Maroochydore mosque protest.
Maroochydore mosque protest.

Our laws protect religious freedom

SUNSHINE Coast cultural worker and former nun, Judith Pippen, looks at the anti-mosque movement and its potential impact on the religious freedoms our Constitution guarantees.

RECENT demonstrations against the establishment of a mosque on the Sunshine Coast have left a lot to be desired.

The white supremacist diatribe of the vigilantes has been given full voice.

There has been very little opportunity to hear the voice of the Muslim community, many of whom would have come here, to what they understood to be a democracy, where they would be free to practise their religion.

In the face of the fear that international terrorism radiates from our media nightly and the fact that Australian is currently at a high level of alert, it is understandable that people are ready to distrust the stranger and be concerned by something they do not understand.

The identification of Islam with Jihad and by association, with ISIS, must cause the local Muslim community pain.

CONTROVERSIAL: The Maroochydore building which is earmarked for a Muslim place of worship.
CONTROVERSIAL: The Maroochydore building which is earmarked for a Muslim place of worship. Warren Lynam

Few people will go the extra mile to read the Quran or speak with their Muslim neighbours to discover the poetic depths of the tradition or the sincerity of their religious practice.

One way to address our fear and ignorance is with facts. Only then we can claim to have an informed opinion.

The demonstrator's against the Maroochydore mosque are calling on the "constitution" to justify their aggressive anti-Muslim position.

But what are the facts?

What support does the Constitution give all of us in the peaceful practise of our religion?

The Australian Constitution (1901) Article 116 states: "The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth".

This means the demonstrators have no constitutional right to demand that a religious group be prevented from freely exercising their religion.

It is heartening for all of us to go back to the foundational documents of how our country is run.

The Constitution of Queensland (2001) states in its Preamble points e) and f) that: "The people of Queensland, free and equal citizens of Australia - acknowledge the achievements of our forbears, coming from many backgrounds, who together faced and overcame adversity and injustice, and whose efforts bequeathed to us, the future generations a realistic opportunity to strive for social harmony and resolve, in this the 150th anniversary year of the establishment of Queensland, to nurture our inheritance, and build a society based on democracy, freedom and peace".

So this is who we truly are: grounded in the world's most ancient culture, many of us refugees from religious persecution, we are good guys generally who want to build a society based on democracy, freedom and peace.

If you visit the website of the Muslim Organisation Sunshine Coast you will see the kinds of activities they are planning such as a prayer room, Quran study, family celebrations and social gatherings. All the activities would clearly benefit Muslim families.

Visiting them once they are established may go a long way to allaying fears about their activities.

While I spent eight years as a Catholic nun, I also have a Masters Degree in Comparative Religion.

This combination of immersion in a rich Christian tradition and then research into the human patterns of religious belief around the world has given me a deep level of respect for difference and support for the human need for religious expression.

The demonstrator's only right is to have their say within the bounds of the law.

You can view the website of recognised demonstrators from Restore Australia. You may discover that they are more frightening than honest people practising their religion.

I for one stand firm with the Muslim community.

May they have the courage to keep their resolve, exercise their rights in this free country and join us in striving for social harmony.

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