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WA Racial & Religious Vilification Laws


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WA Racial & Religious Vilification Laws

 

Lookout (formerly Concerned Christians Growth Ministries Inc)

(A Christian Counter-cult Ministry)

Truth Compassion Balance

xx xxxxxxxx Street, Nollamara, WESTERN AUSTRALIA 6061
Telephone: (618) xxxx xxxx Fax: (618) xxxx xxxx



2004 - Celebrating Quarter of a Century

of Commitment to

Truth, Compassion and Balance.

Rev. W.A. (Adrian) van Leen, Director

SUBMISSION: Racial and Religious Vilification

Introduction:

We commend the Government for taking a firm stand against all forms of unacceptable racist activities used to intimidate, humiliate, cause hatred of, bring fear to, people on the basis of their ethnicity, colour or any other form of physical appearance or racial characteristic.

Having had some personal experience of racial taunts and other forms of discrimination after arriving in Western Australia in 1953 I can understand something of the impact of extreme racism on individuals and families.

CCG Ministries, of which I am the Director, has, since its formation in 1979, been active in alerting others to the dangers of religious extremes, including those of white racist/supremacist groups using religion to rationalise their promotion of racial hatred. My own personal background of investigating religious and other extremist groups began during my teen years, from 1959 on. With professional background as a clergyman and school teacher/educator my fulltime involvement in crisis intervention and preventative education has increased my awareness of the impact of racial and religious extremist activity on individuals and families.

Our organisation strongly endorses religious freedom, and freedom of speech allowing open discussion and revealing of religious diversity of beliefs, the open and public discussion and debating of such beliefs. We oppose any threatening, intimidating, denigrating, verbal or physical abuse of people as a result of differences of such beliefs, or of a person’s ethnicity, race or colour. We encourage open dialogue and discussion of religious viewpoints, and endorse the rights of all religious groups to express their agreement, or disagreement, with the views of others — providing that they allow others the same right and do not seek to silence those who may criticise or question their beliefs publicly.

However, we find the Racial and Religious Vilification Consultation Paper disturbing for some of what it suggests, and also what the paper omits.

We believe that the three options presented for consideration and comment in the Racial and Religious Vilification Consultation Paper of August 2004 all contain both merit and inherent dangers.

We would consider Option 2: Stand-Alone Racial and Religious Vilification Legislation as least acceptable and express our strongest opposition to its introduction.

The inclusion of religious vilification under Option 1: Amend the Criminal Code and Equal Opportunity Act, and Option 3: Develop a New Range of Civil Remedies, we believe, would ultimately prove counter-productive and therefore express our concern and strong opposition to the added religious dimension to the strengthening of laws dealing with unacceptable forms of racial discrimination and racist forms of inciting hatred.

Concerns:

We express our concerns and opposition to the ’Religious Vilification’ issues raised in the Consultation Paper for the following reasons:

1.) RACE AND RELIGION NOT THE SAME

We believe it is inappropriate and unhelpful to include religion in dealing with issues of race and ethnicity. As the Consultation Paper acknowledges: ’…religion is an intrinsic part of culture, and religious beliefs is an important defining characteristic for many people…’ (Introduction, p.7); ’Religious belief is defined in the EOA as holding or not holding a lawful religious belief or view or engaging in, not engaging in, or refusing to engage in a lawful religious activity.’ (Racial and Religious Vilification, p.16)

Religion is significantly different from race and ethnicity. Religions are ideological or belief systems. They cannot be equated with race or ethnicity which relate to physical/biological and/or geographical and/or nationality issues. Cultures, including the religious aspects of culture, impact people of a particular race or from a particular geographical region, but are often complex, varied and very diverse — even within the same race, ethnic group, or geographical region.

Religion helps determine a person’s worldview, a philosophy influencing perceptions, behaviour and relationships with others — both privately and publicly. Race and ethnicity does not have this same diverse determining of worldviews.

Major world religions include such diverse belief systems as: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Shinto. Within these major belief systems there are various schools of thought, factions, sects, denominations, splinter groups, and the like. All diversely affect people’s perceptions, private and public behaviour, relationships with others within their group; with others in their major world faith system; and with those outside their major belief system and outside their particular subgroup. Along with areas of general agreement, there is often significant diversity of belief, viewpoint and behaviour within the major world belief system.

