Thursday, June 30, 2005

Australia: Victims of Victoria's Religious Tolerance Law.

Date: Thursday 30 June 2005
Subj: Australia: Victims of Victoria's Religious Tolerance Law.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance (R&RT) Act has already produced many victims. The first victim has been the religious harmony that was pervasive throughout Victoria (a south eastern state of Australia) before the Act's implementation. The R&RT Act was not needed, and now that it has stirred tensions and produced a queue of litigants at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), the Victorian state Labor government believes the R&RT Act will fix the problems the Act created in the first place. (Link 1)

The R&RT Act has given rise to several complaints but the case that has caught the world's attention is that of The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) vs Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot. Using the Victorian R&RT Act, the ICV took Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Nalliah and Scot to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on charges of vilification of Muslims. After a lengthy and expensive court case, they were found guilty and convicted on 17 December 2004.

The charges arose when three Western Muslim "reverts" attended an "Insights into Islam" seminar run by Catch the Fire Ministries in March 2002, where Daniel Scot, an expert on Islam, was the speaker. As Mr Scot told TIME magazine (4 July issue), the aim of the seminar was to help Christians "understand Islamic beliefs and culture and, after the September 11 attacks, why some Muslims engage in terrorism".

The three "reverts" attended the seminar on the advice of May Helou, a member of the ICV who was at the time employed by Victoria's Equal Opportunity Commission to assist in education about the R&RT Act.

This case has set a precedent that vilification (saying or writing things that incite hatred, contempt or ridicule) of a religious belief or practice may be regarded as equivalent to vilification of the people who believe or follow that religion.

The case has also demonstrated just how fragile justice can be when religious disputes are decided in secular courts. Daniel Scot was deemed to be "not credible" simply because the judge did not believe (and in some cases, understand) his teaching. Amongst other issues, the judge deemed Scot "not credible" and guilty of vilification on the grounds that he was frequently referring to Wahhabi, literal interpretations of the Koran, which are not, in the judge's personal opinion, relevant to the 21st Century. As noted by one observer, "This development represents a dangerous limitation on freedom of speech and the capacity of Christians to take up the cause of the persecuted church."


On Wednesday 22 June 2005, Judge Higgins of the VCAT handed down his "remedies" (penalties) to Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Nalliah and Scot.

The religion editor of The AGE (Melbourne), Barney Zwartz, reports, "Judge Michael Higgins, of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, yesterday [22 June] ordered Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries, Mr Scot and Mr Nalliah to publish apologies for comments made at a Melbourne seminar in March 2002, and in a newsletter and website article.

"Judge Higgins said the pastors were otherwise of good character, but their passionate religious beliefs caused them to transgress the law. He ordered them to publish apologies on their website, in their newsletter and in four advertisements in Melbourne newspapers and to promise not to repeat the vilification anywhere in Australia. But this order could be defied as early as Monday [27 June], when Mr Scot begins a two-week seminar on Islam in Brisbane."

Daniel Scot points out that it was primarily his quotes from Koran that had been deemed to vilify Muslims, therefore it would very difficult to obey the judge's order not to repeat the vilification without a Koran that has been suitably edited. "I told the judge earlier," Scot informed The AGE, "you haven't provided me with a new Koran with the illegal verses removed, so I have to use the same Koran. He doesn't say which parts I quoted are illegal, he is asking a very vague thing."

Scot told TIME magazine's Elizabeth Keenan that he believes his real offence was "talking about the parts of the Koran that Muslims want to hide from people".

Nalliah and Scot have vowed to go to jail rather than publish newspaper apologies, the wording and size of which have been ordained by the tribunal and will cost AUD$68,690 (USD$52,740). Scot will not suspend his teaching seminars. "You don't compromise truth for fear of jail," Scot told The AGE. Likewise Nalliah told The AGE that he would not surrender "freedom of speech to a law which is sharia law by stealth".

The AGE reports, "The pastors' lawyers have already appealed against the verdict to the Supreme Court, claiming that the act is unconstitutional and that Judge Higgins made errors and showed 'irredeemable bias'. The case will be heard next month [July]."




Robin Fletcher, a professed and practising witch who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of two under-age girls in 1998, voluntarily attended an ALPHA course in Ararat prison. The course was run by a Salvation Army chaplain. Fletcher lodged complaints against the Salvation Army, Corrections Victoria (prison managers), and CMC Australasia Pty Ltd (the distributors of the ALPHA course in Victoria) on the grounds that the course vilifies witches, Wiccans and pagans. (Link 2)


The occult group Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) has made a complaint against psychologist Dr Reina Michaelson (1997 Young Australian of the Year) and her organisation, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (CSAPP), for vilification of members of OTO.

OTO national officer David Bottrill and member Brent Gray claim Dr Michaelson has vilified and misrepresented OTO through an Internet article linking the society to paedophilia, satanic rituals, and animal and child sacrifices, all of which are promoted in the OTO text "The Book of the Law".

The complainants testify, "What is contained on the website could incite hatred and lead to violence against members of the OTO." Dr Michaelson meanwhile contends that OTO's text, The Book of the Law, contains "talk of blood rituals using children, eating flesh, the sacrifice of a child, the killing and torture of others and uninhibited 'love' without restraint", and as such, promotes illegal activity and violence against children.

The Herald Sun (Melbourne) reports that Ordo Templi Orientis was founded in Germany in 1902. Members follow the religion of Thelema, as taught by occultist and mystic Aleister Crowley.

Dr Reina Michaelson is presently in the Maldives working with child victims of the Tsunami. She will face the VCAT upon her return. (Link 3)


Amir Butler, the head of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, says that there are Muslims who welcome debate, and he does not want to see the R&RT Act used to prevent it. Amir Butler, told TIME magazine, "If Muslims rush to the courts, some people will get the impression we can't respond to the arguments and think there must be some truth in them. The only way to fight offensive ideas is to confront them intellectually. Legislation cannot make bad ideas disappear."

Social religious harmony, two Christian pastors (who have been continuously misquoted and vilified in the media), The Salvation Army, Corrections Victoria, ALPHA, and a child rights advocate, and those who desire open debate are all victims of this "religious tolerance" law. But the greatest tragedy in this drama is that Victorians stand to lose their openness, their religious openness, and with it, their religious liberty to stand up as Christian apologists and evangelists, confronting evil and error, and engaging with the lost on matters of life and death.


The most comprehensive, regularly updated coverage of these cases can be found at the Saltshakers website. This includes a highly recommended, detailed paper entitled "Religious Vilification laws in Victoria - Background to the law and cases ", prepared by Saltshakers' Research Director Mrs Jenny Stokes in June 2005 as a background paper for a Christian Legal Society seminar.

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Free speech farce
Andrew Bolt (Associate Editor - Herald Sun). 24 June 2005,5481,15708881,00.html

2) Dump this law now
Andrew Bolt (Associate Editor - Herald Sun). 27 April 2005,5481,15095082,00.html

3) Child rights crusader faces lawsuit
Kate Uebergang, tribunal reporter. 31 May 2005,5481,15461960,00.html