Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? .
James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 20 June 1785
The word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life."
It is not, as commonly assumed, anti-religious, rather it is non-religious. A secular position is to have 'no comment' to make on religion. In terms of the state, a secular position argues for a clear separation of church and state. Religious people, particularly those who are respectful of other faiths, and wish to avoid state-sanctioned bigotry, can also be secular in this manner. Thus one can indeed be a secular Christian, a secular Buddhist, a secular Muslim etc.
The Victorian Secular Lobby is open to all people who support our principles:
1. To promote the principle of the separation of Church and State and equality for all institutions under the law.
2. To resource and promote secular principles to journalists, politicians, and other contributors to public opinion.
3. To encourage co-ordination with like-minded groups to influence public policy.
4. To encourage persons to take up membership and engage in activities that promote secular principles and the Victorian Secular Lobby.
5. To engage in activities, including generating income and expenditure, to further these aims.
Our policies are also available for review.
News reports on this site compiled from the Proxima Thule Press Extracts Service. The Victorian Secular Lobby is a member of the Secular Coalition of Australia.
The Victorian Secular Lobby's contact details are:
public AT victoriansecular DOT org
The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
For nine years, Dr Rodney Syme has kept his silence about the lethal drug he gave to a dying man. Now he is speaking out and prepared to face the legal consequences.
Rodney Syme never met his grandfather George, but he feels he has lived much of his life in the old man's gaze. George Syme risked his safety to
tend to the wounded at Gallipoli during the First World War. Now Rodney Syme, a respected surgeon, is looking to his forebear's courage and
leadership as he speaks out about potentially breaking the law for a just cause.
When he was a child, Syme says he often faced a portrait of Sir George hanging halfway down the stairs of his Malvern [metropolitan Melbourne]
home. "The eyes seemed to follow you wherever you went," he says. "I always thought this guy has got his eyes on me."
George, a man of few words known as "Silent Syme", was 54 when he left his established medical practice and family to volunteer at Gallipoli,
partly to encourage other doctors to follow him. He worked as a surgeon anchored on the hospital ship Gascon before a cut in his hand caused a
life-threatening infection that sent him home. He was knighted when he retired in 1924.
Rodney Syme has often marvelled at his grandfather's bravery and he now feels George weighing on his conscience more than ever. For while both
dedicated much of their careers to saving people's lives, the grandson has also made it his life's work to help people end their lives.
For decades, Syme has carefully been revealing the details of deaths he has been involved in to highlight the need for voluntary euthanasia. At
times, his increasingly daring statements about providing people with control over the end of their lives and "medication" with little further
explanation have prompted police interviews and coronial inquests. But to date, the urologist has not been charged with any crime.
That may be about to change. After several calculated flirtations with the law, Syme believes there is a "benign conspiracy" in Victoria among
police, coroners, prosecutors and the government to not charge doctors for helping people end their lives. He senses that they either privately don't
believe in the law or think they won't win a case, particularly if it is levelled against a respected doctor who helped someone die a peaceful, dignified death.
Up until now, this apparent pact has suited Syme in some ways. Despite his provocations, he has never really wanted the stress of a Supreme Court
trial, let alone a conviction and jail time. But as Syme approaches the end of his life, he is losing patience and he wants to test the law in the hope
it will set a legal precedent. To do that, he is now prepared to reveal more about what he did to help one man achieve the death he wanted nine years ago.
He has been inspired to speak out - and risk prosecution - by the example of his grandfather, whose bravery he contemplates each year around
Anzac Day. "I'd think, 'Where is my courage?'" he says.
Eventually he felt that his conscience could not allow him to remain silent any longer. "I just believe passionately that there are too many
people suffering too much not to try a little bit harder to change things.. . And a lot of these things, it seems, will only be changed in a court
decision, so bring it on."
On a wintry Monday morning in 2005, Syme was driving his car when he heard the tail-end of a conversation on ABC radio about a man who had called in to say he was dying and wanted to end his life.
Later that day, Syme received a phone call from Steve Guest, the same man who had called talk-back radio that morning. Guest, a former journalist
and media adviser to the Cain government, said he needed help. In a phone call that lasted about 30 minutes, Guest told Syme that terminal oesophageal cancer had stolen his ability to swallow, think and live the life he had cherished for 58 years.
"It was clear he had a very serious problem," Syme says of the conversation. "He was down in Point Lonsdale and was too ill to come to
Melbourne, so I said, 'I'll come down and see you.'"
The next day, Syme climbed into his four-wheel-drive and headed down the Princes Highway to Guest's house. In case he needed it, he packed a
lethal dose of Nembutal, a powerful drug regularly used by veterinarians to put animals down.
When he arrived, Syme found a gaunt man in bed whose disease had nearly halved him in size from 80 kilograms to 45. He had a feeding tube in
his stomach and pain in his chest that was reasonably well controlled by large doses of morphine, but the relief came at a cost. He was constantly
nauseous, constipated and dopey when he wished to be alert and creative.
Guest appeared exhausted. He could barely walk short distances, making him feel like a prisoner in his home. There were friends, family members and an excellent GP visiting him regularly, but Guest knew he could not stay in his home much longer.
"He had a terrible fear about what was going to happen to him," Syme says. "It was completely destroying any quality of life he might have had.