All religions make truth and morality claims — and many claim insight into ultimate truth, which, by the nature of the things, leads to making judgements and evaluations about other religious with differing truth and morality claims.

Religious vilification aspects of the legislative options presented in the Consultation Paper could lead to real restrictions in the rights of people to express the religious ideals, views and values they hold dear — on the basis that someone from another religious system might find such views offensive.

2.) RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY SHOULD NOT BE CURTAILED

The Consultation Paper states: ’Anti-Semitic attacks are also a major issue…incidents of anti-Semitism were reported annually across Australia….campaigns against Western Australians of African, Asian, Arab, and Jewish backgrounds…’ (Racism Today, p.15)

The comments in this section of the Consultation Paper are clearly about race and not religion.

When members of the Jewish community raise concerns about anti-Semitism they are generally not raising concerns about Judaism per se. Members of the Jewish community include secular Jews, political Zionists, communists, atheists, those who are religious but Liberal or Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox or Hassidic. Within the Jewish community, as well as by outsiders, those religious and non-religious differences are openly discussed and debated — sometimes very vigorously. Religious vilification legislation could be a real threat to such openness and diversity of religious expression and debate.

It should also be clearly noted that such religious, as well as ethnic/racial, diversity can be found amongst people of African, Asian, Arab and other racial backgrounds.

Not all Asians are Buddhist; not all Indians are Hindus; not all Afghanis or Iraqis or Iranians, are Muslims.

In the context of the enormous religious diversity within and across sections of our Western Australian community, any religious vilification legislation could unintentionally become a form of Government control and determination of which religious worldviews and faith expressions are acceptable and which are not.

While Australia is not the USA, and we don’t have the same legalised and protected separation of Church and State, legislation dealing with constraining religious expression could be regarded by many as contrary to our general Australian cultural ethos.

3.) CULTURAL DIVERSITY UNDER THREAT

In the Nature and Character of Racism section of the Consultation Paper (p.9f) ’cultural racism’ is described in ways which could lead many to believe that the Government and the framers of the Consultation Paper — and possibly the legislation — are too dismissive of Australian cultural traditions and values, and too ready to reject these in favour of allowing other cultural values to be expressed.

We have already seen the effect of such thinking with principals of schools banning traditional Easter, Christmas, and even ANZAC Day activities, in case these activities were offensive to Muslims and other minority ethnic and religious groups — as in the April 2003 case of the Koondoola Primary School principal, Rudy Rybarczyk, who decided an Anzac Day remembrance was inappropriate for his school because of the religious and racial diversity of his students. His action, in sympathy and keeping with the spirit behind proposed legislative changes raised deep concerns around Australia, not just W.A., and provided more than ample ammunition for critics of political correctness. In no way did his actions advance improved understanding and relationships of religious and racial differences.

Most Australians are becoming, if they haven’t already become, deeply troubled by the rejection of traditional religious and cultural heritage activities and displays. It is incredible that the majority of Australians, whether committed or nominally Christian, or of no religious persuasion, should have to accept the banning of nativity scenes at Christmas because it may offend some, especially Muslims.

Such actions and expressions of reverse religious discrimination, and reverse cultural racism, are largely tolerated, and generally remain unopposed, in order to accommodate the views of minorities — often within minorities.

This situation is incongruous when research and discussion reveals that the majority of minority faith group members, including Muslims, see no problem in allowing the celebration of Christian festivals; in Katanning the local Muslims are very involved in Christmas celebration activities and have won competitions with some of their Christmas displays; in Singapore, a very multi-religious and multi-cultural society, all major religious faiths are encouraged to have displays and other activities to celebrate their festivals — which has led to major, larger-than-life nativity scenes in very public places at Christmas time.

We believe that many will interpret religious vilification elements of proposed legislative alternatives as a further rejection and erosion of traditional Western Australian cultural and religious heritage and values — which in turn could be counter-productive and lead to an exacerbation, rather than a reduction, of ’cultural racism’.

