Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen lost his honorary position at Monash University for using his Monash email address to campaign against marriage equality

Cowen v Monash University (Review and Regulation) [2018] VCAT 694 (11 May 2018)

What is this proceeding about?

  1. In 2015, Dr Shimon Cowen, an alumni of Monash University (Monash) had held honorary positions with Monash for many years. Over the years he had undertaken specific tasks for payment. In 2015, he held an Adjunct Research Associate position with Monash’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (the Centre).
  2. Dr Cowen was also the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (the Institute). The Institute has no affiliation with Monash University.
  3. In early December 2015, Dr Cowen used his Monash email account to send to a group of municipal councillors a booklet which he described as, “a comprehensive briefing on [same-sex marriage] from the standpoint of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
  4. Two local councillors raised issues with Monash via email.
  5. One asked whether the Vice-Chancellor condoned the publication of what the councillor viewed as “blatant bigotry and homophobia” from a University email account (the Complaint). The Councillor copied the Complaint to Dr Cowen.
  6. The other councillor advised Monash that Dr Cowen was “still using his” Monash “email address to lobby municipal councillors”. I refer to this below as ‘the Notification’. Dr Cowen does not seek the name of the ‘notifier’.
  7. The University investigated the issue. The outcome for Dr Cowen was most serious. Monash’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts (the Dean) declined to continue his ongoing honorary appointment, in the context that at the time Monash was in the process of appointing him to an Associate position.
  8. The Dean’s email advising Dr Cowen of the outcome said this action was taken because Monash had received “several complaints” concerning his use of his Monash email address to lobby members of the community concerning same-sex marriage in relation to his activities associated with his Institute, with the implication that the Institute is associated with Monash.
  9. Dr Cowen appealed that decision to Monash’s Vice-Chancellor.1 In a short 12 January 2016 email she advised she had considered Dr Cowen’s letter of appeal and the broader issue. She confirmed the Dean’s decision, saying she was aware of and endorsed that decision at the time it was made.
  10. Under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), Dr Cowen requested copies of all:
    1. Complaints received by the of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office and/or the Dean’s Office relating to his use of his Monash email account; and
    2. Correspondence to and from the Dean’s Office, and to and from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, relating to revocation of his appointment as affiliate of Monash’s Faculty of Arts.
  11. Monash released to Dr Cowen a set of redacted documents. Dr Cowen sought review of that decision by the then Victorian Freedom of Information Commissioner. When the Commissioner did not make a decision within the requisite timeframe, Dr Cowen sought review at VCAT on the basis that his request was taken to be refused.
  12. In March 2017, the issue came before me for hearing. Dr Cowen represented himself. Monash was legally represented. I heard the case and reserved my decision.

The offending email sent by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen:

On 11 Dec 2015, at 11:46 AM, Shimon Cowen <shimon.cowen@monash.edu> wrote:

Dear Councillor,

With the impending plebiscite on same-sex marriage, I thought it helpful to set out a comprehensive briefing on this matter from the standpoint of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This took the form of a short booklet of talks which I, as a Jewish Rabbi (and son of a former Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen), gave under the auspices of a Christian University, Campion College, in NSW. It sets out what I think is a shared perspective of the Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian-Islamic) faiths and perhaps wider yet.

I mailed the booklet to a number of Victorian Municipal Councillors. In the event that you did not receive a copy, or overlooked one which may have come in the mail, and would now like one please let me know. I received requests for some 100 copies from Councillors in NSW.

Even though you as a councillor may not be making statements on this matter, since you are close to networks of “grassroots” Australia, I thought you might be interested to see and share this material.

Please email me if you would like me to mail you a copy of this booklet at no charge. It is called “There is more than this…” I would be happy to send you more copies should you want them.

