Our Absurd Religious Vilification Laws

As I mentioned last week, the Victorian Court of Appeal has upheld an appeal by two Christian pastors who had been taken through the wringer by our draconian and ridiculous vilification laws. Arguably one of the worst pieces of legislation to be introduced into the Victorian Parliament, this Act has proven to be a nightmare for the two pastors.

For almost five years now they have gone through hell in seeking to defend themselves from ridiculous charges brought against them by three Muslim converts who snuck into a Christian seminar on Islamic jihad. Believers are rightly outraged at both this terrible law and the original decision made by Justice Higgins against the pair.

But it is not just religious folk who think both the law and the case have been a travesty of justice and a blight on our state. Andrew Bolt, who clearly has no religious beliefs whatsoever, certainly thinks the original Act was fundamentally flawed, and the whole ordeal which the pastors have been through a disgrace.

Writing in today’s Herald Sun, Bolt offers a nice summary and overview of the past half decade, rightly noting that this whole sordid affair has been nothing but a witchhunt from day one. He begins by reminding us that there was no demand whatsoever for these ludicrous laws in the first place.

“The Bracks Government was just new when it decided to please its pet activists by giving us laws to punish – even jail – people who said nasty things about others on the grounds of their race and religion. Just why we needed laws even tougher than the ones we had already was a mystery. Victorians are famously easygoing, and there was not a single sign of racists here getting out of hand. In March 2001, for instance, just months before the Government passed its laws, the then chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission said: ‘I am not aware of any conclusive evidence that suggests that discrimination is increasing’.”

Indeed, I twice publically debated the author of this divisive legislation before it was enacted. On both occasions she insisted that there would not be a flood of cases as a result of this law. To which I replied, ‘if there will be so little need for the law, why introduce it in the first place?’ She could not answer this objection, nor others that I presented in those debates.

But such common sense objections would not stand in the way of their crusade. Says Bolt, “the laws’ backers were so manic they were seeing racists in even our kindergartens, who might need to be treated like criminals. I’m not exaggerating. The Uniting Church, in a booklet it published to ‘demonstrate why criminal sanctions are necessary’, gave as an example some five-year-olds who had teased a poor Chinese boy at kindergarten by calling him ‘ching-chong’. Jail the tots!”

Bolt raises a good point here. While most Christians were rightly aghast at this reprehensible law, knowing that it would mainly be used as a tool of anti-Christian bigotry, there were some religious folk who actually supported the law. This backing came from those who had so severely ripped the heart out of the Christian gospel, that they actually believed that it was a good thing to side with Muslims against fellow Christians.

Of course Jesus warned that false prophets would arise, and that a time would come when people would think they were doing God a favour by dragging Christians before secular tribunals (Mark 13:9; John 16:2). That is actually the situation we find here.

Bolt continues the story: “Pity our discrimination police. In 2001, they finally got these juicy laws to jail racists, but small problem: Victorians still refused to be rude. Indeed, we were so nice to each other that a year later the EOC conceded just five people in the entire state had complained of any religious vilification at all in the previous 12 months. Five. The EOC couldn’t accept the obvious – that we are decent – and claimed instead that people must have been too scared to complain. And, by heavens, it would fix that. Over the next year the EOC taught nearly 10,000 Victorians, particularly Muslims and Arabs, about the new vilification laws – and how to complain.”

In the end our thought police had to effectively create a case. Thus the EOC hired May Helou, head of the Islamic Council of Victoria’s women’s support group. “In March 2002, Helou told Muslim converts at the ICV headquarters of a seminar on jihad to be run by Catch the Fire and asked them to go. Said one later, she didn’t want the meeting to be held “without any Muslims present”. So when Nalliah and Scot got up to speak at their seminar about jihad, they had in front of them 250 born-again Christians – and three people they did not know were Muslims. And back at the EOC, Helou waited for the three to call with their complaint.”

Finally they found a case of ‘vilification’. “The pastors were at long last tried at VCAT before Justice Michael Higgins. Most of the case over the weeks that followed dealt with the lecture given by Scot, and some curious things soon became clear. First, even one of the converts had to admit that Scot, who’d been born in Pakistan and got degrees there in theology and applied mathematics, actually understood the Koran far better than did the people complaining he’d misquoted it. Second, as I wrote at the time, many of the complaints accused Scot of no more than quoting the Koran accurately. Yes, the Koran did tell men they could beat their wives. Yes, it did have verses calling on Muslims to fight infidels until they submitted.”

Yet the two pastors were found to have breached the Act. Thus the appeal. And the three Justices had much more common sense it seems than the original Justice. Justice Geoffrey Nettle wrote the longest and most critical discussion.

“According to Nettle, the biggest mistake Higgins made was to confuse an attack on a man’s faith with an attack on the man himself. As he put it: ‘It is essential to keep the distinction between the hatred of beliefs and the hatred of their adherents steadily in view’. But Nettle also criticised Higgins for having brushed aside Scot’s many exhortations to love Muslims, and for poring over Koranic verses to decide whether Scot’s view of Islam was ‘balanced’. ‘Who is to say what is accurate or balanced about religious beliefs?’, Nettle rightly asked. But most astonishing were all the errors Nettle said Higgins had made in summing up the 19 different ways Scot had vilified Islam.”

“And of the 19 examples Higgins had given of Scot preaching hate, Nettle found he’d misquoted Scot nine times and taken him out of context another nine. In 15 cases, Scot had simply been quoting scripture or other sources. According to Nettle, Scot had been wrong only twice – in giving a wrong birthrate and misinterpreting a Koranic verse telling men they could take women captured in war. And for this Scot and Nalliah have had to endure a legal torment that has lasted for more than four years, and is still not finished.”

Bolt concludes, “So that worked well, didn’t it? See what these laws to curb religious and racial tension have actually achieved. Christians have been pitted against Muslims, and witches against Christians. Tensions were so high during the Catch the Fire case that scuffles broke out on the courtroom steps and the pastors took along guards. And guess what? In the five years we’ve had these insane laws against free speech, not a single true racist has been convicted. What a dreadful farce.”

Exactly. A dreadful farce. A farce and a scandal that has cost the two pastors hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of grief and turmoil. All because some bureaucrats and PC-mongerers have decided Victoria needs this ridiculous law. Three other Australian states have all debated having similar laws, and all three rejected them after they saw the farce unfolding here in Victoria.

There is only one reasonable thing left to do. Victoria must abandon these miserable laws at once. They have done not one bit of good, but have created a tremendous amount of religious strife, division and hatred – the very things they were meant to lessen!


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