Prior to the Federal election, PM in waiting Kevin Rudd stated that the Exclusive Brethren were an “extremist cult” and called for investigation of their affairs by a number of government bodies. This was in response to allegations that the Brethren have a
disproportionately high taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, dishonest political campaigning, their charitable status in relation to rate and tax exemptions, and their well-known intimidatory tactics during traumatic Family Court cases
Which is fair enough. If you like a particular religion then by all means, support it how you see fit. Just don’t ask me to through my taxes. Religions should go it alone. There is no reason in a secular society for religions to received government largess.
However, Rudd’s calls for investigation of the Brethren has mellowed and the PM has
rejected the pleas of former members of the Exclusive Brethren for a broad-ranging inquiry into the sect, saying such an investigation would “unreasonably interfere” with their right “to practise their faith freely and openly”.
Now, on first thought, I was outraged but thinking a little more I offer the contention that Rudd got it right. While Australia does not have a constitution that explicitly states the church and state must be separated, going after the Brethren with governmental powers could be seen as an attack on religious freedom. And this is the correct view. The Brethren, no matter how despicable of a cult they are, should have their religious freedom. Rudd, by asking for any wrong doing by the Brethren to be directed to the police or other authorities, has made the right decision.
It seems that if there are instances of electoral and financial improprieties on behalf of the Brethren then they should be dealt with by the proper authorities. The federal government’s role should not be to show favour to the Brethren by allowing them access to the corridors of power nor target them as part of a (though understandable to be honest) campaign against them.
Elsewhere: North Coast Voices give their view.