Walking in the countryside it seems that the winds have stopped… Could you vote for the @SecularParty? #auspol

Secular Party of Australia

Secular Party of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the brouhaha of the weekend in which we discovered that no reasonable person could vote for Wikileaks or the Sex Party, it seems the next contender for the ‘Alternative Option’ vote is the Secular Party.

This could go one of two ways.  Either it could be a party really engaged with the deep questions of what a post-religious society could look like, or it could be a party trying to capitalise on the Dawkins-inspired derpfest of New Atheism.  I haven’t read their policies yet, so I’m hoping for the former.  Hoping.

Their website outlines a number of the party’s aims and what they stand for.

The Secular Party holds that religious beliefs can give rise to unwarranted restrictions on civil liberties and constitute a source of social disharmony. We seek to uphold the internationally recognised “Declaration of the Rights of the Child”. This document implies that children should be free to develop to their full potential, including the capacity for freedom of thought. Children should be protected from religious indoctrination. Ethics should be based on universal principles, such as compassion, honesty, freedom and justice.

So it’s pretty obvious from the opening bat that they’re a bunch of nutcase New Atheists.  Religious beliefs can give rise to unwarranted restrictions on civil liberties and constitute a source of social disharmony?  So can economics, but we don’t see them calling for an end to the economy.  The phrase ‘freedom of thought’ is particularly interesting.  The same page makes the claim that the party is against ‘censorship’ shortly before the claim that they are against ‘religious attire at schools’.  It’s difficult to be against a particular form of expression (religious attire at schools, I’d wager, is a reference to Muslim children wearing headscarves) and yet simultaneously against censorship and in favour of freedom of thought.

‘Freedom of thought’ and opposition to censorship also sits strangely next to the claim that they are against exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation for religious organisation.  So the party wants to ban religious attire in schools, but doesn’t want to allow religious organisations to make similarly discriminatory declarations.

There is a puzzle about the word ‘should’ in the phrase ‘Ethics should be based on universal principles, such as compassion, honesty, freedom and justice’.  This makes it different to mainstream New Atheism which is overtly consequentialist in its approach: ethics is based on the end utility rather than principles.  But it also uses these words as if they are unproblematic and obvious.  What does ‘justice’ mean outside of a particular legal framework?  Are these legal frameworks universal?  Should they be universal?

The justice question again arises when the party says that it stands for ’embryonic stem cell research’.  I’m in favour of embryonic stem cell research, but I can certainly understand the claim that an ethical system that championed justice for the unborn would have a problem with it.

Similarly, the party is against all forms of religious dogma yet in favour of same-sex marriage.  While the ‘same-sex’ aspect is laudable, the ‘marriage’ part is religious.  They might argue that marriage has (somehow) been transmogrified into a part of our secular culture.  Thus, we should ask why headscarves on Muslim children aren’t part of the secular culture of Muslim societies.  What makes marriage secular but headscarves religious?  Because one is less common in the West?

The policy section similarly ties itself up in knots.  Here’s a section from their education policy:

The Secular Party recognises the societal benefits of a well-funded and high-quality education system. This is best provided by teaching based on universal values and principles, and school curricula founded on reason and evidence consistent with academic expertise

So the teaching will be based on universal values and principles (whatever they may be, and decided by whom?), but the curricula will be founded on reason and evidence.  What a peculiar tension.

Firstly, if the financial resources available per student in a private school, including those provided by school fees, exceed the standard resource per student, government funding will be reduced accordingly and used to help bring disadvantaged public schools to the required standard

‘Standard resource per student’?  ‘Reduced accordingly’?  Imagine that a private school — let’s ignore the ultra rich schools and focus on, say, the private schools out in regional Australia — decides it needs a budget of $X to fund its programme for the year.  At the moment, it knows that it will get a particular allocation from the government and the rest will be made up from fees.  The Secular Party is saying that, if $X is greater than a government-determined ‘standard resource per student’, the government will reduce its allocation to the school.  This increases fees for parents making that school unaffordable for at least some of those families.  This latter part reduces the number of students, increasing the ‘resource per student’ and thus reducing the government allocation again…

So either the school needs to reduce the quality of its education programme, or it needs to cater to an increasingly elite group of students.

So the secular party’s education policy is choice for the ultra elite, and bog-standard for the rest.  Not a particularly promising platform.

Secondly, to qualify for government funding a school must teach a secular curriculum, admit students and employ staff regardless of faith, and all religious activity promoted by the school must be voluntary and conducted outside school hours

I’m not sure what happened to the anti-censorship part of their platform…  But what’s a ‘secular’ curriculum?  Literature which mentions the Bible is no longer permitted in English classes?  Farewell, Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, &c.  Or has literature magically become secular somehow?