Yours Sincerely,
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen,
Director, Institute for Judaism and Civilization


au_cases_vic_VCAT_2018_694

Elsternwick couple in Victoria’s first Jewish gay commitment ceremony as synagogue prepares to host first gay and lesbian festival celebration | Herald-Sun

Elsternwick couple in Victoria’s first Jewish gay commitment ceremony as synagogue prepares to host first gay and lesbian festival celebration

  • Nicole Precel
  • January 07, 2014 12:00AM
Ilana and Chrissie were the first gay couple to have a marriage ceremony at a Jewish synagogue in Melbourne at Temple Beth Is...

Ilana and Chrissie were the first gay couple to have a marriage ceremony at a Jewish synagogue in Melbourne at Temple Beth Israel. Picture: Adam Elwood Source: News Limited

WHEN Ilana Gelbart said “yes” to Krissy Adrian’s elaborate proposal, the issue wasn’t coming out of the closet, it was conversion.

“It was more difficult for me because Krissy had to get converted; when we got together­ she wasn’t Jewish,” Ms Gelbart said.

On August 18, the Elsternwick couple became the first gay couple in Victoria to have a Jewish commitment ceremony.

And now their progressive synagogue, Temple Beth Israel in St Kilda, is hosting the first-ever celebration of the Midsumma Gay and Lesbian Festival in a synagogue, on January 31, in partnership with Keshet, the national GLBTI Jewish advocacy group.

“Coming out as a lesbian was something I knew my parents would support me with and not judge me for,” Ms Gelbart said.

And with Judaism deeply entrenched in her family and her psyche, she said it had been wonderful TBI had “welcomed and accepted” them.

“We never stopped to wonder whether they would or wouldn’t (do a commitment ceremony); from the first day Rabbi Kim Ettlinger said, ‘Here’s how it goes’, we never thought we wouldn’t be allowed to,” Ms Gelbart said.

“It does put it out there for more gay and lesbian couples to understand they are welcome in progressive congregations.”

 

Ilana Gelbart and Krissy Adriaan at their ceremony at Temple Beth. Picture: Supplied

Ilana Gelbart and Krissy Adriaan at their ceremony at Temple Beth. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

The couple keep Shabbat every Friday night, don’t eat shellfish or pork and don’t mix meat and milk.

“We light the candles every week and try to go to synagogue every week,” Ms Gelbart said. “It’s all very much a part of our lives.”

The couple met at Monash University three years ago, and Ms Adrian converted to Judaism soon after.

“I didn’t ever ask her (to convert), that was just something that she wanted to do,” Ms Gelbert said.

Senior Rabbi Gersh Lazarow said TBI encouraged members of the Jewish GLBTI community to form a meaningful spiritual connection at the synagogue.

He said the January 31 Midsumma celebration would focus on inclusion, equality and human rights.

“While historically many from the GLBTI have felt isolated or shunned from faith-based organisations, Temple Beth Israel, as part of the Progressive Jewish movement, prides itself on principles of egalitarianism and respect for others,” Rabbi Lazarow said.

There will also be a Midsumma Mass on January 31 held at St Mark’s Anglican Church in Fitzroy.

Details: tbi.org.au or 9510 1488.

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen a former Associate of Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) « mikeybear

Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen a former Associate of Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) « mikeybear.

School bullying program sparks heated debate | AJN

 

24 Feb 2012
The Australian Jewish News Sydney edition
PETER KOHN AND ZEDDY LAWRENCE

School bullying program sparks heated debate | AJN

COVER STORY

“I’m a thousand per cent behind stopping bullying of homosexual children.”
Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen

A LEADING Australian rabbi has come under fire for attacking programs that aim to prevent gay children being bullied at school.

Writing in the journal of the Australian Family Association, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, convenor of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, claimed, “Our society and societies around the world are in the grip of a major social struggle over whether society will accept and teach homosexual behaviour as normative.”

While stating, “it is totally and unmistakably clear that the bullying of a child on any grounds is reprehensible and must be stopped,” Rabbi Cowen added, “this must be radically separated from the moral agenda of the homosexual ‘anti-bullying’ program for schools,” which he claimed “is seeking to legitimate homosexual behaviour in the earliest stages of child education”.

