IBM: ‘No comment’ on whether employees can be involved with religious groups outside of work

Marriage-Alliance-Australia-IBM-Mark-Allaby.jpg“IBM did not respond to questions about whether staff were free to engage with external organisations, including religious groups, outside of their employment with the company.” “We will not be responding on this,” an IBM spokeswoman said.

Those words, at the end of an article in The Australian on Tuesday, should give all Australians – irrespective of their views on the redefinition of marriage – a reason to ask: “What the heck is going on?”

IBM and its managing partner, Mark Allaby, have been targeted by same-sex marriage activists for his role on the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, an internship program for young Christians:

Marriage equality advocate IBM Australia is being targeted by ­militant gay rights activists who have condemned the company over a senior executive’s links to a ­Christian organisation.

Activists have criticised the IT giant and Sydney-based managing partner Mark Allaby, suggesting that his role on the board of the Lachlan Macquarie Institute, an internship program for young Christians, is incompatible with IBM’s public support on the issue.

Unsurprisingly, the activists targeting IBM and Mr Allaby were from the same group, who last week successfully brought Coopers Brewery to its knees:

The social media campaign comes after the same activists shamed Adelaide brewer Coopers into pledging allegiance to Australian Marriage Equality after its ties with the Bible Society were ­exposed.

This isn’t the first time Mr Allaby has been pressured to resign from a role due to attacks from same-sex marriage activists in the name of ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance.’  Last year, he was forced to step down from the board of the Australian Christian Lobby, and eventually left his employment at PricewaterhouseCoopers, due to a similar public shaming of both Allaby and the company.

Sadly, there seems to be no legal protections for people like Mr Allaby under Australian law:

Leading anti-discrimination lawyer Mark Fowler said employees with religious beliefs in conflict with their employers’ stand on marriage equality were particularly exposed. “In NSW and SA there are currently no laws protecting individuals from expressing their religious beliefs,” Mr Fowler said. “Nor are there religious protections for ­individuals under commonwealth laws.”

The only ‘guarantee’ of freedom of religion under Australia’s Constitution is that the Commonwealth must not make a law for establishing a religion, imposing religious observance, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, and ensuring that no religious test shall be required to hold Commonwealth office.  It does not offer the same protections when it comes to how a big, corporate entity, subject to pressure from professional lobbyists, will view the behaviour of staff members in their own time.

The signs are ominous, given that IBM is not coming to Mr Allaby’s defence. As The Australian reports:

Marriage equality advocate IBM has refused to publicly back a senior executive in the face of attacks over his role with a Christian organisation.

This is not simply about Mr Allaby – it is a warning shot to employees in any organisation about their religious affiliations.  If IBM will not even comment about whether or not a senior executive has a right to be associated with religious institutions during his own time, what does this say about the freedom for employees of any company to do the same? Is it only a matter of time before same-sex marriage activists start pressuring all companies to impose a ‘religious test’ on their employees under the threat of boycott?

Contrast the IBM episode to Australian Marriage Equality running to the defence of its Victorian director, Tim Peppard: Peppard was one of the signatories calling for a boycott of Coopers Brewery, until it publicly announced its support for marriage redefinition and made “3 generous donations to Australians for Equality, Make It Law via PFLAG & Just.Equal”. Instead of imposing any sanctions on Mr Peppard, Australian Marriage Equality simply labelled it as Peppard’s personal view:

Mr Peppard could not be contacted yesterday but AME ­co-chairman Alex Greenwich said the director acted in his personal capacity.

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“This volunteer acted in a personal capacity and this view is not reflective of Australian Marriage Equality,” Mr Greenwich said.

Australian Marriage Equality’s view is that there needs to be “a respectful, positive and inclusive national conversation” on marriage redefinition. But if this was anything other than lip-service, shouldn’t Australian Marriage Equality instruct its corporate sponsors to not penalise those of its employees who wish to express a different view? Additionally, shouldn’t it refuse the commitment to corporate sponsorship and any donation made by Coopers Brewery, because both the commitment and donation were obviously made under duress? 

IBM’s silence on the Mark Allaby drama still sends a ringing message: employees who don’t support same-sex marriage are not allowed to be associated with religious groups outside of work. This is not an outlier case – it is a warning to all Australian citizens. 

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