Is This the Death of Christianity in Australia?
December 17, 2004
I just returned from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in
Melbourne, where the two Christian pastors have been found of guilty of
vilifying Muslims. The decision handed down this morning marks the
beginning of the end of freedom of speech in Australia, and the official
restriction of proclaiming the Christian gospel.
While the full report of 100 pages will not appear until next week, a short
summary by Judge Higgins said that the two Danny's (Daniel Scot and Daniel
Nalliah) breached section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001
which says a person cannot engage in conduct that "incites hatred against,
serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person
or class of persons".
While exemptions are in place for "any genuine academic, artistic,
religious or scientific purposes; or any purpose that is in the public
interest", the Judge found that these exceptions did not here apply,
because the person's conduct could "not be regarded as reasonable and in
Interestingly, section 9 of the Act says a "person's motive in engaging in
any conduct is irrelevant". If so, how can one be accused of acting in bad
faith? Who decides what is reasonable here or unreasonable?
The Judge said that Pastor Scot "failed to differentiate between Muslims
throughout the world, that he preached a literal translation of the Quran
and of Muslims' religious practices which were not mainstream".
Most Muslims would of course object to this, arguing that they do adhere to
a literal understanding and translation of the Quran. And how does a
secular judge with no expertise in religion make such decisions, when
Islamic scholars themselves are divided on such crucial questions of
theology, interpretation and exegesis?
Much of what the Judge considered offensive was simply quotations from the
Quran itself. To argue that quoting a religious book makes one guilty of
vilification would put 98% of religious discussions out of bounds.
The whole tenure of the ruling is that one religious group cannot frankly
and openly speak of another religion, for fear of vilification. Or in this
case, it amounts to shutting up Christians who dare try to criticize
Muslims or any other religion.
The exclusive claims of the Christian gospel, in other words, are directly
at threat here. We mounted a determined fight about this law when it was
first introduced in 2000. We said it would put at risk freedom of speech in
general and would act as an anti-Christian law in particular.
This is exactly what we are now seeing. Christians should be greatly
concerned about this decision, as should all who value freedom of speech.
The truth is, probably the majority of what any Christian has said or
written about other faiths will be found to be vilifying, based on the
decisions of the Judge. Many of us are now liable for jail terms or hefty
This could well be the beginning of a government-sanctioned crackdown on
Christianity in Victoria. And if some Federal Labor MPs have their way,
national laws would be introduced as well, threatening believers right
across the country.