He had what I call existential suffering. He was already in an existence that was arguably intolerable, and he was facing being transposed into a
nursing home, hospital or hospice where he would finish up his life in circumstances that were just not acceptable to him."
Syme advised Guest that he could be referred to a palliative care facility where he could legally be put to sleep with strong sedative and
narcotic drugs. Without hydration, he would be dead within days. But Guest was adamant he did not want this, mainly because he feared submitting himself to people who might prolong his life when he had had enough.
During this two-hour meeting, Guest told Syme he planned to take his own life and wanted access to a fatal dose of Nembutal so he could die when
the time was right. Guest wanted to own the precious last days of his life. Towards the end of their encounter, Syme says he made a decision that might yet affect his own end-of-life prospects.
"I gave him Nembutal because that is the medication beyond any other that can provide for a very peaceful death." - Dr Rodney Syme
"My opinion was that if I gave him control over the end of his life, I would be giving him the most powerful palliative treatment he could have. .
. So after a long and in-depth conversation, I said that that is what I would do for him and I gave him the medication. I gave him Nembutal because
that is the medication beyond any other that can provide for a very peaceful death."
Like many others before him, Guest's physical demeanour changed immediately after taking possession of the drug, Syme says. His shoulders
were no longer slumped, his frown eased and there was more light to his eyes.
"It is a remarkable phenomenon. It just makes you aware of how deep that psychological suffering is," Syme says.
By all accounts, Guest's mood improved dramatically over the following two weeks. He spent hours talking to journalists and particularly ABC radio about his illness and desire for voluntary euthanasia to be legalised.
Free from the terror he had felt about his looming death, Guest even joked privately about the music he might play when he died. He told ABC
radio presenter Jon Faine that while he liked the idea of some David Bromberg, the jazz music might be too much of a "foot tapper".
Syme continued to call Guest several times a week to check on his health and says he visited him again two weeks after their first meeting.
There was a moment he will always remember. As Guest moved to get out of bed to go to the toilet at one point, a thin cotton gown he was wearing billowed off him, revealing his emaciated naked body.
"He was virtually skin and bone," Syme says.
That night, after Syme left, Guest told his brothers, Andrew and John, that he needed help to walk into his bedroom. Andrew obliged but when he got into his bed, Guest said he wanted to be left alone. A short time later, he called both of his brothers to come back into his room.
"He asked us to hold his hand and within a couple of minutes he had drifted off to sleep," John Guest says of the moment he and his brother
Andrew had been anticipating for several days.
"We said our farewells and I kissed him, then went back to the living room and filled in time. Half an hour later, about 9:30 p.m., we checked on
him and as far as either of us could tell he was dead."
John says his brother's death was quiet and peaceful and that he was surprised by how well he slept after watching him finally slip away.
After Guest's death, Syme told the media on various occasions that he had given Guest advice about "control over the end of his life" and
"information about barbiturates". He also said he had provided Guest with medication but he never specified what that medication was.
About six months later, Syme got a call from a policeman who wanted to interview him about Guest. Syme agreed and met the officer from a criminal investigation unit at police headquarters in St Kilda Road. The officer, who seemed almost apologetic, wanted to know if everything Syme had already said about Guest was true. Syme stood by all his public statements, but refused to answer a question about whether he had given him Nembutal. In 2008, the police called Syme to again ask him if he had given Guest Nembutal but he refused to answer their question. He later heard from John Guest that he was unlikely to be charged.
"The same police member rang John Guest and said the coroner had asked the Director of Public Prosecutions if he wanted to prosecute and the DPP said no, so the coroner went ahead with an investigation."
Coroner Paresa Spanos's report on Guest's death noted Rodney Syme's interaction with him, and the fact Guest had died from an overdose of
Nembutal, but she added: "Despite thorough investigation by the police, the precise source of the Nembutal used by Mr Guest, and how he was able to obtain it, was not able to be ascertained. Nor were police able to ascertain the details of the advice given by Dr Syme to Mr Guest."
Rodney Syme has lived a privileged life, but in many ways he is a humble man. He lives in Toorak but loves to camp. His fridge is covered with
photos of his children and grandchildren. When I arrive at his home, he is wearing ugg boots and looks relaxed about what he is going to tell me.
Despite working in a field that is notorious for big egos, Syme does not seem to revel in the power he has to dramatically alter the course of
people's lives. He tells me he consults an average of one to two patients each week seeking help with end-of-life matters and does not charge them
for his expertise.
He speaks slowly and precisely and never seems to waste a word. Like his grandfather, you sense that he says only what is needed, and that he is
clear about what that is.
"I will die now in peace and at peace with myself, I am calm" - Steve Guest, shortly before taking the drug.
But is helping terminally ill people die the work of a good doctor or a criminal? Under the Victorian Crimes Act, it is illegal to incite, aid or
abet a suicide and the maximum penalty for such an offence is five years' jail.
After discussing his plans to talk more about Steve Guest's death with two senior barristers recently, Syme says he has arguably broken Victorian
law and could well be charged. While he values his freedom, he is so frustrated by the glacial pace of the euthanasia debate and the 16 failed
attempts by state politicians to introduce a new law that he would now relish the opportunity to stand before a jury to be judged.
