Religion’s influence on public office to be explored at UQ

To what extent should personal faith influence the performance of duties in public office?

Emmanuel College’s Centre for the Study of Science, Religion and Society (CSSRS) plans to address this and other questions at the Faith and Public Office Conference in September.

The conference, co-sponsored by The University of Queensland’s T.C. Beirne School of Law, will explore such topics through presentations by people of faith who have held public office, as well as academic specialists in political philosophy, law and theology from UQ and other universities.

CSSRS Director Leigh Trevaskis said he was compelled to host the conference following an address by Queensland Supreme Court Justice Paul de Jersey.

“Last year, Justice de Jersey gave a talk about his role as a judge and being a person of Christian faith,” Dr Trevaskis said.

“For me the talk raised the question of whether a person can avoid faith commitments influencing the carrying out of duties in public office.

“Emmanuel College established the CSSRS to explore the interface between religion, science and society so I wanted to bring together people who have held public office, and academics, to address the relationship between faith and how a person carries out the duties of public office.

“In the Nuremberg trials in post-war Germany, some of the defendants argued that they were simply doing what the State expected of them,” he said.

Because they assumed their moral judgment should not influence the performance of public duties, they committed atrocities that conflicted with the religious traditions of German society, Dr Trevaskis said.

“Within modern Australian society we may instinctively feel that faith should never influence how a person behaves in public office.”

“But it seems that we would feel equally disappointed that the Nazi leadership didn’t permit their personal moral frameworks to influence how they conducted themselves in public office.

“A current example of this tension relates to the national discussion about the treatment of refugees.”

The conference will host former Governor of Western Australia and past Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant John Sanderson, former parliamentary speaker Fiona Simpson MP, former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of Overseas Council Australia The Honourable John Anderson AO, and former Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard’s speechwriter, now Executive Director of the Chifley Research Centre, Michael Cooney.

Dr Trevaskis said the conference would present two perspectives – from those who served in public office and the opinion of academic experts.

“We have also invited topic experts to address questions from an academic perspective,” he said.

Following the conference Emmanuel College will host the Brisbane launch of Michael Cooney’s new book, The Gillard Project: My Thousand Days of Despair and Hope (Penguin, 2015).

The conference will take place at Emmanuel College, St Lucia, Brisbane, on 3 September, 2015 from 9am to 5pm. Register before 28 August to secure a position.

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