democratic engagement

Jun 9, 2009

Online consulting on Human Rights

The National Human Rights Consultations, launched by the federal government late last year and chaired by Fathe


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18 thoughts on “Online consulting on Human Rights

  1. eleri


    From my point of view the recommendation about how and whether we should codify human rights in statute or other mechanism is by far the most important aspect of this review.

    I think I disagree with Frank Brennan’s earlier expressed view that we don’t need a bill of rights to enshrine these, but have confidence in him and the committee that we will get a considered recommendation on this.

  2. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc


    I was using allegory. Please read the last post by Kristy. It is self explanatory.


  3. eleri

    David you asked “If your daughter or son were, same sex oriented, would you wish for a Catholic priest who is bound by the *Fourth vow, arbitrating on their behalf?”

    No. But your question is based on a false assumption that Frank Brennan is “arbiting” anything. He isn’t.

    For the record though, having met him, I’d have to say I have enormous respect for his ability to hear a range of views and to let those voices be heard. Which is exactly the point that Andrew was originally making.

    He also has worked more consistently for a wide range of human rights issues including the right to have basic needs such as shelter, income, civil and political rights than most people in Australia. I have no qualms about him being in that role.

  4. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc


    Up until now, I have been patient with you as I have a great deal of respect for your contribution to Australian politics. I expected your momentary blasts to cease. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. So be it.

    I am not totally sure of your whole point in this matter. Why do you need to use derogatory language, state inaccurately what I am actually saying, use innuendo expressing that my words are legally liable and contorting English to support your arguments. Whether this is intentional or not is still open to question. You certainly should lift your game if you wish to be taken seriously.

    To top it off you class Atheism as an ideology. Not accepting a god exists is not an ideology it is a position held on one topic. This is like calling not stamp collecting an ideology. My suggestion is, if you are fairly to represent yourself as an Atheists to read up on what that means as you obviously haven’t a clue.

    The rest of your post is rhetorical reproductions of previous comments and hardly worth a retort.

    I am expressing the views of Atheists in the AFA and those whom I come in contact, which encompasses a wide range of people. You are mouthing off with your own personal opinion, which you are entitled to, but it is no more than that. And you are doing it in a way that shows desperation, otherwise your words would not have additional emotional baggage and obscuration to support them.

    It seems to have escaped your notice that the recent spate of books re Atheism are because religion is making too many inroads into the political system. The AFA not only agrees with much of the content in those books, it has been saying the same thing for the 39 years of its existence.

    The present complaint about the structure of the Consultation Committee is an ongoing part of that.


  5. Kristy

    Andrew, you seem to be doggedly ignoring the fact that neither David, Luke nor I have argued that Christians should be excluded from any public office or inquiry. Our objection is confined to a clergyman, on the payroll of a church, heading a committee which will inevitably have to filter a large number of arguments – many of which may be at odds with those Fr Brennan has vowed to uphold as a member of the Catholic Church. An ordinary Catholic or Christian has made no such vow and is not directly answerable to the Pope.

    The view of the members of Atheist Nexus is perhaps a little more moderate than that taken by the AFA (and that is fine, we are allowed to have differences in opinion). We have not objected to Fr Brennan being ON the committee and having an input – our objection is to him chairing the Committee and, in that role, being the final arbiter of what does and doesn’t make it into the final report.

    With Jim Wallace from the ACL campaigning to flood the inquiry with submissions from evangelical Christians, there is a real danger that the right wing Christian view could be argued to be the most ‘popular’, giving Brennan a ‘legitimate’ excuse to write the report in line with his Church’s views. Any inquiry that receives a large number of submissions cannot hope to represent them all. Ultimately, the wide range of views received must be evaluated using some kind of selection process. Our point is simply that the person in charge of this selection process should not be someone who answers to two masters.

  6. Andrew Bartlett

    David – another definition of fundamentalism from the Oxford Dictionary:

    the strict maintenance of the ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology.

    That seems to me to quite aptly fit the rigid and doctrinaire approach you are taking to your ideology.

