Freedom for me, but not for thee

13 October 2022

Professor Matthew Ogilvie 

This week, the Federal Labor government announced that it would expend significant resources to repatriating members of the Islamic State. While these IS members are presumed to be noncombatants by virtue of their sex and ages, they have been part of an evil organization that raped, tortured and murdered its way through the Middle East. Its victims included Yazidis, Christians and homosexual people. The situation is so serious that Opposition Leader, Peter Dutton expressed grave concerns after an ASIO briefing,1 and local MP Dai Le spoke of the hurt the repatriation would cause members of her community who were refugees from the Islamic State. 2 

The next day, the Essendon Football club forced out its newly appointed CEO for belonging to a Church that holds fairly mainstream beliefs about homosexuality and abortion. It seems that the club had followed the law by not asking illegal questions during the interview process about Andrew Thorburn. But once it found out about his Church association, the club took action. That was despite no evidence that Mr Thorburn had ever discriminated against gays, or anyone else in his previous work. In fact, as Rev Tim Costello pointed out “Thorburn was a member of City on the Hill when he was CEO of NAB, which “sponsored the mid summer festival.” ‘Andrew participated in gay rights and marches. They (NAB) sponsored the AFL’s pride round, the very first one, and Andrew was very prominent’…”3 

The message from this week borders on the insane. Belong to a Church that believes that abortion and homosexuality are sinful, and you shall face employment discrimination. Belong to an organization that has actually murdered homosexuals, and the government shall invest significant resources in helping you. 

This week is not the first time we have seen such double-standards or strange contrasts. In 2015, at the urging of then Queensland MP Terri Butler, the Immigration Department canceled the visa of Troy Newman, a US anti-abortion preacher.4 The Australian government then  deported him after he attempted to enter Australia.5 Around the same time, however, a visa was approved for a leader from another faith who preached in favour of the death penalty for homosexuals.6  In 2016, Prime Minister Turnbull hosted an Iftar dinner four days after 49 people were shot dead in an Orlando gay nightclub. One of the Prime Minister’s guests was a prominent cleric who “condemned homosexuality for ‘spreading diseases’ and attracting ‘evil outcomes to our society’.”7 

It is hard to make sense of such double standards in a liberal society in which we are supposed to value free speech and religious freedom. But the issues are neither liberalism nor freedom, but identity politics and a cultural conflict, a conflict that has emerged from the Marxist worldview that divides people into classes that are either perpetually oppressed or perpetual oppressors. It has become very clear about that worldview that, despite the protestations of the culture warriors, it does not foster tolerance and respect, but instead aims to impose a collectivist and authoritarian ideology upon people. 

In other words, the classic liberal tradition values diversity and tolerance in a way that unites people under a common social mantle that seeks the common good. Diversity ideology from a Marxist worldview, however, divides society in a perpetual class struggle of one against another. As Archbishop Comensoli put the point, “Helpful diversity draws people together. Harmful diversity pushes people apart.”8  

Therefore, at the surface, the treatment of Andrew Thorburn seems to be about religious freedom, freedom of speech and their potential conflict with LGBTIQ+ rights. But at a deeper level, the real issue is about the foundations of our society. Are we to be a civilized and liberal society in which we value tolerance and the free exchange of ideas in an environment of respect?  Or are we to be a society subjugated by the burdens of Marxist class warfare and the imposition of progressive ideologies? In short, shall we be free or enslaved to political correctness? 

Having said that, there are always signs of hope and a sign that all of this will backfire in spectacular fashion on premier Dan Andrews.  

The signs of hope are seen with a number of Islamic sports stars. When Haneen Zreika decided to sit out the AFLW pride round for religious reasons, she did so with respect for her fellow-players, who afforded her the same mutual respect and supported her decision.9  

A number of Muslim cricket players have refused to accept alcohol sponsorship. They have done so respectfully. One prominent player is Hashim Amla who refused to wear the logo of a beer company, but graciously accepted that he should forgo part of his match fee.10 

A great example of liberal tolerance and respect was shown by the Australian cricket team. After the Australians had defeated England in the Ashes series, Usman Khawaja ran away from the celebrations to avoid being sprayed with champagne. But Australian Captain Pat Cummins signalled for the Aussies to stop spraying the champagne so that he could take part in the celebrations.11 

How will the Essendon situation backfire on Dan Andrews? At the federal and state levels, Labor has pushed hard to oppose the right of Catholic and other independent Christian schools to employ staff who support the school’s mission. Dan Andrews, in particular, has worked to outlaw staffing choices for religious schools, apart from jobs in which faith was an inherent requirement, such as religious education or principal positions.12 As former Labor MP Terri Butler put the argument, one’s beliefs or lifestyle should not be a factor for most Catholic school staff. She asked rhetorically “Why would you discriminate on sexual identity? A gay teacher doesn’t teach gay maths. They just teach maths.”13 

But this is exactly the situation that has unfolded at Essendon. There was nothing to suggest that Andrew Thorburn was going to engage in any discrimination or illegal activity in his role as CEO. He was pressured to resign, though, because of his personal faith.  

So here is the challenge for Federal Labor and the Andrews State government. If, like Dan Andrews, one supports Essendon for forcing out someone whose personal faith and values don’t align with the club, then one has no option but to support the right of religious schools to also select their employees based on whether their values align with those of the schools. 

By denying Catholic schools the right to choose staff who support their mission while supporting Essendon’s apparent right to do the same, Dan Andrews has shown great hypocrisy. In the long term, he will no doubt regret what he has had to say this week. 

(1) M. Doran, “Opposition leader Peter Dutton has ‘grave concerns’ over plan to rescue Australians in Syrian detention camps”

(2)  Matthew Knott, “Dai Le says western Sydney residents ‘offended’ by Syria repatriations,”

(3)  A Current Affair, “Prominent Baptist minister and football fan conflicted over Essendon fallout”

(4) Crikey, “Dutton is right to kick out extremist Newman,”

(5)  James Glenday, “Troy Newman: Anti-abortion activist detained…,”

(6)  BBC, “Anti-gay preacher linked to Orlando leaves Australia,”

(7) Geoff Chambers, “Anti-gay Muslim sheik Shady Alsuleiman attends Turnbull’s dinner,”

(8) Archbishop Comensoli, “Pursuing the common good of all: a response from the Archbishop of Melbourne,”

(9) Akash Arora, “AFLW club backs Muslim player’s decision to withdraw from match over pride shirt,”

(10)  Aditya Kukalyekar, “5 Cricketers who refused to sport alcohol logos on their jersey,”

(11)  Fox Cricket (Twitter Account),

(12)  Premier of Victoria, “Laws Pass To Stop Discrimination Against Victorians,”

(13)  Bryant Hevesi, “’A gay teacher doesn’t teach gay maths’: Labor MP’s stinging rebuttal…,”