Conscientious objection does not cause discrimination

Secular or religious-based conscientious objection does not somehow cause unethical or unlawful discrimination. By not continuing to allow individual conscientious objection to participation in a specific act the participant believes to be fundamentally abhorrent we simply replace one form of actual discrimination, or indeed perceived bigotry, with its opposite extreme.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Tuesday, 28 November 2017
(not published)

Over the last two weeks 10 other letter-writers have expressed views on individual conscientious objection (ICO).

With the exception (November 14) of Dr Hugh Smith, the doyen among Australian academic ethicists studying the moral issues of war – and an expert on ICO – the remaining contributors have been confused as to whether ICO causes unethical or unlawful  discrimination.

Most have also ignored that Australian law since 1992 has enabled ICO to be based on either secular or religious moral beliefs, and that ICO is neither a religious freedom or Right/Left concept.

Kevin Andrews, MP, has added to the confusion by asserting, incorrectly, that a Jewish Baker could claim ICO in refusing service to Muslims and vice versa.

Citing ICO does not result in discrimination because it does not involve refusing service to people as people, no matter the real or alleged type.

ICO can only be claimed – and has to be provable in court if necessary – when declining participation in specific acts that, while legal, the participant believes to be fundamentally abhorrent.

Examples include killing in war; male circumcision; medically causing a death or abortion; use of excess embryos in assisted reproduction technology; compulsory voting, jury service or unionism; or providing goods or services to a same-sex or improperly coerced (if still legal) wedding.

Finally, those claiming that ICO doesn’t exist at all, deny its universal application until now, or claim that it must now be excluded from applying to a particular issue, also need to ponder why MPs of all parties have long been allowed a conscience vote on highly contentious moral issues.

Including why MPs can abstain, or vote yes or no, when representing an electorate where a majority might support one moral view or the other at that time. 


[An 11 September 2017 ADA article on applying the ICO model used for compulsory military conscription to other contentious moral issues is on the ABC Religion and Ethics program website at ]

[A 21 November 2017 ADA letter-to-the editor on this issue can be found here].




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