He proffers the example of abortion in Victoria as a previously illegal medical practice that was partially decriminalised in a court case
in which a judge ruled it to be reasonable.
A Victorian precedent would be timely in Australia because an expensive black market for Nembutal is growing at a similar rate to the
ageing population. Only last week, police raided several homes in Western Australia to seize Nembutal that they suspected had been illegally
"Desperate people are doing desperate things, without any effective guidance regarding this medication, dosage or indications," he says.
Syme says Steve Guest could be the man who helps him change that. He says Guest was a courageous person who could have easily kept his story
quiet, but chose not to.
Shortly before he took his life, Guest sat down to record a statement for Syme to thank him for his help. He would have written a letter, but says
he was too knackered to pick up a pen.
In the recording, Guest says possessing Nembutal relieved his fear of a "prolonged and painful and undignified death", improving his mental health
immeasurably. "In one way or another, I will die pretty soon, but I will die now in peace and at peace with myself. I am calm," he said.
Syme does not know what his grandfather would have thought about his treatment of Guest or the fact he is now offering himself up to the police.
But he says: "I hope my grandfather would be a little proud of me at this particular moment. I am proud of him."
Author: Julia Medew
Publication: The Age
Submission of the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., to the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament Concerning End of Life Choices
1. Status of the Submission
On 7 May 2015 the Legislative Council agreed to the following motion:
"That pursuant to Sessional Order 6 this House requires the Legal and Social Issues Committee to inquire into, consider and report, no later than 31 May 2016, on the need for laws in Victoria to allow citizens to make informed decisions regarding their own
end of life choices and, in particular, the Committee should
(1) assess the practices currently being utilised within the medical community to assist a person to exercise their preferences for the way they want to manage their end of life, including the role of palliative care;
(2) review the current framework of legislation, proposed legislation and other relevant reports and materials in other Australian states and territories and overseas jurisdictions; and
(3) consider what type of legislative change may be required, including an examination of any federal laws that may impact such legislation.
This submission is a contribution by the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc. The Victorian Secular Lobby is incorporated in the State of Victoria, Number A00594400A
2. Definitions Used In This Submission
In this submission the following definitions are used:
Euthanasia is defined in this submission as action or inaction that directly and deliberately causes the patient's death. As the Legislative Council motion concerns itself with end of life choices, the submission is orientated towards issues surrounding voluntary euthanasia, defined as situations where the death of a person occurs with their competent and informed consent. This is distinguished from non-voluntary euthanasia (e.g., the person is comatose, some instances of the Groningen Protocol of the Netherlands) and involuntary euthanasia (e.g., killing contrary to the subject's wishes).
A person who makes competent and informed consent understands their condition at an end of life situation and is able to make a rational decision on the choices available to them.
Passive and active euthanasia ar distinguished, the former representing in inaction by another party with results in a death (e.g., withholding life-sustaining medicine), whereas the latter consisting of actions that result in death. This difference is primarily a matter of actor intention, as pragmatically the outcome is the same. A subset of active voluntary euthanasia are actions by another party which the means are provided so a person may commit suicide.
Dignity is defined as a situation where a person has control and independence over their life and body.
Palliative care is medical or other care given to a terminally ill person which is aimed in reducing suffering.
3. Legal Standing and Practise of Voluntary Euthanasia
Under the Victorian Crimes Act (1958), a party engaging active voluntary euthanasia could be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter (s3., s5., s6B, s22), although it is quite evident that this is very rarely enforced. A recent investigation was carried out in March 2015 following the death of a member of the group Exit International. 
The Victorian Medical Treatment Act (1988) establishes the right and procedure of patients to refuse medical treatment, allowing for passive voluntary euthanasia. In addition, under English common law, a doctor may administer pain killers to a terminally ill patient to relieve suffering, knowing that this may shorted a patient's life, provided that the primary reason is this relief, rather than to cause death .
In 1996, the world's first euthanasia legislation, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (1996), was passed in the Northern Territory of Australia. The legislation was overturned by the Commonwealth by the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, which lead to the establishment of Exit International. The Commonwealth government subsequently further hindered voluntary active euthanasia with the passage of the Criminal Code Amendment (Suicide Related Materials Offences) in 2004.
Internationally, some form of voluntary euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and the U.S. states of Oregan and Washington.
In the Netherlands, euthanasia is carried out under the "Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act" (2002). These legislative considers the patient's request, the patient's suffering (unbearable and hopeless), the information provided to the patient, the absence of reasonable alternatives, consultation of another physician and the applied method of ending life and reporting to a review committee.
In Canada, a decision of the Supreme Court on February 6, 2015 limits physician-assisted suicides to "a competent adult person who clearly consents to the termination of life and has a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition."
4. Public and Political Opinion
Numerous public opinion surveys  in Victoria have indicated overwhelming support for voluntary euthanasia with as little as 14% disagreeing form a voluntary survey of over 60,000.
An opinion poll conducted by Newspoll in 2009 showed that 84% of surveyed Victorians supported voluntary euthanasia.
An opinion poll conduced in Newspoll in 2012 indicated that 86% of surveyed Victorians supported voluntary euthanasia with 11% opposed.
An opinion poll conducted by Fairfax Ipsos in 2014 indicated that 76 per cent supported a change to laws that ban assisted suicide and euthanasia.
