“With religious freedom featuring in the campaign like never before, it is impossible to imagine that values were not front of mind for voters.»
The issue became a talking point last month in the lead up to Saturday’s election after Wallabies star Israel Folau’s social media post which said homosexuals, fornicators, adulterers, among others were destined for hell unless they repented. Folau was subsequently sacked by Rugby Australia.
Christian schools also campaigned on the issue of religious freedom ahead of the election.
Christian leaders including Mr Spencer wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten calling on them to protect religious beliefs. Mr Shorten did not respond.
In his response dated May 14, Mr Morrison said he believes «there is no more fundamental right than the right to decide what you believe or do not believe».
«That means Australians of faith should be free to hold and practise that faith without fear of discrimination against them,» Mr Morrison said. «And that is why my government is committed to providing Australians of religious belief with protections equivalent to those guaranteed in relation to other protected attributes under Commonwealth anti-discrimination law.
«Nobody should suffer discrimination on their basis of their identity, including their religious identity.»
The letter said Mr Shorten had sponsored legislation «that would effectively censor what could be taught by religious bodies».
John Wilson, moderator-general for the Presbyterian Church of Australia said he personally believed religious freedom was a sleeper issue.
«You can talk franking credits, climate action, surpluses and deficits all you want, but you won’t explain what happened yesterday if you stop there. The sleeper in the discussion is that Labor threatened freedom of religious expression,» he said.
«This was exposed time and again with respect to Christian schools being free to teach and live by their faith convictions. Also by challenging the right to free speech in public spaces when it comes to giving air to the traditional and conservative views on sexuality, gender and marriage.
«I think that many ordinary Australians pushed-back and voted for safe space – for a country where it’s OK to disagree and express that disagreement, to hold opposing views and not be marginalised for it. Mr Morrison’s reply to the church gave promise of safe space.»
Dr Andrew Singleton, a sociologist of religion from Deakin University, recently told the ABC there is a discrete Pentecostal vote in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. He said there are 73,000 Pentecostals in Queensland with clusters living in marginal federal seats including Leichhardt, Bonner and Forde which the Liberal Party has held with swings as high as 7.2 per cent swing.
A week before the election Bruce Morrison, senior canon of St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Parramatta told said while he supported Labor’s economic policies, he could not vote for the party because of its lack of commitment to religious freedom.
«Labor is entirely taking for granted issues of religious freedom and it is not just a matter for Christians, it is a matter for all the different religions. There just does not seem to be a sense of recognition that this is a significantly important issue for people in western Sydney,» he said.
Lyndal Parfoot and her husband, Chris, told the Herald that »family values» had influenced their vote for Peter Dutton in Queensland.
»The Liberal Party is better aligned with our values,» Mrs Parfoot said, although she also thought »we are not generous enough towards refugees».
Mr Parfoot said he was angry at the criticism of Folau, which he said eroded religious freedom.
Graeme Irwin chair of the Australian Association of Christian Schools said governments needed to recognise there are «a lot of highly intelligent people of religious persuasion who believe there should be freedom in this area».
«They do not want to discriminate against other segments of the community but also do not want to be discriminated against for holding their beliefs,» he said.
Anna Patty is Workplace Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald. She is a former Education Editor, State Political Reporter and Health Reporter.