GARRY EVERETT. A Legal Leap of Faith?

Jan 10, 2019

GARRY EVERETT. A Legal Leap of Faith?

In the Weekend Australian (5/6 Jan.’19), Professor Greg Graven wrote an article entitled Taking a Legal Leap of Faith. In essence it is an examination of the key issues involved in trying to legislate in the matter of religious freedom. This is a disappointing contribution.

Professor Craven is both a Constitutional lawyer and a senior leader of the Australian Catholic University. Wearing both these hats, he is in a perfect position to contribute to the ongoing debate about matters relating to freedom of religion, and the legalities that attend the institutions who confront the legislation as it applies in practice.

There has been an almost endless examination of the issues involved. A report from Phillip Ruddoch’s Committee, which inquired into the matters on behalf the Federal Government was made public recently. What we didn’t need was further analysis, which is all Craven provided.

What we needed were some potential solutions which could move the enterprise forward.

Australian Catholic University is an institution that practices and preaches what Craven terms “mission compatability”. By this he means that the practices of an institution are completely in sync with its stated values. There is no case of saying one thing and doing another.

As an academic institution it provides a raison d’etre which has solid foundations in Church history, spirituality, theology, education and leadership. As a leader in such an institution, and with a professional background in law, Craven should be able to argue a case for how to solve the dilemmas facing the Federal and State Governments, as well as those being faced by religious institutions of all faiths.

I am reminded of the fable about the two famous universities. One was called the University of No Questions—here, all that mattered was the learning of the answers, authoritatively handed down from generation to generation. The other was called the University of No Answers – where all that mattered was learning how to ask searching questions. The truth was, that a true university encouraged the asking of questions, as well as developing the answers to those questions.

In the University of No Answers, Craven asks the question:
“Could a religious educational institution express a position that was contrary to the same sex view of marriage enshrined in Australian law?” With his experience, legal and educational, it would have been better had he shifted to the University of No Questions and answered his own thought. Or better still, from within his own real university, he could have encouraged the formulation of answers to this and other questions which raise legitimate concerns.

A friend of mine, who has had a long career in the law, assures me that many lawyers adopt the Craven position. They are happy to conjecture, to articulate problems, to see possible impediments — but not to propose solutions.

Such a scenario may be true of the population at large. It takes great courage to formulate a potential solution, particularly if others are waiting to destroy your efforts. We know that the turtle hastens slowly by sticking its neck out, but we are not inclined to take the risk. We fear we might be judged to be foolish or be regarded as a failure.

If society and its educational institutions have imbued us with this over-riding fear, then there is little hope for the future . Surely we can move beyond fear, and give our best efforts into constructing potential solutions. We should then collaboratively focus on nurturing that potential into the best outcomes for all.

Garry is interested in the structures and processes of the Catholic church at all levels ,and in how the Church adapts to the demands of contemporary social developments.

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