SMART Recovery Australia is Australia’s leading secular addiction recovery program. We do not require that anybody submit to a higher power or any form of dogma. Working this way empowers people on two levels: anyone of faith can engage with our program on their terms and those people who are not religious find ways to overcome their problem behaviours in practical ways.

SMART’s approach minimises stigma and shame for those who come to our meetings. SMART Recovery Australia supports all people’s right to their own religious or spiritual beliefs and practices where they do not cause harm to others.

The Morrison government’s Religious Freedom Bill stands in the way of our work.

The proposed Bill prioritises the right to religious belief over other legal rights. The Bill destabilises our pluralistic, democratic beliefs and prioritises religious rights over the obligations of health professionals, whose oaths and codes of conduct ought to govern their actions. The Hippocratic Oath requires medical practitioners in the first instance to do no harm. What would Hippocrates say to those whose response might be “first provide no care to those with whose lifestyle I disagree?”

The most immediate risk posed by the Bill is that it may allow health professionals to refuse treatment to patients they view as sinners or infidels. Let’s not forget that Israel Folau’s fire-and-brimstone Instagram tirade included “drunkards”. People with problem behaviours are the very people that we are trying to help at SMART Recovery Australia. Imagine taking yourself along to a doctor to treat your critical health issue, only to be told that your problem behaviour is a “sin”.

We know that the greatest barriers to those seeking help for their addictions are stigma, fear, and shame. Overcoming fear requires enormous courage. The proposed amendments to our laws will fuel stigma, creating ever higher barriers to those seeking help and treatment. The impact of such a change is difficult to overestimate. Empowering health providers to discriminate fundamentally disagrees with many of the primary teachings of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth was proud to consort with lepers and prostitutes. What would he think of a doctor in our time of global anxiety and chaos refusing to treat someone seeking help for their very human problem behaviour?

The Bill purports to uphold legal protection from hatred and violence related to religious belief. Does this cover bullying, or emotional violence? Does this extend to the fear felt by religious minorities in communities where their beliefs expose them to threats of death or excommunication? We urge lawmakers to adopt a harm reduction principle, following Hippocrates’ lead, of doing no harm and discouraging stigma. This is what community leaders, health professionals, politicians, and the media can do to promote wellness and kindness.

The Bill fails to address theological and practical differences within and between major religions. Surely the Liberal party, where Catholics rub shoulders with Pentecostals, Anglicans and Methodists, would be familiar with differences in doctrine and therefore practice, across various religious denominations? SRAU stands with our partners in the Fair Treatment Campaign, the Uniting Church of Australia, in embracing a plurality of experiences, faiths, faith traditions, and ways of living.

At its very core, this Bill risks deepening divisions within our already fractured communities. Our trust in one another as fellow Australians is being put at risk.

People deserve to have their beliefs protected, but never at the cost of the wellbeing of our community. In a proudly multicultural, multifaith and pluralistic secular society such as ours, one that benefits from our differences, it is vital that we embrace, protect and include those people who are most vulnerable to hate and exclusion.

 

Ryan McGlaughlin

SRAU Executive Director

 

In related news, see SMART Recovery Australia’s submission in response to the proposed second
exposure drafts on the package of legislation on religious freedom:

https://smartrecoveryaustralia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/submission.pdf