A particular public which must be referenced is, of course, those who are seeking active voluntary euthanasia. This policy issues affects such people more deeply than any other correspondents. Overwhelmingly the plea is for the opportunity to make an end-of-life choice in a many that is dignified and of their own volition.
Political parties represented in the Victorian parliament (the Australian Greens, the Australian Sex Party) have policy positions supporting voluntary euthanasia.
5. Non-Secular Arguments
Non-secular arguments for or against euthanasia are those which derive their justification not on evidence on the most effective relief of suffering, or on a sense of autonomy of an individual, or on beneficial or negative social norms, but rather an appeal to articles of faith inspired by metaphysical presumptions.
In 2011 the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported  that 61% of the Australian population were of the Christian faith, the major denominations being Catholic (25.3%), Anglican (17.1%) and Uniting (5.0%). Non-christians made up 7.2% of the population (Buddhism 2.5%, Islam 2.2%), and 'No Religion' was specified by 22.3%.
Dealing with the the smaller, non-Christian religions first, the panca sila of Buddhist specifies not to kill any living being; however the Vakkali Sutta and Channa Sutta both give examples where terminally ill monks, already well progressed on the path to enlightenment, engage in suicide as a suitable course to reduce suffering and carried out with mindfulness. With regards to Islam, there are doctrinal suggestions against active euthanasia (Qur'an 4:29, 17:33), however the Islamic Code of Medical Ethics and the to the Islamic Medical Association of America (IMANA) both make statements in favour of passive euthanasia, but only where there is no chance of patient recovery (Shabih H. Zaidi, Ethics in Medicine, 2014).
The Catholic Church regards active voluntary euthanasia as morally wrong as God has jurisdiction over life. The encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Pop John Paul II, 1995) argues: :in harmony with the Magisterium of my Predecessors and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person". Nevertheless, passive voluntary euthanasia is acceptable, drawing a distinction between using ordinary means to preserve life as distinct from extraordinary means (Gerald Ford, S.J., in John Dedek, Human Life: Some Moral Issues, 1972, pp.125-26).
The position of the Anglican Church is similar. As determined by General Synod Resolution 46/95, and Lambeth Resolution 1.14 (1998) life is considered as a gift from God that has intrinsic sanctity, and therefore not subject to human choices but distinguishes between active euthanasia and "withholding, withdrawing, declining or terminating excessive medical treatment and intervention". The General Synod Resolution specifically recommended that state parliaments vote against legislation to legalise euthanasia.
In some contrast, the Uniting Church argues that "there is no one ethical stance but rather a range of views that come from each person’s understanding and experience of their faith" and argues that there may be exceptional situations where pain and distress affects quality of life to the extent that active euthanasia would be justified .
It is the opinion of this submission that all non-secular Arguments should be rejected by the committee. It is not the role of the Victorian government to determine what religious doctrine of faith its residents should adhere to in any circumstances. Whilst the above claims may provide a basis for particular actions and views for individuals within a faith, it is not universally shared.
A sensitivity to religious pluralism within our society does not mean that legislation should be enacted that is captured by it, even in the sense of being a compromise between competing articles of faith. Rather, secular laws must apply independently to such articles and be based on shared norms informed by factual evidence alone.
6. Universal Norms and Evidence-Based Research
It is important to realise that the Victorian Secular Lobby or its members do not necessarily reject any of the claims from various religious groups. However, we do recognise that these are articles of faith, rather than statements of evidence. Life may be very well be a gift of a divine creator with intrinsic value; it may also be that this life is a period of unnecessary and cruel suffering (e.g., dukkha in Buddhism) instituted by a malicious supernatural being (dystheism).
If the intrinsic value of life is not something that is subject to accurate human evaluation in itself, then governments should not legislate on it. Instead the universal reality in which governments can legislate in this context would involve (a) the existence of individual reasoning minds and bodies and (b) the existence of varying degrees of pleasure and pain experienced by those bodies. If these principles are accepted - and it is difficult to deny the independence of human biological entities - then political rights should be accorded that respects individuals.
This argument of individual rights to life choices is, of course, tempered in each case by social obligations that the individual may have; a decision to die by euthanasia will affect other people (e.g., friends, family, health care professionals). However it is not the role of government to determine whether an individual has engaged in sufficient consideration of such people when making a decision concerning their own end of life choices.
A genuine secular concern exists that if active voluntary euthanasia is decriminalised, then an opportunity exists for involuntary euthanasia through subtle pressure by medical professionals. However the existence of a logical argument for this "slippery slope" differs from the empirical evidence that the argument implies. For example, non-voluntary euthanasia levels have remained stable (at less than 1% of total deaths) in the Netherlands following decriminalisation of voluntary euthanasia (http://euthanasia.ws/hemeroteca/pendientelewis.pdf).
A related argument is the criteria is the question of mental competence to express a desire to die (e.g., whether it is enduring or a temporary despairing suicidal urge). Whilst this can be avoiding in most cases by a repeated expression over a period time to determine this enduring wish, a contrary position could argue a person in consistent pain or dependence is unable to make a rational choice. This unfairly places a person making end-of-life choices in a situation where the very conditions that would cause a desire for voluntary euthanasia lead to its prohibition.