The thing is, it wouldn’t have been that hard to get this policy right.  One of the big problems in primary and secondary education policy is people declaring that they want an ‘inclusive education’, by which they mean that they want Creationism taught in the classroom.  The Secular Party could instead link a school’s funding to the courses it teaches.  If you don’t teach the approved Creationism-free science course, you have to get parents to pay for that part of the education.

It is the policy of the Secular Party that religious instruction in schools be replaced with studies of comparative religion and ethics.

Religious instruction in which schools?  In private schools?  I’ve argued over in New Matilda why religious instruction in schools results in better outcomes for atheists.  Short answer: I’d prefer the religious people around me to be instructed in conventional, mainstream, first-rate theology rather than in the crazy rantings of some poorly paid lay-preacher operating out of his garage.  The same approach is being funded by Australia in Indonesia.  By funding religious schools that teach mainstream Islam, you don’t get the radicalisation problem.

Personal freedoms should be based on modern secular humanist principles. Only secularism can guarantee religious freedom, and we endorse this freedom.

Wait… This is the same party wants to forbid religious attire in schools.  How does forbidding particular attire guarantee religious freedom?  That makes no sense.

However those who adhere to faith-based morality frequently seek to impose their religious views on the entire population. This occurs in policies concerning areas such as abortion, voluntary euthanasia, stem cell research, drug policy and gay rights.

But the Secular Party wants to impose its moral views on the religious community by stripping it of exemptions to the anti-discrimination legislation and by denying people avenues to protect the rights of the unborn.  I don’t get this doublespeak.  ‘They want to impose their private, religious views; but we aren’t similarly imposing our universal, secular views’?  That makes no sense.

The Secular Party believes in equal human rights.

Yet not in fairies, unicorns, and goblins.  How odd.

It is the policy of the Secular Party that voluntary euthanasia be legalised, at state and federal levels, in cases where the individual is undergoing unbearable suffering with little or no hope of improvement. It is also the policy of the Secular Party that this legislation should include adequate safeguards to prevent abuse. This would include, but not be limited to, independent and unbiased psychological evaluation, independent and unbiased medical evaluation, a “cooling off” period, and the right of the patient to change his or her mind at any stage of the process.

What a half-baked thought.  So if I’m in a hideous motor accident and lose my capacity for voluntary consent, I can’t be euthanised?  We treat animals better than that.

What’s an ‘independent and unbiased psychological evaluation’?  Imagine that I have a religious brother and a New Atheist brother.  One gets a psych evaluation of me that says I’m of sound mind and have freely chosen to die.  The other gets a psych evaluation of me that, because I’m undergoing unbearable suffering with little or no hope of improvement, I’ve become too depressed and miserable to consent freely to my death.  Which is the independent and unbiased psychological evaluation?  Or do we get hospital-based psychologists to do the assessment, thus putting them in the firing line for legal disputes?

For me, unbearable suffering is not being in physical pain but being in a position where I don’t have complete access to my cognitive faculties.  I’ve told my family and friends that if I’m ever left in a state where there’s a good chance I’ll end up brain damaged, they should insist on an NFR order.  But the Secular Party’s policy wouldn’t help me because their policy is all sugar fluff and flimsy whimsy.

The rights of citizens have been curtailed as a result of the “war on terror”. There is a risk that these new laws will produce greater alienation amongst target groups. Citizens therefore need the protection of legislation that protects human rights

What is a human right that doesn’t have its origin in legislation?  For a Secular Party, they have an awful lot of woo-woo magical thinking.

The Secular Party endorses and supports a proposed Bill of Rights Act.

I’ve written a lot about why an Australian Bill of Rights would be a terrible idea.  First up, our Constitution protected us against McCarthyism when the US’ didn’t.  Second, a Bill of Rights in Australia would have prevented the government from enacting its plain packaging laws.  Third, had the US Constitution applied in Australia, John Howard’s gun control policy would have failed.  Fourth, truly democratic countries must believe in parliamentary sovereignty.  Bills of Rights shift sovereignty over to the unelected, mostly white judges.  Citizens here and now should be in control of their system of government, rather than being held to legal standards laid down 200 years ago for an entirely different society.

We propose that certain cultural and religious practices that specifically and significantly limit the rights and freedoms of women in Australia be prohibited. This includes situations where women are forced or coerced into wearing garments such as burqas, and where the freedom of movement of women is limited or restricted.

