By Hilary White

OXFORD, March 10, 2009 ( – There is a growing culture of suppression among secularist governments that is using the doctrine of “tolerance and diversity” to push Christians entirely out of public life, Australia’s Cardinal Pell told an audience at Oxford University this weekend. The Australian cardinal said during an address at the university that human rights and anti-discrimination legislation is being used as a weapon against Christians and Christian opinion in the public debate.

“Secularist intolerance for Christianity,” the archbishop of Sydney said, “seeks to drive it not only from the public square but even from the provision of education, health care, and welfare services to the wider community.” And it is through anti-discrimination legislation that this goal has been widely achieved, he said.

The cardinal pointed to the apparent irony in the way in which some of the most morally permissive groups, such as the homosexualist and feminist political movements that endorse limitless “pan-sexuality” as well as abortion on demand, have become politically repressive of opposition, despite the rhetoric of “diversity and tolerance.”

The cardinal’s address, titled “Varieties of Intolerance: Religious and Secular,” was the first Thomas More Lecture on Religion in the Public Square, hosted by the Oxford University Newman Society. The Thomas More Lectures, co-sponsored by the Catholic Herald newspaper, were established “to examine the relationship between faith and society.”

In the inaugural lecture, the cardinal cited a long and growing list of instances where “anti-discrimination” laws are being used to shut down the Christian viewpoint. He mentioned that: health care workers in New York state and the UK have been sued and disciplined for upholding the sanctity of life; citizens in California threatened with violence and harassed out of their jobs for opposing “same-sex marriage”; government tribunal proceedings launched in Canada and Australia against publications and individuals for critiquing Islam; Catholic social service agencies in the UK forced to renounce their religious affiliations or close; hospitals in the US forced to provide abortifacient drugs to employees or lose government funding; and Canadian and Austrian clergy slapped with lifetime bans on preaching Christian doctrine by government agencies. 

The crucial issue for secularists, he said, is the protection of legal abortion. He pointed to the possible passage in the US of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and to the recently passed legislation in Victoria, Australia that forces health care workers to participate in abortions, laws that make “a mockery of conscientious objection.”

He warned that laws protecting the conscience-rights of Christians, particularly those who object to abortion and homosexual lifestyles, have been ignored or overturned: “The human rights industry ran dead on the freedom of conscience issues which the legislation raised.”

During the debate on the Victoria legislation, he pointed out, “pro-abortion commentators attacked the concept of conscientious objection as nothing more than a way for doctors and nurses to impose their morality on their patients. Victoria’s statutory charter of rights, which purports to protect freedom of religion, conscience and belief, was shown to be a dead letter when it comes to abortion.”

He warned too that human rights and anti-discrimination laws and the new reproductive technologies have combined to “make it possible for children to have three, four or five parents,” and has reduced the concept of children brought up by a mother and father, “as nothing more than a majority adult preference.”

“The rights of children to be created in love and to be known and raised by their biological parents receives scant consideration when the legislative agenda is directed to satisfying adult needs and ambitions.”

He related what he called a campaign of “organised intimidation” against those citizens in California who supported Proposition 8, a legislative effort to secure the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Despite this “prolonged campaign of payback and bullying,” that has included “violence, vandalism and intimidation” including threats to burn down places of worship, “few human rights activists have objected to the vilification and hate speech that has been directed at supporters of Proposition 8.”

Calling it a “legal process straight out of Kafka,” the cardinal also cited the use of human rights and hate-speech legislation to silence Christians in Canada, Australia and the US, as in the Human Rights Commissions cases against Ezra Levant, Maclean’s Magazine and Mark Steyn.

He warned that modern secularist liberalism, far from its origins in classical political liberalism, now “has strong totalitarian tendencies” and is oriented towards a heavy-handed statism, not democratic freedom.

“Institutions and associations, it implies, exist only with the permission of the state and to exist lawfully, they must abide the dictates or norms of the state.”

But, he said, “believers should not be treated by government and the courts as a tolerated and divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the minority secular agenda, especially when religious people are overwhelmingly in the majority.”

Cardinal Pell concluded his lecture by calling on Christians to “recover their genius” for presenting the Christian vision of society. “They also have to recover their self-confidence and courage.”

Calling opponents a “small minority with disproportionate influence in media,” the cardinal said one of the “crucial tasks” of Christians in the 21st century is to confront the “secular and religious intolerance of our day … regularly and publicly.”

To read Cardinal Pell’s full address (pdf format, requires Adobe):