Religious leaders across the Lower Hunter have voiced support for churches invoking the historical concept of sanctuary after the High Court ruled the federal government could legally send asylum seekers back to offshore detention centres.
St James’ Morpeth Anglican Parish, the Anglican Parish of Mt Vincent and Weston and East Maitland Uniting Church all applauded the Anglican dean of Brisbane and reverend Peter Catt, who opened St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane to asylum seekers after Wednesday’s court decision.
Father Chris Jackson from the Anglican Parish of Mt Vincent and Weston said Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was doing enormous damage to the nation.
“The damage to the deportees is well documented, their physical and mental health, we know the impact,” he said.
“But the damage to the collective psyche of the nation we won’t fully understand for years to come.
“There’ll come a time when a prime minister stands up in Parliament and apologises for our treatment of refugees and I hope that generation asks ‘how did it come to this – to churches offering sanctuary?’”
Reverend Warwick Cadenhead of the East Maitland Uniting Church, whose church has displayed prominent banners welcoming refugees, called upon the Turnbull government to honour Australia’s commitment the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The document was signed by Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies in 1954.
“I applaud [the churches who declared sanctuary] as expressions of Christian compassion and justice and also as expressions of international law, to which our government is a signatory in the form of the UN Charter.”
Reverend George Garnsey of St James’ Morpeth Anglican Parish and Maitland-Morpeth Amnesty International has long welcomed asylum seekers and refugees in his parish and renewed calls for humane treatment.
“There is great support in the parish to welcome people seeking refuge,” he said. “The Old Testament tells us to welcome strangers and travellers as a matter of principle.”
Father Jackson worked as a solicitor addressing human rights for refugees before he became a priest and is not surprised by the High Court ruling.
“[The ruling] just speaks about the legality, not the morality,” he said.
“We look to the High Court to shift our country in a direction our politicians won’t take us, we look to the courts to save us from ourselves.
“Building walls does not work, look at Berlin, Jerusalem, Donald Trump wanting to build a wall between the States and Mexico.
“They always come down, we’ll pull them down ourselves and, only then, we’ll realise they never could have worked.
“But the billions we’ve spent to build them are shameful.”
Father Jackson said he supported the separation of church and state and insisted that the controversial moves of church leaders were not about placing themselves above the law. Rather they were acts of civil disobedience that were made morally necessary by the court ruling.
“This is not black and white, it’s not as easy as opening the floodgates or deporting everyone.
“It’s nuanced and I get that, but I can’t accept the way we have gone is the way God wants us to go.”
“There’s a hardness in us now.”