ACT religious vilification bill could undermine free speechMonday, August 20, 2012
FamilyVoice Australia research officer Ros Phillips has warned that the ACT’s proposed religious vilification law could make it a crime to speak the truth.
“Under defamation laws throughout Australia, truth is a defence,” Mrs Phillips said. “There is no such defence under religious vilification legislation in Victoria, Queensland or Tasmania.”
This problem was demonstrated in 2002 when the Islamic Council of Victoria took action against two Christian pastors over a seminar they had conducted in a Melbourne church. A “genuine religious purpose” exemption in Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act did not help the pastors. After five years of litigation and legal and court costs estimated at over a million dollars, the complaint was settled in 2007 when the parties agreed to differ.
Instead of its stated aim of protecting religion and securing harmony and tolerance, Victoria’s vilification laws led to religious disharmony and the censorship of sincerely held religious beliefs.
Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee director Amir Butler argued that the Victorian legislation has “served only to undermine the very religious freedoms” it was supposed to protect.
Amir Butler implies religious viliﬁcation legislation is by nature impossible to draft properly. He says, “If we believe our religion is the only way to Heaven, then we must also afﬁrm that all other paths lead to Hell…Yet this is exactly what this law serves to outlaw and curtail: the right of believers to passionately argue against or warn against the beliefs of another.”
“Religious vilification laws invite complaints from those with theological differences which secular equal opportunity commissioners and judges are ill-equipped to adjudicate. Like NSW, governments in South Australia and Western Australia considered, then rejected, similar proposals,” Mrs Phillips said. “The ACT government should learn from the Victorian experience.”
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