Prominent Adelaide Latter-day Saint barrister Neville Rochow SC, now retired and a legal academic, and his wife, Penny Rochow, were guest speakers recently at a Parliamentary Christian Fellowship meeting held at Old Parliament House in South Australia.
Neville and Penny Rochow
They were invited to share experiences from their recent mission as government relations specialists to the European Union. Assigned in the volunteer role for two years on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they were based in the EU Office of the Church in Brussels, Belgium.
In their presentation, the duo shared the importance of the traditional family unit, and discussed religious freedom, and its impact on society.
Penny began the presentation by outlining the principal focuses of their overseas assignment: preserving fundamental freedoms of religion, belief, or conscience, and the family. She referred to the LDS 11th Article of Faith, penned by Joseph Smith in 1842:
We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Penny shared that from their Brussels apartment, they could easily walk to the symbols of free society where they worked: the European Commission and European Parliament.
“But from our window, we could also see one symbol of the decline in Christianity: the now abandoned basilica of Saint Marie, a once beautiful place of worship, now boarded up and permitted to lapse into utter ruin,” said Penny.
View from the Rochows’ window over Brussels with the basilica of St Marie prominent in the centreground
She outlined the nature of their work in continental Europe and the United Kingdom, the groups with whom they worked, and the projects in which they were involved, following which Neville outlined the principles that informed their work. He gave examples of how religious freedom is being eroded in the United Kingdom under policies designed to achieve one outcome, but also having a negative impact on families and freedom of conscience.
“Nature abhors a vacuum. With the collapse of Judeo-Christianity, new and untested ideologies are entering Western culture to the ultimate detriment of all,” explained Neville. “Our culture owes its existence to the heritage derived from ancient Athens, Rome, Magna Carta, and Westminster. But too many have now lost sight of that.”
He emphasised the need to guard the social institutions that constitute a free democratic society, giving the stark example highlighted in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny which quotes (chapter 2) an editorial from a 1933 German Jewish newspaper that assured German Jews there were many checks and balances in the German system of government; and that they had nothing to fear from Herr Hitler.
Neville also referred to a modern example of modern religious totalitarianism: Raif Badawi, sentenced by a Saudi court to pay a crippling fine, serve ten years’ imprisonment, and suffer 1000 lashes: all for having written in support of freedom of conscience on his blog.
Based upon international experience, Neville then gave examples of how religious freedom could easily be lost in Australia. “Any one of these could see actions that compromise freedom of religion for all: violent extremism; security; aspects of immigration and political correctness; hate speech laws; internet censorship; discrimination laws,” he said.
He referred to international covenants not fully implemented in Australia. The consequence was that there had been instances in the country where freedom of conscience had been removed by policy, legislation, and the courts.
Questions from MPs present showed they were strongly engaged with the issues discussed. When asked what they as legislators could do, Neville pointed them to the guarantees provided in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ‘‘Have it foremost in your minds in legislative actions that have any impact upon people’s rights and freedoms. Urge your federal colleagues to do the same and to take action to legislate so that these fundamental freedoms are not further eroded,” Neville advised.
Christian Fellowship president, and Member of the SA Legislative Council Dennis Hood thanked the couple: “Neville and Penny are tireless workers in the never-ending battle to preserve and protect religious freedom in a rapidly changing world. I am personally very grateful for their ongoing work in this vitally important area. Their presentation to a larger than normal group of interested MPs at Parliament House was insightful, informative and compelling. I am very grateful that they took the time to share this information with MPs and the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship.”
Each of those in attendance was given a copy of Church’s Family Proclamation.