Professor Zimmermann Speaks at Major Conference in Sydney and Adelaide

Dr Augusto Zimmermann, our WALTA President and Professor at Sheridan College, was one of the distinguished guest speakers to address ‘Freedom of Religion or Belief: Creating the Constitutional Space for other Fundamental Freedoms’, a major conference organised by the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (Brigham Young University, U.S.), The University of Adelaide Law School, and the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law Sydney.

Professor Augusto Zimmermann


The conference was held over three days, from 14-16 February 2018. The sessions on 14 and 15 February were held at the Notre Dame Law School in Sydney. The third day, 16 February, was held at the University of Adelaide School of Law.


The list of speakers for the conference was truly impressive, each eminent either in the area of constitutional law or freedom of religion. It included the following names:


  • Dr Brian J. Adams (Director of the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue, Griffith University)
  • Professor Paul Babie (Director of the Law and Religion Protect of the University of Adelaide Research unit for the Study of Society, Ethics and Law)
  • Professor Carolyn Evans (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Melbourne University)
  • Mark Fowler (Director of Neumann and Turnour Lawyers)
  • Professor Mark Hill QC (Vice-President of the International Consortium for Law and Religion Studies)
  • Rev Peter Kurti (Coordiantor, Religion and Civil Society Program, Centre for Independent Studies)
  • Simon McCrossan, (Head for Public Policy for the Evangelicall Alliance, UK)
  • Professor Patrick Parkinson AM (Sydney University and former President of the International Society of Family Law)
  • Archbishop Julian Porteous (Catholic Archbishop of Tasmania)
  • Professor Michael Quinlan (Law Dean, University of Notre Dame University Sydney)
  • Professor Neville Rochow SC (Howard Zelling Chambers, SA)
  • Professor Rick Sarre (President of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology)
  • Professor Brett G. Scharffs (Director of the International Centre for Law and Religion Studies, Brigham Young University)
  • Associate Professor Neil Foster (University of Newcastle)
  • Dr Alex Deagon (QUT School of Law)


Each session at the conference had a chair allocated and three speakers. On Wednesday evening, 14 February, the conference dinner had as keynote speaker Professor Ian Benson from the University of Notre Dame School of Law, Sydney. He spoke on the topic of “Values, Rights and Wrongs in Public Discourse”. Response and votes of thanks were given by Professor Neville Rochow SC.


On the morning of Thursday 15 February, the opening session was a breakfast session with Reverend Peter Kurti, Senior Research Fellow and co-ordinator of the Religion and Civil Society programme at the Centre for Independent Studies, and his associate from the Centre, Bishop Rob Forsyth. The session was chaired by Dr Keith Thompson, Associate Dean (Research) at the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law, Sydney.


Another highlight was the participation of members of the Ruddock Expert Panel on Religion Freedom in a ‘Roundtable’ section:

  • The Hon Philip Ruddock (Head and Former Attorney General)
  • Professor Rosalind Croucher AM (President of the Australian Human Rights Commission)
  • Professor Nicholas Aroney
  • The Hon Dr Annable Bennett AO SC
L-R: Dr Bennett, Prof Croucher, Hon Philip Ruddock and Prof Aroney


Headed by former Attorney General Phillip Ruddock, the Expert Panel has been instructed by the Commonwealth Government to consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights. The panel is consisted of Ruddock (chair), Professor Aroney, Professor Croucher, Dr Bennett, and Father Frank Brennan SJ AO.


The Roundtable with members of the Ruddock Panel was conducted immediately after lunch on Thursday. The speakers who made a submission to the Panel, as well as academics working in the field of freedom of religion or belief, were invited to participate.


As legal experts in the field, who also made a joint submission to the Ruddock Panel (together with Ms Lorraine Finlay) Professor Zimmermann and his PhD student, Mr Joshua Forrester (Editor of The Western Australian Jurist) were especially invited to participate at the ‘Roundtable’ chaired by Mr Ruddock.


Mr Forrester and Professor Zimmermann were both speakers at the ninth session of the conference.


Professor Zimmermann spoke on the topic of ‘The Religious Roots of Separation of Church and State: Constitutional Implications’.


In a nutshell, Professor Zimmermann explained in his presentation that the idea of separation between church and state has its own historical roots in traditional Christian philosophy. In the prevailing modern framework, by contrast, section 116 of the Australian Constitution is generally interpreted as evidence that the Constitution should be regarded as an entirely secular document.


However, as noted by Professor Zimmermann, nothing could be further to the truth. In reality, the concept carries within it a religious background and the Australian Framers did not intend religion to be disregarded and divorced from society, let alone the law. On the contrary, they were largely protective of religion, Christianity in particular.


As for Mr Forrester, the topic of his presentation was ‘Conscience, Expression, and the Commonwealth Constitution: The Effect of s116 on the Implied Freedom of Political Communication’. He is the author of numerous articles and the lead author of a seminal book on topic of free speech in Australia: J Forrester, L Finlay and A Zimmermann, No Offence Intended: Why 18C is Wrong (Connor Court, 1916).

Mr Joshua Forrester

WALTA congratulates our distinguished President and Mr Forrester on their participation at this significant event.