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www.ReligionLaw.co.uk  -  Australia

 

Since the legal system of Australia is based on English Common Law  the English Law of Blasphemy  is formally a part of Australian law though, as in England, the Law of Blasphemy is now of little practical importance.  However the State Parliaments of Victoria and Queensland have both passed legislation relating to "Religious Vilification"

 

The legislation in Victoria is the RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE ACT 2001 Section 8(1)  of which states

(1) A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of persons, engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons.

This section can be used to bring a case before the   VICTORIAN CIVIL AND ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL  which has the power to make Court orders preventing any repetition of the behaviour complained as well as awarding damages.  Breach of any such order would be a contempt of court for which the offender could be sent to prison.

Shortly after the legislation was brought into force the Islamic Council of Victoria  brought a case under the legislation against a Christian organisation called “Catch the Fire Ministries” and two of its pastors following a seminar which they held about Islam. The case is discussed in more detail in this article. On the 17th December 2004 the decision was announced and the complaint was upheld. On the 22nd June 2005 the Judge announced the penalties for the Vilification.  The two Pastors and Catch the Fire Ministries were ordered to publish an apology on their Web site and in Newspapers and to give an undertaking not to make

 

"any statements and, or alternatively, information, suggestions and implications, to the same or similar effect as those found by the Tribunal to have breached the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act"

If the Pastors or the Church do not obey the Judge then they will be in contempt of Court and could be sent to Prison.  At the time of writing it is not known whether they will eventually decide to abide by the Court Order though they have announced that they will not and they are prepared to go to prison..

UPDATE  14 DECEMBER 2006.  The Victoria Supreme Court in [2006] VSCA 284 (14 December 2006)  overturned the Tribunal decision and remitted the  case to be retried in front of a different judge

The following information is provided about the case in order to help people to form their own opinions about it.

The Initial Complaint (Claim) made by the Islamic Council (PDF)
The Formal Defence from Catch the Fire Ministries (PDF)
Further Submissions from the defendants to the Tribunal (A large PDF File)
A transcript of what was actually said during the seminar which was accepted as evidence during the trial. (A large PDF File)
A Short summary of the Judgement (PDF)
The Full Judgement [2004] VCAT 2510 (17 December 2004)

The Remedy Decision [2005] VCAT 1159 (22 June 2005)
An Australian Muslim view on the case and the legislation
Response to the decision from the Islamic Council of Victoria
Response to the decision from Catch the Fire Ministries

The Appeal Court decision [2006] VSCA 284 (14 December 2006)


Section 25 of the Act also creates a criminal offence
Serious Religious Vilification
(1) A person (the offender) must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of persons, intentionally engage in conduct that the offender knows is likely
(a)  to incite hatred against that other person or class of persons; and
(b)  to threaten, or incite others to threaten, physical harm towards that other person or class of persons or the property of that other person  or class of persons

Queensland  Legislation

The Legislation in Queensland amended   Section 124A  ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ACT 1991  and makes it illegal to 

"incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person or members of the group"

In 2001 the case of   Deen v Lamb [2001] QADT 20  was brought under the Act by the Chairman of The Islamic Council of Queensland who objected to an election pamphlet circulated by a candidate in the  election.  In that case the claim of Religious Vilification was rejected

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Contact     NEIL ADDISON     at     Religion Law