In an editorial following the announcement of a review into the Victorian Charter, the Herald-Sun responded with this headline: “Dump Labor’s charter for crims” – Editorial Sunday Herald Sun, April 24, 2011. The paper went on to slam the Charter for being “hijacked” by criminals:
“As the Sunday Herald Sun has repeatedly pointed out, the charter has been hijacked by criminals. Killers, drug dealers, pedophiles and terrorists have all attempted to use it in long-running legal fights. Mr Clark, this charter serves no purpose. Get rid of it.“
It is one of the easiest ways of attacking something: pick on soft, unpopular targets like convicted criminals. The paper appears to suggest that not every human being deserves to have their basic rights respected: if we’ve broken the law we’re ‘unworthy’ of fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trial, not to be tortured, to medical treatment, etc.
However the need to respect the basic rights of all people is consistent with biblical teaching. All human beings have dignity regardless of our failings and flaws if only because God made us and Christ went to the cross for us. At the cross Jesus was “counted among law-breakers” (Luke 22:37 & Isaiah 53:12) and despised (Isaiah 53:3, Phil 2:8, Hebrews 12:2), just like criminals are often despised. IsaiahOne opposes the notion that someone may be unworthy of basic respect or dignity due to a criminal record. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff argues in, Justice: Rights and Wrongs, that all human beings have inherent worth because we are loved by God. Having such worth means we are rights-holders as well as duty-bound to honour the rights of others (duties and rights are logically inseparable).
What would you like to say to Government about the inherent dignity and worth of human beings? What would you say about drawing attention to the effects of the Charter on the needy and vulnerable in society? – something the Herald Sun ignores. You can say something by making a submission to Government on the Victorian Charter Review. Write to the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee and offer your comments on:
- marginal or vulnerable people being given full consideration in evaluating the merits of a Charter
- religious freedom – whether you feel the Charter has had an effect on religious freedom (or not)
- what “freedom” means from a Christian perspective
- whether a Charter might help change certain laws, such as provisions in the abortion laws (2009) on doctor’s conscience or laws on the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act
- how a Charter might matter to minority faiths
- whether checks and balances in our system are adequate, such as Ombudsmen reports, Parliamentary reviews
Christian voices on human rights are needed. Submissions close on 10 June, 2011. Write to: charter.review [at] parliament.vic.gov.au or write to: Mr Edward O’Donohue, MLC, Chairperson Scrutiny of Acts & Regulations Committee, Parliament House, Spring Street, East Melbourne VIC 3002.