Two Christian charities have been given permission to keep secret the names of their board members on the grounds of “public safety”.
The decision comes after a senior executive at IBM, Mark Allaby, stepped down from the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute (which was founded by the Australian Christian Lobby, to train young Christians in politics and public engagement). Allaby’s actions came after marriage equality advocate Michael Barnett publicly and repeatedly criticised IBM for employing someone with ties to the conservative Christian group.
As a result, the ACL and the Lachlan Macquarie Institute were granted permission on Monday by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to keep secret the names of their board members. It is uncommon for the Commission to grant requests for privacy, but not unprecedented. The Commission has allowed it for registered charities such as women’s shelters.
Marriage equality advocate Michael Barnett tweeted on March 16:
— Michael Barnett (@mikeybear) March 17, 2017
This tweet set off a series of online engagements which eventually saw Allaby resign from the LMI board.
Barnett has not responded to Eternity’s request for comment. On Twitter, he has repeatedly stated that his objection was on the basis of IBM’s commitment to Pride in Diversity, which is, according to their website, the “national not-for-profit employer support program for LGBTI workplace inclusion specialising in HR, organisational change and workplace diversity.” Barnett has refuted claims that his tweets are about Australia’s marriage equality debate.
“We are seeing an increase of aggression from a group of activists seeking to win the day by bullying and humiliation.” – Nick Jensen
But director of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, Nick Jensen, thinks that this kind of online behaviour is part of a wider movement designed to coerce everyday Australians into silence.
“We are seeing an increase of aggression from a group of activists seeking to win the day by bullying and humiliation,” says Jensen.
“These activists would only be encouraged if there were to be a change in the marriage law. If anyone thinks these activists would lay low after any change to marriage, they will be disappointed. The church needs to take notice of this.
“Threats against Christians working in business and government will only increase if the law is changed.”
Earlier this week, Barnett turned his Twitter attention to another LMI board member, Steve Chavura, a senior research associate at Sydney’s Macquarie University:
— Michael Barnett (@mikeybear) March 27, 2017
Macquarie University has remained neutral, and according to Chavura, it has “simply said that it does not get involved in individual cases like mine. It has neither criticised nor defended my right to so associate.”
“People are trying to make it more difficult to enjoy the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.” – Steve Chavura
Chavura told Eternity that these kinds of cases “create a kind of social pressure where although people still have the legal freedom to speak and associate, because of social pressure [and] because of threats to their reputation and livelihood, they no longer as easily enjoy the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.
“People are trying to make it more difficult to enjoy the right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”
But unlike Allaby, Chavura has no plans to resign his position on the Lachlan Macquarie Institute board.
“I will not capitulate. I don’t back down from a fight,” Chavura told Eternity.
“I’m very proud to be a member of Macquarie University – it’s a fantastic and excellent institution. And I’m also very proud to be a member of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute.
“The Lachlan Macquarie Institute never put any pressure on me to leave Macquarie University and I’m very happy to say that Macquarie University has not put any pressure on me to leave the Lachlan Macquarie Institute.”
“We have to set a standard as leaders of the marriage equality campaign.” – Tiernan Brady
Tiernan Brady, director of Australians for Equality, when asked about the activities of the campaigners targeting Christians with a conservative view of marriage, told Eternity, “As a campaign, we have to set a standard as leaders of the marriage equality campaign. And so too the leaders of the Churches who are on the other side of the debate.”
Brady made clear to Eternity that his comments were not regarding Barnett’s online activity, which was focused on Pride in Diversity, not marriage equality.
“We take our responsibility as leaders of the campaign seriously, and do everything we can at all times to set a tone that is respectable, that is engaging, and that is conscious of the terrible impact that words can have on people.”
“This is not an anti-religious campaign. This is a campaign full of religious voices and perspectives and that is the way we want to continue.” – Tiernan Brady
“Words can be used very destructively, and of course there are no better people in Australia to understand that than lesbian and gay people who have had to endure a higher rate of verbal abuse and marginalisation than any other group in society. So we understand the impact of using words to damage.”
Brady also addressed the issue of reverse marginalisation, the idea that conservative Christians may take the place of gays in society’s ‘closet’.
“There is a genuine fear, we have a duty to address it. This is not an anti-religious campaign. This is a campaign full of religious voices and perspectives and that is the way we want to continue,” said Brady.
“We will continue the campaign not just in a respectful way but we will continue to represent those people of faith who support marriage equality as we engage and reassure those people of faith who genuinely disagree.”