I totally called it.  Racist lunatic party.  Notice, of course, that it’s only cultural and religious practices that limit women.  I’m sure the Secular Party has a policy outlawing high heels.

Oh, no.  They wouldn’t have a policy like that because it’s not a targeted attack on Muslims.  Silly me.

Abortion should be a matter solely for women and their medical practitioners.

I’m not sure that this is the most appropriate phrasing of this idea.  Contraception and family planning isn’t something that we should delegate to women so that men can wash their hands of it.  New Atheist sexism back on display?

Remember, of course, that the Secular Party wanted to have a universal ethical system which promoted justice.  It’s never entirely clear why this system wouldn’t involve protecting the rights of the unborn — especially considering that the Secular Party is preaching voodoo ethics involving non-legislated human rights.

In any situation where the life of the woman is at risk, all medical staff must be willing to carry out or assist with termination procedures.

Holy frijoles.  So much for their policies guaranteeing religious freedom!  I have no problem at all with mandating that medical practitioners should refer patients to immediately available and maximally convenient services if they are unwilling to perform the procedure.  Forcing medical practitioners to do so is morally repugnant.

The Secular Party supports a ban on identity hiding-garments or other items, including burqas and motorcycle helmets, in public places where there are legitimate security and/or safety concerns, or where personal identification is required

Wasn’t this the party that claimed that the ‘war on terror’ was infringing people’s rights?

The Secular Party believes that the religious indoctrination of children in schools violates the rights of the child. The requirement, whether by parents or schools, that children wear religious attire, is a form of indoctrination. The Secular Party therefore opposes this practice. It is the policy of the Secular Party that all forms of religious attire be prohibited in all schools.

Yeah, I’ve covered this point a few times before but I couldn’t help quoting it again.  This is borderline fascist.  ‘We will tell you how you will dress your children and the style in which they will be dressed!’

The Secular Party sees it as unjust that religious groups can legally discriminate against others

Says the party that wants to ban burqas!  What the funking funk is this?!

Christian-based blasphemy laws still exist in Australia, despite being rarely used. Islamic nations have campaigned in the United Nations to have laws banning blasphemy made mandatory worldwide. All such laws are an attempt to impose religious law, and to impose it in particular upon those who do not believe in that or any other religion. They are designed to protect religions from beneficial exposure to analysis and criticism based on reason and evidence. Such laws are anti-secular and are an unwarranted restriction on the right to freedom of speech. In many countries they lead to gross abuses and violation of human rights.

It turns out that this is an anti-equality, borderline racist policy in disguise.  The problem is the word ‘blasphemy’.  Used in this context, we are encouraged to think of how ridiculous it would be if, say, I couldn’t draw a picture of Mohammad or whatever because Muslims will get offended.  The debate often focuses on that extreme in order to marginalise the moderates who want a society in which they can participate equally without savage, unhinged, and deliberately offensive attacks being made against them.  This is what’s in the code ‘beneficial exposure to analysis and criticism based on reason and evidence’.  They’re meaning things like Pat Condell’s and Geert Wilders’ excruciatingly racist rants disguised as ‘freedom of speech’.

I’ve made the argument in the past that the only way to protect freedom of expression is to have well defined anti-blasphemy laws.  What the Secular Party seems to struggle with is multiculturalism.  It’s a white party for white privilege.

The Secular Party supports the right to access legal information and entertainment.

What?

Internet censorship is a tool commonly used by tyrannical regimes. It is hypocritical for Australia to introduce a broad internet censorship scheme which is in principle no different from an authoritarian one.

But Internet censorship makes particular information and entertainment illegal.  Thus Internet censorship is entirely consistent with the right to access legal information and entertainment.

Internet censorship laws are, surprisingly enough, consistent with our desire to create an equal society.  For example, if I want to create an environment in which Muslims and Jews feel welcome and feel like they can participate equally in society, I could establish an Internet censorship law to prevent Geert Wilders’, Pat Condell’s, and David Irving’s material from being downloaded.  The Government should do all it can to protect its citizens from attack, physical or cultural.  I certainly don’t want to live in a society which feels that targeting my Muslim neighbours is all fine and good, simply because censorship is bad.

In that sense, Internet censorship isn’t authoritarian.

 property rights should not be derived from non-creative findings

Uhhhhh…?

Indigenous communities should maintain ownership of innovations derived from their custodial knowledge

What about when they’re ‘derived from non-creative findings’?

We need the phased introduction of a carbon tax, nationally and internationally.

Welcome to the past, dinguses.

The cost of investment in alternative energy production will be at least a hundred billion dollars in Australia alone.

This doesn’t sound like a made up figure at all.