A further argument against active voluntary euthanasia is the suggestion that good palliative and hospice care can be applied instead of voluntary euthanasia options. In part this is a false dichotomy, because the two issues are not contradictory; both good palliative and hospice care can be offered in addition to active voluntary euthanasia. Further palliative care, often based on a level of trial and error, does not necessarily enable an easeful death or even is certain to reduce suffering or a sense of dependence. Indeed, in a number of cases there is no effective palliative care (e.g., motor neuron disease, asbestosis).
The Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., has two main related positions which it advocates as part of its own objectives. It is outside of our organisation's objectives and policies to make further recommendations, and as such much of this submission is designed to be informative rather then prescriptive. Nevertheless there are two important considerations of which the association wishes to raise as a priority.
Firstly, is that the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament must explicitly reject any attempt by religious organisations to apply non-secular arguments into deliberations of these medical and normative issues. This is not to imply any exclusion from public debate by religious organisations but rather to ensure that participation in moral and political debate uses language and arguments that are at least in principle accessible to all in order to make an independent and universally applicable rational choice.
Secondly, that the evaluation of practises, review of the current framework of legislation, and proposed legislation, are based on strict ontological definitions, empirical evidence, and based on the universal norms. Based on the evidence that has been reviewed, there is a very strong case for recognising bodily autonomy as part of end-of-life choices, especially when medical professionals are able to evaluate the individual's state of mind and probability of enduring circumstances. Available evidence suggests that legislative amendments which provide for active voluntary euthanasia does not result in a "slippery slope" leading to non-voluntary or involuntary euthanasia by medical professionals.
 Victorian election 2014: Electorate overwhelmingly back voluntary euthanasia, Vote Compass reveals, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-23/victorians-back-voluntary-euthanas... ; (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/per-cent-support-volunt... ; http://www.australianageingagenda.com.au/2012/12/06/wide-support-for-eut... ; http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/victoria-state-election-2014/fairfax-i...
 A Call for Compassion in the Euthanasia Debate, http://unitingchurchwa.org.au/blog/2010/09/a-call-for-compassion-in-the-...
What is secularism anyway?
We need to define this in order to address our concern appropriately, and to fine the points of difference between secularism and many groups which are often associated with it.
Is is not necessarily rationalism, as expressed by the Rationalist Society of Australia "Rationalists hold that all significant beliefs and actions should be based on reason and evidence, that the natural world is the only world there is, and that answers to the key questions of human existence are to be found only in that natural world."
It is not necessarily skepticism, as expressed by the Australian Skeptics. "... a loose confederation of groups across Australia that investigate paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint."
It is not necessarily humanism, as defined by the IHEU, which the Australian Humanists subscribe to: "a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."
It is not necessarily atheism, as expressed by the Atheist Foundation of Australia : "The Atheist Foundation of Australia recognises scientific method as the only rational means toward understanding reality. To question and critically examine all ideas, testing them in the light of experiment, leads to the discovery of facts. As there is no scientific evidence for supernatural phenomena, atheists reject belief in 'God', gods and other supernatural beings. The universe, the world in which we live, and the evolution of life, are entirely natural occurrences."
Instead, the word 'secular' comes the Medieval Latin "secularis", meaning worldly or temporal in distinction to the eternal. It pertains to the world that we all live in and share, in space and time. In George Holyoake's coining of the term, he noted that secularism wasn't an argument against religious beliefs, but an argument independent of it. "Secular knowledge is manifestly that kind of knowledge which is founded in this life, which relates to the conduct of this life, conduces to the welfare of this life, and is capable of being tested by the experience of this life." The secular world is the world that we all exist in. Everyone is secular.
Secularism - distinct from secular - is a political principle that government institutions and persons are separate from religious institutions and religious persons. Secular governance is one which is "aggressively neutral" on all matters of metaphysical speculation. Secularism both protects and limits religious organisations as being equal to any other voluntary association deserving of neither fear nor favour. People can be deeply committed to their issues of faith and personal beliefs, but also deeply opposed to those very same beliefs being established as universal and enforceable law. I can speak of conservative Christians, for example, who are utterly sincere as an item of faith that they do not wish people to undertake voluntary euthanasia, but would not dream of seeing that prohibition introduced as public law.
What Is the Victorian Secular Lobby?
The Victorian Secular Lobby is an incorporated association in the state of Victoria. We started as an unincorporated association in 2010, and in 2011 decided to become an incorporated association. We are a lobby group, not a political party (secularism is a "broad tent", which includes a variety of perspectives on political economy, for example). We mainly organise meetings with politicians and political parties to discuss various items of policy, organise activities in cooperation with like-minded groups, engage in campaigns during elections, and provide a compiled resource of related news items. Our membership, and committee, represents a secular viewpoint with varying metaphysical perspectives being represented; atheist, christian, pantheist etc.
Our policy positions as decided from the 2014 Annual General Meeting (and updated at 2015) are found at the following URL (http://victoriansecular.org/policies). In the 2014 state election campaign, we identified the following as priority issues and consistent with our policies: (a) Special Religious Instruction, (b) Equal Opportunity Act Amendments, (c) Abortion Reform Act of 2008. and (d) Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001. Specifically, we oppose the teaching of SRI and are in favour instead of a general religious education as part of an education curriculum and taught by qualified teachers. We oppose the changes to the Equal Opportunity Act which allow religious organisations the right to engage in prejudiced discrimination in matters of non-religious employment. Further, we opposed any attempt to medical professionals not to refer individuals seeking a reproductive procedure contrary to their faith. Finally, we think the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is well-intended, but poorly implemented, as it concentrated on matters of 'offensiveness' rather than veracity and allowing for group defamation proceedings.
