The Null Device

Evangelicals guilty of vilification

The first people convicted under Victoria's religious vilification laws were two evangelical Christian pastors, one of them an unsuccessful Senate candidate from the Family First political party (you know, the ones all the majors did deals with to keep those dangerous radical Greens out of the Senate), convicted for a 2002 seminar in which they told their congregation that Muslims were training to take over Australia and encouraged domestic violence, and that Islam was an inherently violent religion. The two pastors, from evangelical group Catch the Fire Ministries, claimed that they were merely trying to "increase understanding of Muslim culture".

On one hand, it seems fair enough; the two defendants were obviously fundamentalist bozos. On the other hand, it makes one wonder against whom else the laws could be used. If, for example, Canadian Muslim reformist Irshad Manji did a bookshop tour of Australia to discuss her thesis that mainstream Islam has problematic veins of intolerance and absolutism, could she be prosecuted? Could she be prosecuted for claiming that the Koran was written as a pragmatic political tool for governing the Arab Empire, and not a divine revelation? (Also, if she did the same in Britain after the Blair government's Religious Vilification Bill, which allegedly prohibits saying mean things about the Koran, were passed, what would happen?) Could we end up with a situation where following certain lines of inquiry could lead to criminal prosecution and, instead, baroque lines of circumlocution must be devised to avoid the elephant in the middle of the room?

There are 6 comments on "Evangelicals guilty of vilification":

Posted by: El Bizarro Sun Dec 19 06:34:52 2004

Personally, I would like to see more freedom FROM religion than freedom of religion.

Posted by: mark Sun Dec 19 13:30:20 2004

Um, does it make a difference in this case, EB?

Posted by: richard Mon Dec 20 02:04:49 2004

I think an important point to make is that, if I'm reading the article correctly, even though convicted *they don't believe they did anything wrong*.

Posted by: acb Mon Dec 20 03:17:44 2004

In their reality, they didn't. Then again, in their reality, Muslim fundamentalists, gays and feminists are all allies, working on the side of Satan.

Posted by: gjw Tue Dec 21 00:08:55 2004

My initial reaction to this was my customary instant schadenfreude, but in retrospect it's definately a slippery slope, and it would be interesting to read the judge's decision to work out where exactly they broke the law. Was it just a case of speaking ill against a religion? Was it a case of them telling _lies_ about a religion and stereotyping its adherents? Was it a matter of them telling lies about a religion with the intend of inciting violence and hatred in their congregation? Was it because they were in a position of power? It's important to know where the line is - ie. why hasn't Andrew Bolt been prosecuted for something like this too?

Posted by: acb Tue Dec 21 02:40:12 2004

Too bad for the Catholic Church (and, to be fair, the Church of England) that religious vilification laws didn't exist before all those paedophile scandals erupted...