    And your subsequent comment is the same sort of anti-Catholic diatribe people tried to use against John F Kennedy when he was running for President of the USA in 1960. Your claim not to be vilifying Catholics gets more risible with every extra comment you make.

    And Frank Brennan is not even a lawmaker in this instance, he is facilitating an inquiry. As I said, if you or anyone else has any evidence that he is distorting or cmopromising the inquiry process or its final report as a result of some alleged obedience to the Pope, you should point it out. Otherwise you are just using a fundamentalist (mis)interpretation of Catholicism to slur somebody on the basis of their religious beliefs.

    Your analogy of equating Fr Brennan’s role on this Committee with you charing a “meeting where they are setting the curriculum for faith based schools” is laughable, (although frankly if someone is being a good Chair in the proper sense of the word it shouldn’t really matter). If your Athiest Foundation was making decisions about its actions or policies, you wouldn’t expect to have someone from outside being involved in that process.

    But this is not an inquiry into internal matters of the Catholic church, or into that of the Athiest Foundation. It is an inquiry seeking the views of the entire community into cre issues which affect everyone of us. Excluding a group from eligibility to be involved in running that process solely on the of their religious belief would be religious discrimination – the last thing I think atheists should be advocating.

    LukeRevolution – if the final report were to “heavily favour the position of a church” then your concern woudl be validated. I doubt very much that it will, and frankly if it did, the report would have no credibility. Given that there are 4 other people on the main committee, I would also doubt they would sign up to such a document (not that I think Frank Brennan would attempt to produce such a report anyway).

    And the comment you linked to was from Evangelical Presbyterians, not a Catholic body. Whilst they have right to express their view, much of what they have said is at odds with Catholic (and other mainstream Christian) doctraine and belief. They exclusionary attitude, where one set of beliefs is seen as having greater merit – or reduced merit – than others is precisely the sort of fundamentalism that I am criticising.

    Athiests will never have credibiilty arguing against Christianity having some sort of special status if they simulatenously argue that some people with Christian beliefs or positions should be excluded from equal particpation in civil society.

  7. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc

    Matt Francis & eleri,

    If your daughter or son were, same sex oriented, would you wish for a Catholic priest who is bound by the *Fourth vow, arbitrating on their behalf?

    Likewise, if you, a dear friend or relative were in unremitting pain with a terminal illness would you wish their plaintive pleas for voluntary euthanasia went before someone bound by the same rules.

    Similarly, if your daughter, mother, aunt or dear friend needed an abortion would you be satisfied with such an arbiter.

    What about contraception, would you mind following the dictates of a Jesuit priest or would you prefer someone a little more independent, and who was likely to be in line with the majority on this matter.

    These are some but not all the reasons as to why Frank Brennan in not a suitable to chair the Consultation Committee. They all have to do with Human Rights.

    A Jesuit priest is welcome to believe the above, but not to be in a position in a secular society where they may be imposed upon others. There is a clear and present danger such biases could influence the outcome of government policy. They may not but doubt in the process adds nothing to transparency. That you are willing to take this risk shows a disregard for people who are in these positions.

    (This is part of the Fourth vow) “…: unique to Jesuits, of special obedience to the pope in matters regarding mission, promising to undertake any mission laid out in the Formula of the Institute the pope may choose.”

    That vow establishes that the Pope and not the Australian people is the lawmaker.

    I feel you may not fully appreciate what bias means, especially when the bias is so profound.


  8. LukeRevolution

    David is not seeking to represent all atheists. He states that he represents the Atheist Foundation of Australia. If members of that organisation do not like what he is saying they can tell him so. I am not a member of that organisation so he does not speak for me.

    I have no particular objection to a theist being the chairperson but Fr. Brennan is not just a theist, he’s not just a Catholic, he is employed by the Catholic Church. Now, if he starts drawing up documents that will establish as rights things like GLBT marriage, contraception and abortion does anyone imagine for a second that he will not get a call from his Catholic superiors? Has he recently denounced his position in the Catholic Church? Presumably he has not. Thus I think we can safely assume that he will not go in to bat for equal rights for people wanting rights not allowed under Catholicism.