Our capacity is limited by a modest membership and finances. We certainly lack the resources and lobbying power of groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, the Catholic Education Office, or the National Civic Council (to cite three powerful organisations with demonstrably anti-secular policies). Nevertheless we do "punch above our weight" with well-established and improving political contacts. We also have an advantage that the policies we hold are typically supported by the majority of Australians, and with good reason as well. We are also limited to being a Victorian association; most of our energy is directed to Victorian-specific issues, however we are members of the Secular Coalition of Australia.
The Importance of Political Involvement
It may be asked why secularism is a political priority; surely other issues such as political economy should have priority? The reason is that secularism is necessary for modernity; it is impossible to conduct open investigation and reflexive development in the sciences, arts, or laws, with a religious censor in the process. This is not to suggest that modernity does not have its own form of political censorship; it most certainly does, whether inspired a state atheism or majoritarian democracy. Secularism represents a necessary but not sufficient condition of civil rights and liberties.
Another issue that must be realised is that religious authorities did not give up their positions of power willingly. It was very much an result of the disaster of the European religious wars, the rise of liberalism, and the revolutions. Whilst many religious believers may be secularists today, there is still a very active group of fundamentalists who would delight in the opportunity to move towards a more theocratic society. This also gives recognition to a very important element of secularism; that the division in law is one of a continuum and a continually contested field.
In addition, it has been understood that secularism is a necessity for an increasingly multicultural society, borne of an near-inevitable globalisation due to technological drivers. A society that is increasingly a mixture of different cultures and creedal backgrounds must find a solution to this multiplicity and pluralism. For some, the answer is a domination of the majority over the minority. This form of authoritarianism, despite a high level of popularism, is hopelessly inadequate for international economic integration and development. An suggested alternative has been the institution of parallel legal systems, what some have called incorrectly "post-secularism", when it is really a society of multiple theocracies, a flawed experiment as the family law codes of Israel and Lebanon should make clear.
In the coming year, the Victorian Secular Lobby, Inc., will be concentrating on the issues of Special Religious Instruction and Equal Opportunity Amendments, along with voluntary euthanasia, as these have been identified as the major secular issues that will be confronting the Victorian parliament in the coming year. We will also be working hard to build the Australian-wide secular coalition to deal more effectively with Federal issues. Finally, we wish to encourage others to join us. Politicians by their nature are timid creatures, most easily swayed by threats of well-financed and well-organised conservative lobby groups. Whilst the majority of people support secular principles in our political system, as numerous opinion polls testify, our politicians are well out-of-step of what the public thinks.
Only through an organised secular lobby can we create a situation, as it always has been, where the people lead and the politicians follow.
Presentation by Lev Lafayette for the Victorian Secular Lobby to the University of Melbourne Secular Society, April 28, 2015
The Tea Party emerged as a shrill political force in the US only when it became politically expedient for some Republicans to pander to a hard-right minority rather than the mainstream.
After a 2010 redrawing of electoral boundaries, some states in the US became so skewed towards the Republicans that in 2012 the party easily won a majority in the House of Representatives despite receiving 1 million fewer votes than the Democrats.
Indeed, the Republican grip in some places is so strong that the biggest threat to Republicans is other Republicans. Hence the emergence of the Tea Party, with rival candidates battling to outbid one another to win over a small but hardcore base on the far right.
Old school Republicans lament the enormous cost. The party is seen as so out of step with the mainstream some have questioned whether it will be possible to win the presidential vote in the foreseeable future.
What does this have to do with Victorian politics? Here, our political system is vastly different. The premier is elected not by the people, but by whichever side of Parliament controls the numbers in the lower house.
There are, however, some worrying parallels. This week, upper house Liberal MP Bernie Finn told a local paper that abortion should not be acceptable under any circumstances, including cases of rape. He also claimed abortion is being used by rapists and (particularly) paedophiles to destroy evidence of their crimes, adding that for many women to have an abortion after being raped is like ''being raped a second time''.
The abortion issue has been simmering on a low heat ever since the divisive debate in Parliament over the 2008 Abortion Law Reform Bill led to the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria. There is nothing new in the notion that the Coalition is a broad church when it comes to conscience issues. But senior figures in the Napthine government are becoming increasingly alarmed that a ''ginger group'' of MPs - including Finn - are successfully agitating to once again put the abortion issue back on the political agenda.
Balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw is drafting a private member's bill to scrap a requirement for doctors who are conscientious objectors to abortion to provide a referral to another medical practitioner without an objection.
According to some, the bill is being used as a Trojan horse to whip up debate more broadly. Despite voting against the 2008 reform, Premier Denis Napthine is desperate to shut the debate down before it once again heats up. Late last year, he released a YouTube video stating that neither he nor his government had any intention of introducing legislation to reduce a woman's right to choose.
