Religious freedom is a tricky thing
Rob Forsyth below thinks that Muslims must be allowed to follow their religious dictates even when they clash with normal Australian customs. And if the Muslim custom does no harm why not allow it?
The answer surely is that we want immigrants from chaotic parts of the world not to bring their dysfunctional beliefs and customs with them. We want them to learn our ways -- the ways that have made Australia an attractive destination for them.
And the various attacks on Australians by Jihadis do tell us that imported Muslim attitudes are a serious problem. We do well to ask Muslims for assimilation as the price for being here.
Sikh customs, Hindu customs, Chinese customs are all fine and can reasonably be accommodated -- because they do not bring hostility towards us with them. It is precisely Islam that is the problem. Sikhs, Hindus and Chinese do not attack us. Some Muslims do. All men are not equal nor are all religions
After all, Muslims can practice all the Muslim customs they like in the many Muslim countries. Why not go to one of those if our customs don't suit them? Malaysia is just to the North of us and it's not a bad place -- thanks to the large Chinese minority there
Two weeks have passed since the controversy over Hurstville Boy's Campus of Georges River College agreeing to a protocol allowing Muslim students not to shake hands with women.
A proper understanding of religious freedom suggests the school did the right thing and its critics are mistaken. Freedom of religion is not just the freedom to believe but also, in the words of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),the freedom "to manifest [ ...] religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching." In this case, if there is a way to accommodate the manifestation of the religious views of the young men, why shouldn't it be done?
The views in question may be strange even to mainstream Islam. But religious freedom never depended on the reasonableness of the religion involved. Nor is it any good to assert that giving in at this point is the thin edge of a 'sharia' wedge. Religious freedom is not absolute. It is, as the ICCPR asserts, subject to such limitations that are "necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." No sharia.
But is it sexist? Maybe, but in itself that is not a reason to deny religious freedom. And having an agreed protocol manages the risk of misunderstanding and substitutes another gesture of respect.
Government schools are essentially secular institutions, but they are not secularist imposing an Australian version of a French hard line laïcité -- a core concept in France's constitution, Article 1 of which states that the country is a secular one.
The School need not be criticised, but like any religion, Islam certainly can be. The right to religious freedom is not the right to be free from criticism or even ridicule. Something often goes wrong when Islam is discussed. The left forget their abhorrence of sexism, and others can lose their passion for freedom.