have had their guiding
ethos undermined and raison d’être questioned by a
government wielding the authority to decide which
views were appropriate and which were not.
kind of legislative manoeuvre not only damages the
freedoms of the organisations’ members, but also
harms civil society as a whole by adopting illiberal
and undemocratic methods in a thinly-veiled
attempt to compel social uniformity.
A Tasmanian case that similarly threatened civil
society involved the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart,
Julian Porteous. In 2015, Porteous circulated a
booklet to Catholic schools entitled Don’t Mess with
Marriage which sought to explain the Church’s
position on marriage. The booklet aimed to ‘engage
with [the same-sex marriage] debate, present the
Church’s teaching to the faithful, and explain
the position of the Catholic faithful to the wider
15 Despite being sent exclusively to
parents of students at Catholic schools—voluntary
members of an association—Porteous found
himself facing legal action for a possible breach
of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act based on
‘conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or
ridiculing’ of same-sex attracted people. Inciting no
violence or hatred, Porteous’ ‘crime’ was articulating
an opinion based on his religious convictions—in
short, expressing his conscience.
A related incident in Sydney in 2016 saw a
planned gathering at the Mercure Sydney Airport
Hotel targeted for their beliefs. The function,
consisting of various Australian Christian groups
and organisations, was aiming to form a strategy
in the event of a same-sex marriage plebiscite being
held. An online campaign to have the function
banned was so heated that the hotel cancelled the
event. According to a hotel spokeswoman, the
decision to cancel was based on fears for the ‘safety
and security of our hotel guests and staff.’
More recently, activists have called on IBM to
review its board membership after it was found that
managing partner Mark Allaby was involved with an
organisation that did not publicly support same-sex
Finally, beer brewers Coopers withdrew
support for a recent Bible Society campaign related
to civil discourse on same-sex marriage after a
fierce consumer boycott threatened the company’s
Ironically, all these cases were framed by their
opponents as ‘attacks on diversity’, which raises
important questions about the role of associations
in modern pluralistic societies.
True diversity is not about replacing ‘old’ ideas
with ‘new,’ and then silencing the ‘old’. A truly
diverse society allows competing perspectives to
stand side-by-side and allows individuals to choose
between them. Brookings Institute scholar William
Galston writes that liberal societies must accept
and manage ‘diversity through mutual toleration
within a framework of civic unity.’
he argues, ‘is about the protection of legitimate
diversity.’ Australian political theorist Chandran
Kukathas expands on this in The Liberal Archipelago.
An evocative title, it points to a society in which
diversity is the norm and where individuals are free
to ‘inhabit’ different ideational islands.
protected by the freedom of conscience and speech,
is intimately connected to associations.
Indeed, associations can protect diversity by
allowing likeminded individuals to come together.
Kukathas writes that ‘liberty of conscience requires
freedom of association.’
Therefore, just as
individuals may hold diverse views, the associations
A truly diverse society allows competing
perspectives to stand side-by-side and
allows individuals to choose between them.
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