    I am uneasy about someone senior in any church from being involved in this process. I don’t care if the chair is a theist. That is none of my business as long as the document doesn’t come out heavily favouring the position of their church.

    If you wonder why I am uneasy just read this:
    It sends a chill down my spine.

  9. eleri

    Yes and I have to agree with Andrew and Matt as well. Frank Brennan is hardly just “a leading public relations figure for one of the wealthiest corporations in Australia” In fact, he’s probably done more study, thinking and advocacy on human rights than the vast majority of Australians.

    It seems to me that a more positive approach to achieving human rights with start with a view on what they should be and how we should be promoting them in Australia.

    And it would appear to me that you can be an atheist and also an abuser of human rights. (not that I’m accusing anyone on this blog of that, might I hasten to add). But there’s nothing special about atheists that protects them from being a human rights abuser. Indeed, any of you may well work for a corporation that has systematically abused human rights. Or you might have regularly bought their products and therefore be tainted by their views. That wouldn’t necessarily disqualify someone from chairing or participating in that committee. In my book, I wouldn’t want someone chairing it who hadn’t spent a fair amount of time thinking about the issues and living them.

    Andrew’s post was mostly about the ability to engage and consult in an open and constructive way. And that’s a good thing.

  10. Matt Francis

    I have to agree with Andrew here. The very idea of an group ‘representing’ Atheists is an oxymoron. I consider myself an Atheist, by which declaration I opt out of having anyone be able to claim they represent my views or opinions. I’ve never heard of the ‘Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc’, but I can’t possibly how even the name of such an entity is logically consistent? I certainly shudder at the though that someone would read some of the above posts by people claiming to represent me (at least to some extent) and then by extension assume I would hold at all similiar views.

    In any case, the whole point about Human Rights is that there exists different groups with different views on a range of issues in society, and as such common standards that are the minimum set things we can agree on. As such, any process around Human Rights must include as many different groups as possible. In the end, SOMEONE has to be the chair, and any group that the chair doesn’t come from could always point at them and say ‘bias’.

    Sure I think Fr. Brennan’s primary employment revolves around perpuating medieval mythology and superstition, but while ever signifant portions of society still hold similiar views, he is approriate as anyone else, what really matters is his personal approach to the issue.

    If I can put in another way, who would have been a suitable, unbiased, chair according to the dissenters above? Does it have to be an Atheist? Would a non-catholic christian suffice? Buddist? Agnostic?

  11. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc


    I thought you had broken engagement. Oh well, on we go.

    You obviously do not know the meaning of ‘fundamentalist (ism)’ Allow me to educate you. Shall we use the Concise Oxford Dictionary. Let’s shall: Fundamentalism – strict maintenance of orthodox religious beliefs such as the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.

    In clear and not obtuse language, explain how I, and presumedly, other Atheists, fit this category?

    I understand how you erroneously use this word as many religious persons bandy it around as a last defence against Atheism. I incorrectly thought, as an Atheist you would know better. But, as I am not infallible, I was wrong in this instance.

    The accusation of vilification is rubbish. I suggest, if you really believe it to be true, lodge a complaint with the appropriate authority.

    As for bias, I wonder if the RC church would mind if I chaired the next meeting where they are setting the curriculum for faith based schools.


  12. Andrew Bartlett

    You’re right David, you’re not my enemy. Why on earth would I think you’re my enemy, just because I think you’re talking nonsense? Your own words, particularly on the Open Forum website, are more than enough evidence of your anti-religious fundamentalism. Describing inflexible doctrinaire views as fundamentalist is not “propagandist trickery”, it is the word I chose to use to express my opinion. If you can’t engage with responses that use your own words, you shouldn’t express them in the first place.

    Thanks for your comments Kirsty. As I mentioned above, I read the submissions when they were initially put up online some time back. I didn’t worry about commenting on the time.