Mary Wooldridge (who was one of only a handful of Liberal MPs to vote in favour of the 2008 reform bill) was also said to have been questioned during her unsuccessful preselection bid for the blue ribbon seat of Kew over her pro-choice stance.
To claim Wooldridge lost the battle for Kew because of her pro-choice stance is wrong. But the fact it was even raised as working against her is interesting. In a further attempt to keep a lid on the issue, Napthine this week lashed out against Finn's ''over the top'' claims, telling the MP his comments were less than helpful.
''I said to him that I totally disagree with his comments, that they were wrong and over the top, and I suggested that what we need to concentrate on … growing jobs, building a better Victoria, investments in education, investments in improving our public transport services, investments in opportunities in this state,'' Napthine said.
There are perhaps two reasons for his strong response. First, the abortion debate represents another giant distraction, particularly with the government under pressure in key areas such as health, education and public transport. Napthine clearly has better things to be talking about. He made this crystal clear to Finn.
Second, claims such as Finn's are so out of step with the mainstream they could become damaging for the Coalition, particularly in a left-of-centre state such as Victoria.
A Newspoll conducted in December found that 85 per cent of people support the right of women to choose whether they have an abortion, including 77 per cent of Coalition voters and 78 per cent of religious voters.
If there is any pressure for change, it is coming from a vocal minority: only 7 per cent of people said they would be more likely to vote for the government if existing laws were changed, and almost half (48 per cent) said tightening laws would make them less likely to vote for the Coalition.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that revisiting the abortion debate is bad politics for the Coalition, even if it is good politics for upper house MPs who rely on a small but vocal conservative base.
Until Wednesday, the abortion debate was once again threatening to become an issue in Wooldridge's second attempt to find a seat. Wooldridge this week said she would nominate for the upper house electorate of Eastern Metropolitan, which overlaps with her soon-to-be abolished existing electorate of Doncaster.
Fortuitously for Napthine and Wooldridge, one of three existing Liberal MPs in the electorate, Jan Kronberg, a member of the so-called ginger group and an active anti-abortion campaigner, has announced she will be retiring at the election. The big hope is this will clear the way for Wooldridge and minimise the risk of another bloodbath.
You could almost hear the sigh of relief emanating from his Treasury Place office. Napthine may have finally found a home for Wooldridge, and he may feel he has slapped down Finn, but the abortion bogyman has not been put to rest yet, and won't be, as long the ginger group is agitating behind the scenes.
Josh Gordon is State Political Editor of The Age.
In the 2014 Victorian State Election the Victorian Secular Lobby received financial and campaigning assistance from the following individuals whom we wish to thank:
Jennifer Bakker, Jaye Christie, and anonymous.
In addition we wish to especially highlight the following additional individuals for their efforts in the campaign.
Jeff Martin, Erica Hoehn, Lev Lafayette, Dean Edwards, Cindy Laird, Rodney Brown, anonymous, Peter Vietch, Paul Poulton, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, and Richard O'Brien
Further, the following individuals listed above will receive a Secular Justice Warrior award at our 2015 Annual General Meeting for their contributions.
Jeff Martin, Rodney Brown, Cindy Laird, Adam Dean-Robert and Yee Yi, Richard O'Brien, and Lev Lafayette
Lev Lafayette is also eligible for the George Holyoake Trophy for his financial contribution and campaigning.
The Victorian Secular Lobby will be holding its Annual General Meeting on Saturday, February 14th, 6.00pm at the New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, Corner of Lygon and Victoria Streets, Carlton
The agenda for the meeting includes:
a) Report of activities of the past year.
b) Membership and Organisational Status
d) Inaugural Secular Justice Warrior Awards
2. Administrative Changes and Election of Office Bearers
b) Election of office bearers (President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, 2 Committee Members). Nominations must be sent to public at victoriansecular.org by Friday, 11.59pm, February 13th.
3. Planning for the Upcoming Year
4. Presentation, Fiona Patten, MLC, on "Religious Exemption to Equal Opportunity Laws"
5. Dinner at No. 1. Steamboat. 7.30pm
The virulent Boycott Halal movement in Australia is set to escalate, with a petition to federal parliament in the New Year demanding the Corporations Act 2001 be changed to mean only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.
Halal products are those deemed permissible for Muslims to eat or use under religious law. Many mainstream products in Australian stores are halal certified including food from SPC, Nestle, Kelloggs and Kraft.
Supermarket chains pay for certification for some products, as do dairy factories and meat processors.
Worldwide, the halal industry is worth $US2 trillion and is growing 20 per cent a year. Companies are keen to capitalise on the boom, so halal certification is increasingly common. All products exported to Muslim countries are certified before they go.
Australia has 21 Islamic groups approved by the federal government to issue halal certificates. Of the 21 only four, with one in Melbourne and three in Sydney, get most of the work, including Indonesian contracts.
The new Indonesian government has begun to dismantle an Islamic agency thatis facing corruption allegations, and which approves halal imports from Australia. Halal exports are worth $12 billion with growing competition from China and Brazil.
The Boycott Halal campaign is led by New South Wales farmer Kirralie Smith and supported by extremist groups including the "Islam-critical" Q-Society, Restore Australia, the Australian Defence League and the Patriots' Defence League.
Q Society president Debbie Robinson said the petition and campaign also want clearer labelling on halal products "to ensure consumers can make a conscious decision." Ms Smith said: "Our primary focus is lack of choices.
