Should Bakers be Forced to Bake Cakes for Same Sex Weddings? Democracy and the Rights and Limits of Religion and Conscience in Contemporary Australia

How important are religious liberty and freedom of conscience is in modern statecraft and nation-building? Do they foster social cohesion and mutual respect, or are they sources of division and vilification in diverse societies? Long seen as bedrock foundations of the democratic-liberal state and the common good, freedom of conscience and religion are increasingly under threat and treated with suspicion in contemporary Australia.

In reflecting on how we resolve competing claims of conscience and law, the 2015 Acton Lecture given by His Grace the Most Reverend A. Fisher, Archbishop of Sydney, defends the continuing importance of conscience and religious liberty in democracy today.

Faith still plays a major role in our community as providers of much human and supernatural support, of formation in crucial moral and political values, and as providers of charitable services in education, health and aged care, welfare and the like. Believers feel supported rather than threatened by the state in holding their high ideals and there is healthy dialogue between people of different faiths and between believers and ‘nones’. Australians are proud of their historic ‘compact’ between Church and State, freedom of conscience and the rule of law – all the more so in a world where many countries take a less tolerant direction and whole populations have suffered persecution, exile or death as a result. Most agree we should resist totalizing ideologies that would seriously upset that historical balance. Most want our bakers to be left to bake good cakes, unencumbered by such dogmatism.

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