This can be financed from revenue from a carbon tax.

You wanted to make at least a hundred billion dollars from carbon tax revenue?!

To facilitate the introduction of a tax internationally, and to ease the transition for Australian industry, the Secular Party proposes an International Coal Tax to be levied on coal exports, in conjunction with other coal exporters.

Good luck with your free trade agreements.  I’m sure introducing a tariff will be consistent with those.

It is the policy of the Secular Party that the regulatory regime for complementary medicine be tightened with the introduction of evidence-based criteria for registration or listing

Anti-censorship, remember?  A sane policy is actually easier: you improve the capacity of the ACCC to investigate false claims.

The Secular Party endorses all medical research, with appropriate ethical oversight, that benefits humanity. This should not be limited by misguided or religiously inspired “sanctity of life” prohibitions.

Sanctity of life isn’t a universal value or principle?  The Secular Party has taken the buffet-style approach to ethics.  Principles with which they agree are obviously universal; principles that they intuit to be incorrect are obviously religious nonsense.

The Secular Party stands for the use of balanced judgement in economics, rather than any ideology. We recognise the general need for balanced budgets, but do not accept free market fundamentalism. In cases of market failure, government intervention is required.

There’s an economic ideology which seems uncannily similar to that position…

The Secular Party supports the setting up of a Charities Commission to supervise the appropriate administration of not-for-profit organisations. The Secular Party supports the proposal that a public benefit test be applied as a qualification for the granting of tax exemptions for religious organisations. The Secular Party proposes that the “advancement of religion” is not of itself sufficient to warrant exemptions under the definition of charitable purpose or public benefit.

Yeah, yeah.  Whinge, whinge.

The Secular Party recognises that those who have become marginalised in society, such as drug users, criminals and the mentally ill, need support and fair treatment.

But not Muslims.

The Secular Party deplores xenophobic attempts to demonise asylum seekers.

Xenophobic attacks on burqas, on the other hand, perfectly fine.

We support review of the current refugee system which gives special priority to those asylum seekers who manage to reach Australia.

I almost wanted to congratulate them on having at least one civilised policy.  Then I remembered that we already had this review…

We note that migrants to Australia must agree to respect certain values, including the equality of men and women, as part of the Australian Values Statement in the immigration application form. It is the policy of the Secular Party to gain a commitment from prospective migrants that they will be required to respect these values and to comply with Australian law before any religious law.

Head.  Desk.

This is because New Atheists live in perpetual fear that those towel heads will bring their Sharia Law here.  Before you know it, they’ll force their halal pork sausages down your throat and demand breaks during their day to pray to their false God.  Foreigners need to learn that our society — drenched and immersed in Judeo-Christian perspectives — is actually secular.  If you don’t like it, go home.

Not a single one of those fears is reasonable.  By extension, the Secular Party is a lunatic racist party.

The Secular Party believes that all citizens should be bound by the same undertaking, irrespective of their religion or non-religion, and that ceremonial references to religious beings are anachronistic, ethnocentric and divisive

Says the ‘Ban the Burqa’ party.

This is an utter slog to get through.  I hope you readers know what sort of mental anguish their imbecilery is putting me through…

Some religious groups would like to see the introduction of religious food certification as part of food labelling standards. It is not the role of the state to authorise standards that are based on arbitrary religious doctrines and which have no relation to public health. The Secular Party is opposed to the introduction of any such standards.

Tolerance and equality for all!

The Secular Party advocates policies that stress rehabilitation, crime prevention and harm minimisation

What happened to a universal ethical system?  Allow these cats to explain why this policy is outright immoral.

The rule of law is best upheld and universal human rights are best protected by having laws that apply equally to all citizens, irrespective of culture or religion. Any legal recognition of Islamic Sharia law or Aboriginal traditional law is a violation of this principle

One (white) ring to bind them all.

This is an attack on programmes such as the ‘Koori Court’ in Victoria.  A division of the Magistrates Court has been established in order to address the needs of Indigenous Victorians:

The Koori Court has been created under the Magistrates Court Act 1989. It operates as a division of the Magistrates’ Court, which sentences Indigenous defendants.

The Children’s Koori Court was established under the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. The Koori Court provides an informal atmosphere and allows greater participation by the Aboriginal (Koori) community in the court process.

Koori Elders or Respected Persons, the Koori Court Officer, Koori defendants and their families can contribute during the Court hearing. This helps to reduce perceptions of cultural alienation and to ensure sentencing orders are appropriate to the cultural needs of Koori offenders, and assist them to address issues relating to their offending behaviour. [Source]

New Atheists have a lot of difficulty understanding the problem of privilege, and even more difficulty coming to terms with the inherent racism of their beliefs.  Any part of white culture which does not include the word ‘God’ is secular and based on ‘universal human rights’.  To them, this makes that culture default neutral.  If you come from a minority and request that the State engage with you on culturally appropriate terms, you are deviating from the default neutral.