    Catholics (and people of other religions) have as much right as anyone else to put forward their views. If Fr Brennan had displayed a history of refusing to countenance or acknowledge views other than his own or those of the Church, your concerns might have some validity.

    In his role as Chair of the Inquiry, he does not have an obligation to the Church to represent their interests. He has an obligation as Chair to do what he can to ensure that all interests have the opportunity to express their views as fully and openly as they wish. If anyone has any evidence that he hasn’t done that, or that he has used his role to represent the Church’s interests they should say so.

    Your own opposition to him being Chair might not be intended as a vilification of Catholics in general, but the way it has been publicly expressed by some who label themselves as Atheists is quite clearly a form of religious vilification.

    I’ve often criticised attacks made against people just because they are non-religious, or attacks made on people because they have a non-Christian belief on the basis that Christianity should have some sort of primacy. It would be hypocritical of me not to criticise comments by someone claiming to represent Atheists who makes the same criticisms from the opposite side.

    Everyone has a personal bias. The key issue is that they not let that bias get in the way of or compromise whatever broader role they are playing. I think Frank Brennan has a pretty good record in that regard. There are plenty of Catholics and Christians in the federal Parliament, as well as a sizeable number of non-religious people – atheist or otherwise. The fact they do or don’t have a religious belief or hold a position with any related organisation shouldn’t disqualify them from taking a position on issues.

    Being Chair of an Independent inquiry has far less scope for conflict of interest, as it is as much a facilitating, assessing and reporting role as a decision making one.

  13. Kristy

    Andrew, I represent the 182 Australian members of the international website, Atheist Nexus, and I’m a founding member of the Sunshine Coast atheists meetup group.

    I have consulted widely with members of both groups and there appears to be unanimous agreement that the appointment of Father Frank Brennan as Chairman of the Human Rights inquiry is inappropriate.

    Our objection to Fr Brennan’s appointment was mentioned in a submission that Atheist Nexus made to the HREOC’s “Freedom of Religion and Belief in the 21st Century” inquiry. During the compilation of that submission, our Australian members were given open access to the drafts and invited to comment and voice objections to anything said on their behalf. Not one person raised any objections to the section on Frank Brennan.

    Our opposition to Fr Brennan’s appointment is not a personal attack upon him. We have great respect for his work as a Human Rights activist. Neither is it, in any way, vilification against Catholics in general. Our objection is that Fr Brennan is paid, first and foremost, to represent an organization which is well-known for its human rights abuses. It also has fixed and intractable ideas on what rights people should not have, and lobbies politically to enforce those restrictions, not only upon those who adhere to the Catholic faith, but those outside it! Abortion and euthanasia are two major issues on which the Catholic Church seeks to enforce its views upon the general population.

    We do not object to Fr Brennan being a member of the committee. Our objection is to him being appointed as Chair. Fr Brennan clearly has an obligation to the Church he serves to represent their interests. If, for no other reason than public confidence in the inquiry, the role of Chairman should have gone to someone who had no apparent bias.

    So, on behalf of the Australian members of Atheist Nexus and on behalf of the Sunshine Coast Atheists group, I can say that we support the Atheist Foundation of Australia on this matter.

    Of course, not all atheists are going to agree 100% over every issue. All that David and I can do is to consult widely with our members and try to represent the majority view as best we can. However, I will, for the record, post this response on both the AN Australian group page and on the SC Atheists forum and if there are any responses from members of either group that disagree with the AFA’s position, I promise to provide you with that information.

  14. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc


    You still don’t appear to recognise the difference between responsibilities of clergy and lay people and how one is bound to follow the tenets of the church and the other their conscience. Throwing phrases around like, “anti-religious fundamentalism” and “irrational fundamentalism’, and in the same paragraph is nothing but propagandist trickery. I thought you were above this kind of crassness but I was wrong. Maybe if you could oblige with some example of this would be helpful.

    I’m not playing so much on the sexual dark side of religion, mainly on the intractable tenets which affect average people. There has been explained enough not to reiterate them here except to state that if you cannot see the problems; you will never see the solutions.