"I felt deceived as a consumer that products pay halal certification fees and there was no way as a consumer that I knew."
The Australian Food and Grocery Council says halal certification costs are "negligible" and "highly unlikely" to change pricing.
Knives out for halal
From: The Sunday Age, Extra, Page 24, 28/12/2014
Macedon Grammar School has been closed by the state government amid allegations of serious financial mismanagement and impropriety at the troubled private Christian school.
The closure has cost 22 staff their jobs and left the parents of about 60 prep to year-12 students scrambling to find an alternative school for next year.
"The [Education Department] is working closely with local government, Catholic and independent schools to make the enrolment process as simple as possible for families," a department spokesperson said.
The decision to cancel the school's registration has also doomed a rescue plan by a foreign investment syndicate led by Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, who hoped to transform Macedon Grammar into an elite boarding school for the children of China's wealthy and powerful.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the demise of Macedon Grammar is expected to cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in grants that were used to build campus facilities now considered virtually worthless.
Another $512,910 is owed to staff in unpaid entitlements, while parents and suppliers have lost nearly $300,000.
Macedon Grammar School was put into external administration in late November after education authorities threatened to cancel its accreditation following concerns about its management and financial viability raised nearly six months ago. The move also came after the school's board, principal, business manager and International Baccalaureate program co-ordinator all tendered their resignations.
But documents obtained by Fairfax show that Macedon Grammar has actually been operating at a loss for at least two years, raising allegations of insolvent trading and other potential violations of corporations law by the school's non-profit board.
"Our preliminary investigations have identified certain offences which we are in the process of reporting to [Consumer Affairs Victoria]," external administrator Worrells wrote.
The school's accounting practices were found to be sloppy to non-existent, and information on buildings constructed using more than $1.11 million in government grants was "not readily available". In the wake of the school's closure, about $988,000 should be refunded to the government but the money is unlikely to be recovered.
The local business left with the biggest debt is Organ's Coaches Kyneton, whose parent company was also left significantly out of pocket by the collapse of Mowbray College in 2012.
The bus company is owed almost $52,000 in unpaid bills after the school missed a payment late in the year. "You always think educational institutions will be around forever," general manager Matt Baird said.
The administrator has also discovered a number of families received discounts on their school fees for unexplained reasons.
One father at the school said he understood some parents had entered into a deal where they would work one day a week at the school as "monitors" in exchange for a week of free schooling for their child.
The decision to close the school has come despite a last-minute rescue bid by the company Mountain Properties, which is backed by a syndicate of overseas investors who donated $250,000 to Macedon Grammar to keep it open for the remainder of the school year.
The group, which includes wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Wang Hua, applied to continue the school's licence to operate and proposed expanding the campus into an international boarding school.
But the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority rejected the plan on Tuesday, cancelling Macedon Grammar's registration effective at midnight on December 31.
Fairfax understands the department was concerned about the viability of the proposed funding arrangements for the school and the sharp drop in enrolments – from 150 to less than 60 students –since it was placed into administration.
Mountain Properties is considering appealing the decision to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and has called on the Education Minister to urgently review the department's decision.
"We're shocked and surprised at the decision to close a school unnecessarily," spokesman Craig Binnie said. "The consortium would have funded anything that school would have required to make it one of the best schools in the country."
Religious groups will ramp up cam-paigns against a Labor proposal that will make it harder for faith-based organisations, including schools, to discriminate against employees because of their faith or sexuality.
The Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia, and the Catholic Education Office have hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite the state’s equal opportunity laws, which would require religious or-ganisations to justify how their need to discriminate was relevant to the requirements of a job.
Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the changes were an “ideological attack on religion” and the organisation would lobby upper house MPs to block the legislation.
“The changes are not warranted, there was no case made for them,” Mr O’Doherty said.
ACL Victorian director Dan Flynn said the group would encourage thousands of its members to write to government MPs.
“One of the concerns of this le-gislation is that it could have the affect that Christian schools could be required to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to the schools’ objectives.”
Equality Minister Martin Foley said the changes were vital, and he knew of librarians and administrative staff in Victorian religious schools who had been discriminated against because of their sexuality. He said faith-based communities, including the Catholic Church, had previously indicated support for Labor’s reforms, which were enacted in 2010 before the Coalition won government and abolished them in 2011.
“In 2014 how are these changes anything other than treating people with decency? How is the gender identity or sexual identity of a gardener a matter which should determine whether that person is employable?”
Catholic Education Office executive director Stephen Elder said current laws struck a fair balance, between the right to equality, freedom of association and religious belief. He threw his support behind a statement released by religious leaders, including Melbourne Cath-olic Archbishop Denis Hart, ahead of the state election which urged Labor to abandon the proposal.
Under Labor’s changes, religious organisations would be allowed to discriminate on the grounds of faith, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status and gender identity if hiring the person would hurt the religion’s sensitivities.
But an “inherent requirements test” would make it harder for schools to discriminate against a gay gardener or an atheist administrative assistant, whose job was removed from teaching religion.
Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert said she was committed to the principle of equal opportunities in employment and other areas where it does not affect religious doctrine. She said the proposed laws could lead to some concerns about the role of the courts in determining the “inherent requirements” of a religion.