The Catholic Church's freedom in the Western world was under pressure from a new and dangerous trend of the use of anti-discrimination laws and human rights claims to attack the role of religion in public life and individuals' right of conscience.
Cardinal Pell's address, titled "Varieties of Intolerance: Religious and Secular," was the first Thomas More Lecture on Religion in the Public Square, hosted by the Oxford University Newman Society.
The cardinal cited a long and growing list of instances where "anti-discrimination" laws are being used to shut down the Christian viewpoint. He mentioned that: health care workers in New York state and the UK have been sued and disciplined for upholding the sanctity of life; citizens in California threatened with violence and harassed out of their jobs for opposing "same-sex marriage"; government tribunal proceedings launched in Canada and Australia against publications and individuals for critiquing Islam; Catholic social service agencies in the UK forced to renounce their religious affiliations or close; hospitals in the US forced to provide abortifacient drugs to employees or lose government funding; and Canadian and Austrian clergy slapped with lifetime bans on preaching Christian doctrine by government agencies.
The cardinal pointed to the apparent irony in the way in which some of the most morally permissive groups, such as the gay and feminist political movements that endorse limitless "pan-sexuality" as well as abortion on demand, have become politically repressive of opposition, despite the rhetoric of "diversity and tolerance."
"The secular and religious intolerance of our day needs to be confronted regularly and publicly," he said. "Believers need to call the bluff of what is, even in most parts of Europe, a small minority with disproportionate influence in the media. This is one of the crucial tasks for Christians in the 21st century."
As his primary example of mounting intolerance, Cardinal Pell cited the treatment of U.S. Christians and Mormons who supported Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that reversed California's “gay marriage” law in November.
He described how churches and temples were subjected to violence, vandalism and intimidation, and how some supporters of the amendment were forced from their jobs and blacklisted. "We should note the strange way in which some of the most permissive groups and communities, for example, Californian liberals in the case of Proposition 8, easily become repressive, despite all their high rhetoric about diversity and tolerance. There is the one-sidedness about discrimination and vilification," he said, “because anti-Christian blacklisting and intimidation is passed over in silence. In a healthy democracy people should be free to discuss and criticize each other's beliefs.”
The crucial issue for secularists, he said, is the protection of legal abortion. He pointed to the possible passage in the US of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) and to the recently passed legislation in Victoria, Australia that forces health care workers to participate in abortions, laws that make "a mockery of conscientious objection."
He warned that laws protecting the conscience rights of Christians, particularly those who object to abortion and homosexual lifestyles, have been ignored or overturned: "The human rights industry ran dead on the freedom of conscience issues which the legislation raised."
During the debate on the Victoria legislation, he pointed out, "pro-abortion commentators attacked the concept of conscientious objection as nothing more than a way for doctors and nurses to impose their morality on their patients. Victoria's statutory charter of rights, which purports to protect freedom of religion, conscience and belief, was shown to be a dead letter when it comes to abortion."
He warned too that human rights and anti-discrimination laws and the new reproductive technologies have combined to "make it possible for children to have three, four or five parents," and has reduced the concept of children brought up by a mother and father, "as nothing more than a majority adult preference."
"The rights of children to be created in love and to be known and raised by their biological parents receives scant consideration when the legislative agenda is directed to satisfying adult needs and ambitions."