4.) DANGEROUS PRECEDENT

The Consultation Paper appears to be significantly influenced by concerns over Muslim sensitivities. Muslims are mentioned, especially in relation to ’religious vilification,’ more than any other single religious or ethnic group (see especially pp. 14-17).

We believe that it is a dangerous precedent to frame such potentially controversial and far reaching legislation under what some might regard as the undue influence and predominance of one minority religious group.

The Consultation Paper comments and gives examples of discrimination against people of Middle Eastern ethnicity by addressing them all as Muslim and further claiming that they are discriminated against because they are a religious group, rather than a racial group: ’Other groups such as Muslims are considered a religious rather than racial group and are not covered by the Federal legislation, the main form of legislative redress against vilification currently available to Western Australia.’ (Racial and Religious Vilification, p.17)

By singling out Muslims, such comments could be regarded as discriminatory against other religious groups.

If ’Muslims are considered a religious rather than racial group’, than so should Christians in Western Australia be ’considered a religious rather than racial group’. Christians form the largest single religious grouping of people in Western Australia. Christians, as a group, constitute a very mixed multi-racial group. Christians, as a group, also consists of a diverse complexity of religious beliefs and expressions within a Christian framework. Muslims in Western Australia may be regarded as a religious group, but as such it is ALSO made up a racial and religious diversity and complexity within an Islamic framework.

Who determined that it was appropriate to consider Muslims ’a religious rather than racial group’, but did not apply the same description for Christians? What were the criteria on which such descriptions and comments were made, or omitted, for the Consultation Paper? Is the Consultation Paper guilty of religious discrimination in its approach and descriptions?

Many Christians in Western Australia would strongly agree with the final comment on p.12 of the Consultation Paper: ’However, religious discrimination exists even today.’ There are numerous examples of religious discrimination aimed at Christians that could be noted — and fill documents with many times the number of pages of the Consultation Paper — but these are generally dismissed as insignificant.

One example may help to highlight the inequities of current perceptions of religious discrimination.

The Student Council at Edith Cowan University depicted a crucified Jesus Christ with a large exposed penis on the front cover its magazine, Harambee in April 1994. The fact that most Christians found this highly offensive was regarded almost with glee. Christians have regarded as ’fair game’ by many critics, and almost anything goes. If all else fails, call it art — that’s exempted in religious vilification legislation or potential legislation. What redress do Christians have, as a religious group, when faced with religious discrimination and vilification?

Imagine if the ECU Student Council had decided to depict Muhammed, naked with a large exposed penis, standing next to his 9 year-old child-wife Ayesha, on the front cover of the magazine instead of Jesus Christ! The outcry and disruption that that would have caused, with, or without religious vilification laws, doesn’t require too much imagination in today’s religious climate.

What about another minority religious group, the Sabian Mandaeans? Why were they not singled out as a religious group example in the Consultation Paper? Like many of the Muslims in Australia, especially the refugees, the Sabian Mandaeans have come here from Iran and Iraq.

As Dr Carmen Lawrence clearly pointed out in her June 13, 2003 article, Mandaeans in Oz: A new Iran contra deal, (http://members.westnet.com.au/jackhsmit/mandeans.htm) ’The Mandaeans, a tiny pre-Christian religious minority…their religion is not recognised by the government of Iran, they are subjected to discrimination and denied the normal protections of the law.’ Dr Lawrence, rightly, expresses her concern over their treatment in detention and the difficulties they have had in being declared genuine refugees. Having pointed out that the Sabian Mandaeans, as a minority religious group, have suffered persecution in their Islamic homeland, and have been incarcerated for prolonged periods in Australian detention camps, Dr Lawrence adds: ’For the Mandaeans this is a double jeopardy, since they are also subjected to discrimination and mistreatment by some of the other detainees who regard them as unclean…Mandaean people were denied access to showers in the ablution block because of the aggressive actions of a small group of hostile Muslims.’ ’…their plight has not excited much attention in the mainstream Australian media…’ ’Amnesty also recorded instances of violence or threats against them and concluded that intolerance and vilification were now serious problems within the camps.’ ’Mr Justice Richard Cooper’s judgment included a scathing condemnation of the Refugee Review Tribunal’s failure to investigate the specific claims of persecution made by an Iranian family of the Mandaean faith…noting that the tribunal had ignored vital evidence, including violence and threats of violence against Mandaean women by Muslim men.’