Reading this policy, I was reminded of a passage in The Hidden Gender of Law by Regina Graycar and Jenny Morgan which discusses the concept of neutrality:

[W]hile women are women and blacks are blacks, white men are just ‘regular people’. [Source: Graycar & Morgan, The Hidden Gender of Law p.60]

But let’s cut straight to the issue: the rule of law and universal human rights are not best served by having laws that indiscriminately apply to everybody.  An ideal legal system is one which accommodates a wide plurality of experience.  Ignore the question of Koori Court and instead think of people suffering mental illness.  In a lot of cases, we would think that a legal system would be thoroughly unjust if it treated a person suffering a debilitating mental illness in the same way that it treated, say, me.  This policy is buffoonish and poorly conceptualised.

The Secular Party recognises that monarchies embody the concept of hereditary privilege, and that this is incompatible with the principle of equal human rights. The British monarch is also head of the Church of England. Having the monarch as the Australian Head of State is thus a violation of the basic secular principle of separation of church and state. It is therefore the policy of the Secular Party that Australia become a republic, with an Australian head of state.

Ugh.  Fine, whatever.  The interesting part of this is that they consider the Queen’s position as head of both the Church and the State to be a violation of the ‘secular principle’ of separation of church and state.

We have had a barrow-full of policies where the Secular Party have actively demonstrated their desire to see the State intervene directly in the affairs of the Church, even going so far as to tell people how they are allowed to dress.  If the Secular Party were committed to the separation of Church and State, they wouldn’t have these policies.

That’s because, deep down, they know that the separation of Church and State is stupid.  What they really want is for the Church to be subordinate to the State, not separate.

Strategic defence planning, as indicated by scheduled purchase of military equipment for the army, navy and air force, appears to assume that the future use of the Australian Defence Force will be for long-range external purposes in association with the United States. The Secular Party acknowledges the need for alliances, but does not accept that these should predetermine our entire defence strategy. We therefore support restructure of our defence capabilities in favour of greater self-reliance.

This was written by somebody who’s never read a defence white paper.  Australia will never be self reliant in its defence strategy.  It’s far too expensive.  The real question in our defence policy is whether or not we should generalise in our defence capability or specialise.  But now I’ve made the mistake of thinking about 300 times more about the Secular Party’s defence policy than they have themselves.  Derp, derp, derp.  Self reliance.  Derp, derp.

And all of their foreign policy positions are shit.

I honestly did not expect the Secular Party to be an all out, fascist, xenophobic, ‘Ban the Burqa’ party.  I shouldn’t be as shocked as I am, I know, but I’m still fairly shocked.

For those of you who are following GVT preference trails, the Secular Party did an okay job.  Unlike Wikileaks or the Sex Party, there are no real nasties lurking in the preferences prior to the major parties.  Preferences flow directly to the Australian Democrats — almost suspiciously, in fact.  The Greens are preferenced ahead of the ALP.  In NSW, the Men’s Rights group, Non-Custodial Parents Party, being preferenced ahead of the Liberal Party, but it’s not really a massive deal.

Given the overlap in policies between the Secular Party and Australia First Party, it’s interesting that preferences didn’t flow in that direction earlier.  I imagine it’s because more potential supporters of the Secular Party would react adversely to that preference flow than to noxious policies (who has time to read the policies of a party whose name seems benign?).

I struggle to see how a reasonable person could vote for the Secular Party.

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8 thoughts on “Walking in the countryside it seems that the winds have stopped… Could you vote for the @SecularParty? #auspol

  1. “What is a human right that doesn’t have its origin in legislation?”

    Oh, you and your Burkean ideas. But they could have origins in other cultural institutions, too, even on such a model. And even if they grow out of cultural institutions, they might be independently justified by other reasons. It is imperative that we investigate such categories.

    On that note, I’m trying to find any left-ish party that isn’t aggressively pro-euthanasia. Not looking good.

    • I bet pennies to pounds that those ‘cultural institutions’ are mired in their religious background.

      Topics like euthanasia are difficult because either the party is outspokenly in favour of it, or it’s not really on their radar.

      • Yep – if their origins aren’t religious I’ll eat my hat.

        The particularly weird thing about euthanasia is that somewhere it just became assumed that it was a leftist cause, which I don’t really understand, but I do find frustrating.

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