    On representing a large proportion of Atheists, who would be in a better position to know what that might be? Someone who has been involved with the AFA for 25 years with constant contact with Atheists or someone whose claim to the same knowledge is that they class themselves as an Atheist. In the same light might it not also be fruitful for you to question the religious hierarchy, who do not, by constant survey represent their adherents, on many social issues. Those ones others and I have enunciated. I not only represent Atheists in this regard, but the bulk of religious persons.

    And your final paragraph goes into propaganda again as though if you say it often enough, some of the rubbish you are spouting will stick. It is you who are continuously mentioning sentiments such as, “…every person who ascribes to the Catholic faith is somehow so mentally straightjacketed into “immutable beliefs” that they should be disqualified from facilitating a consultation on human rights…” not I.

    Andrew, I am not your enemy but you are out of your depth with this matter and it is glaringly obvious. My advice would be for you to do as you suggest and not engage with me.

    No hard feelings.


  15. Andrew Bartlett

    Well if you’re wanting to claim you’re are just channeling anti-Catholic bigotry, rather than anti-religious fundamentalism, you should say so. I didn’t just read your media release – I read all of the comments you left on the open forum site. I also read the submission you provided in the early stages of the consultation process – I thought about highlighting your irrational fundamentalism at the time, but decided it wasn’t worth the bother.

    But I couldn’t write a piece pointing people to the online consultation site without making people aware that they should persevere past all the religious fundamentalism and vilification that is so prevalent in the early series of comments.

    I know more than enough about the disgraceful record of the Catholic church hierarchy when it comes to protecting rapers of children and other grievous crimes. What has that got to do with who chairs or is part of the committee carrying out human rights consultations?! Should all atheists be lumped in with mass murdering preachers of atheism like Stalin or Mao?

    But very humble of you to decide you represent “a large proportion of atheists”. How did that get decided? Was there some sort of vote? If so, no one asked me.

    Your suggestion that every person who ascribes to the Catholic faith is somehow so mentally straightjacketed into “immutable beliefs” that they should be disqualified from facilitating a consultation on human rights is laughable. You can’t seriously think that all people with religious beliefs do not “think individualistically”?! If that’s your idea of ‘reason’, then I may as well save myself the trouble of trying to engage with you.

  16. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc


    Your vitriolic response is quite unnecessary. I guess you limited yourself to only reading the media release and interpreting it with a particular slant.

    This concerns more than religious beliefs of one person, it about the immutable beliefs of the RC church held by someone representing a human rights consultation. I am disturbed how you have misrepresented me on this point.

    Maybe you should do a little reading on the outcome of those beliefs.

    As for not representing you, well that seems to be the case. But I do not claim to represent all Atheists, just a large proportion of them. That is the beauty and safety of Atheism, we all think individualistically about many subjects, most of us using reason, with only accepting that a god does not exist, the common denominator.


  17. Andrew Bartlett

    I am not crying ‘foul play’ David. I just noted your display of blatant religious vilification.

    Having been a publicly declared atheist for many years, I feel a need to completely disown myself as completely as I can from your irrational nonsense. If you seriously believe that any person who holds any sort of religious belief is therefore guilty of “religious prejudice”, then you are just as much of a fundamentalist bigot as the fundamentalist bigots of every other religion.

    You have a voice. You are saying that the voice of every person who holds a religious belief should be discounted.

    Feel free to keep using your voice as much as you like, but don’t pretend you speak for atheists in doing so.

  18. Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc

    Andrew Bartlett is welcome to his opinion but pointing out the obvious is hardly vilification. If religious prejudice did not exist in political minds and associate bodies set up to formulate how we govern Australia then there would be no need for the latter, as the former would self-regulate on the side of equality. In many instances, this does not happen.

    Indeed, I cringe also, but I do so when Atheists cry foul-play against those attempting to give a voice to minorities.

    David Nicholls
    Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
    Private Mail Bag 6
    MAITLAND SA 5573

    Ph: (08) 8835 2269

    Email: [email protected]

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