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Amanda O’Brien
From: The Australian
July 31, 2010 12:00AM

PERTH Anglican Archbishop Roger Herft has clashed with his Catholic counterpart over Julia Gillard’s atheism.

He warned it was “unhelpful and untrue” to suggest the Christian faith had a monopoly on moral integrity.

The Anglican leader cautioned against making simplistic assessments of religious beliefs in an election context and said Ms Gillard had assured the electorate she would respect people with religious convictions.

“Any statement which portrays the Christian faith as having some type of exclusivity to be the sole arbiter on matters of moral integrity and just policy-making are unhelpful and untrue,” Archbishop Herft told The Weekend Australian.

“Christians need to remind themselves that those who do not profess the Christian faith are still capable of adopting an ethical and moral framework which assists in public policy decision-making for the common good.”

The comments follow controversial statements this week by Perth Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey, who suggested Ms Gillard’s atheism could cost her votes.

The Catholic Church leader said he was not telling people not to vote for Ms Gillard, but some would wonder what the future held under an atheist and it might influence their votes.

“Many Christians are concerned that someone who does not believe in God may not endorse the Christian traditions of respect for human life, for the sanctity of marriage and the independence of churches, church schools and church social welfare agencies,” Archbishop Hickey said. But Archbishop Herft — who believes election campaigns have become so vicious they may tarnish the nation’s soul — said believers and non-believers alike should be embraced by the church.

He said politicians were influenced by a range of factors, both religious and secular, when making cabinet and parliamentary decisions, but they were drawn to the job out of a desire to serve the common good.

“It is interesting that in the context of an election, those who profess a certain faith and, indeed, those who do not, have their beliefs assessed very simplistically as either a positive or negative influence based on the whim of the day or the policy area to which it is being applied,” he said.

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