The wacky Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren has been in the stocks this week. Some of the attacks, like today’s story in The Age about covering up child abuse, are fair criticism – even if offences by someone who has already been thrown out of the Brethren and convicted of his crimes are hardly front page lead story material.
But other stories reflect as badly on those generating the news as on the Brethren – if not more so. They document attempts by Greens Senator Bob Brown to use instruments of the state to get at a religion he does not like.
Brown started this off with (another) attempt to have a Senate inquiry into the Brethren. Their offence? They had written to the Attorney-General proposing changes to family law. These were not sensible suggestions and as The Age reported:
Mr Ruddock’s response to the Brethren’s approach gave them little joy. The Government’s changes would “emphasise the rights of the child and the right of the child to know both their parents,” he wrote.
Ministers receive lots of letters with crackpot ideas (I used to have to coordinate responses to some of them). But the remedy is not punishing their senders by hauling them before Senate inquiries. It is polite letters explaining why the government cannot take up their proposals. Every citizen has a right to put their views to government without harassment.
The franchise could be in breach of federal regulations requiring private schools to be non-profit entities to receive funding, Greens leader Bob Brown said.
This allegation is clearly without substance. How can a school be run for profit if it needs cross-subsidy from a tyre business? Will Brown be demanding an investigation into every fund-raising school fete? Again, it is just harassment.
You’d think Bob Brown would be sensitive to this kind of abuse of process. After all, when timber firm Gunns used defamation proceedings against their political opponents, including Brown, he responded by saying:
This is a massive assault on free speech in our country. It is an effort US style and with Soviet connotations to silence those people who would speak up in defence of Tasmania’s growth forests, their wildlife and this nation’s heritage.
But as we learned from the case of poor Mrs Schweitzer in the wheelie bin, experience of persecution oneself does not necessarily lead to more sensitivity to the position of others.