Referring to the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria (SSCV), which is funded by the Department of Education and trains teachers in combating bullying of students for their sexual orientation, he said, “It requires schools to teach (‘celebrate’) the acceptability of homosexual behaviour as a norm. By so doing, it flies in the face of over 3000 years of religious and cultural tradition since Sinai. In terms of the world religions and world civilisation, it is teaching something which is a moral wrong and fundamentally unethical.”

In a further criticism of the program, he said it encouraged students “to lock themselves into a sexual identity in early or pre-adolescence”.

Rabbi Cowen’s attack on SSCV made headlines in Melbourne commuter newspaper mx, drawing criticism from SSCV coordinator Roz Ward, who described his views as “offensive”.’

Fellow academics at Monash University also weighed in, with Monash Education Faculty Members Against Homophobia penning a letter in which they called the views “uninformed” and “profoundly damaging”.

Meanwhile, writing in this week’s AJN, Rabbi Fred Morgan said Rabbi Cowen failed to realise that such programs “do not seek to lay down how people should behave.they are about reality – how people are in fact.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry distanced itself from Rabbi Cowen’s views, stating it “welcomes any government program designed to counteract bullying that has the support of victims and educators”. It described Rabbi Cowen as “highly respected in our community”, adding “that does not mean that his views on any subject are representative”.

Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia president Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, however, defended Rabbi Cowen’s view of the program. “While bullying in any form is abhorrent , including the bullying of someone because of their sexual orientation, the solution is not to ‘celebrate’ an orientation that is against Torah teaching.

“In the absurd, would one expect of an Orthodox school, where perhaps someone was being bullied for not observing the laws of kashrut, to combat that bullying by‘celebrating’ the eating of non-kosher food?”

He stressed that the Orthodox viewpoint was not homophobic. While “there is no doubt that the Torah forbids male homosexual acts,” he said those who may choose to engage in a prohibited act “must always be made to feel welcome and they must never be made to feel that they lose their Jewish identity or ability to worship as Jews”.

Dr Jonathan Barnett,convenor of Keshet, a group which plans to provide training for teachers in Jewish schools in protecting gay adolescents from bullying, said of Rabbbi Cowen’s views:“it may be one way of interpreting Torah, although I don’t think it’s the correct way, [but] I’m worried about today’s children. Do we turn our backs on them? I don’t think Rabbi Cowen means to turn our backs on them either, but it’s an issue of how we help the kids.”

Stressing that “I’m a thousand per cent behind stopping bullying of homosexual children,” and insisting “I am absolutely not homophobic,” Rabbi Cowen told The AJN this week,“our tradition teaches us that every person possesses a soul made in the image of God, and we must have respect for persons for that reason alone.”

He added, “I most certainly do think that bullying of all children, including homosexually inclined children should be tackled in schools. The way this should be done is in ways taught by experts in the area of bullying such as Evelyn Field. She teaches the bullied child methods of ‘bully blocking’and taking the wind ‘out of the bully’s sails’, which works for all pretexts of bullying. If, in conjunction with this, some reinforcing ethic is to be taught which is universally acceptable, it would be that every human deserves respect as possessing a special potential.”

Dr Mary Lou Rasmussen of Monash University speaks about Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen

Title: The Rainbow Report – Freedom of Speech Pt 2
Author: Joy 94.9
Subtitle:
Summary: Doug speaks with Dr Mary Lou Rasmussen of Monash University about the uproar created by the homophobic remarks of Rabbi Shimon Cowen, and the implications for academic freedom of speech
Published: Wed, 22 Feb 2012 9:41 AM
Duration: 13:28
Download: RAINBOW REPORT 21022012 PART 2.mp3

Rabbi’s homophobic comments provoke criticism, petition | Gay News Network

Rabbi’s homophobic comments provoke criticism, petition | Gay News Network.