What about religious groups such as Australian Christians, Iranian and Iraqi Mandaeans — are they to be ignored because ’their plight has not excited much attention’?

Islam is a religious belief system — as are the Mandaean faith, Christianity and other religions. Once religious vilification laws become reality, legislation can be used (and already has been used) to clog up the Courts to debate religious differences of beliefs, perspectives and behaviour.

We believe the public forum, through open discussion, reports, debates — presented without intimidation and the threatening fear of vexatious court action — are to be preferred to counterproductive and unhelpful legal action in the Courts.

5.) EQUALITY AND RELIGIOUS RIGHTS FOR ALL

The Consultation Paper categorically states: ’Every Western Australian has the right to be treated fairly and equitably.’ (Introduction, p.7)

There are real dangers that the proposed religious vilification aspects under consideration will, in fact, deny some Western Australians THEIR fair and equitable treatment because someone in a different group claims to be offended at something said or done. Some will be affected because they might claim that as members of a particular religious group they are exempted from expectations and requirements placed on others.

The Consultation Paper makes a number of references to Australia’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) drawn up in 1948, and refers to Articles 4, 5, 7, 19, 29 and 30 (Racial and Religious Vilification in International Law, pp.19-21).

Missing from the Consultation Paper is any reference to UDHR Article 18, which deals with religious rights and freedoms — surely a most significant UDHR Article which should NOT have been ignored in a Consultation Paper proposing legislation to influence and control religious rights and freedoms!

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Contrast this article, part of a UN declaration ratified by Australia with the equivalent article in the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, drawn up by the Islamic Council in London in September 1981:

XIII Right to Freedom of Religion

Every person has the right to freedom of conscience and worship in accordance with his religious beliefs.

(http://www.alhewar.com/ISLAMDECL.html)

Note that UDHR Article 18 states: ’this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief’- such a right is meaningless if there cannot be open, intense and detailed scrutiny, public discussion and debate, and the ability to examine and discuss opposing viewpoints and criticisms leading to re-evaluation and ability to reject previously held views and accept/choose/adopt other views and/or another belief system.

This right is omitted from the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, and it is a known factual reality that in some countries, to leave Islam and accept another faith system can, and very often does, lead to extreme persecution and death.

An international non-governmental organisation, The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), seeks to promote international understanding and tolerance in all areas of culture and society, including religion. It bases its work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. ISHR Australia began its work in 1982 as the Australian Human Rights Society (AHRS). AHRS became a member of ISHR in 1985. ISHR Australia is also an associate member of the Refugee Council of Australia.

It its February 2000 Frankfurt statement on: Freedom of religious conversion, they openly identify Muslim persecution of converts to other faiths and call for strong international action to stem the tide of this rejection of a fundamental religious freedom. (See Appendix 1)

A E Mayer’s book, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics raises issues in relation freedoms declared under the UDHR and the lack of endorsements for these universal rights. (See Daniel Pipes’ book review, Appendix 2)

While some Muslims have been vocal in condemning anyone who is publicly critical of any aspects of Islam, there is silence about intimidation and persecution, including in Australia, of any Muslim who dares to convert out of his religion — a right Australia offers to all. That right to convert out of any religion, as declared in the UDHR, should be able to be exercised by ALL Australians without fear of intimidation or persecution.

The proposed religious vilification legislation could provide an unintentional opportunity to silence any critics, including converts out of Islam, or other former Muslims, from speaking out against any such intimidation and persecution of converts, and to publicly give reasons for their conversion and rejection of Islam. This would permit intimidation and persecution of converts out of Islam to continue behind a wall of religious silence.

This would be a real denial of ’Every Western Australian [having] the right to be treated fairly and equitably.’

The Consultation Paper also states, in summary: ’There exists a small minority of people who want to deliberately create intolerance, hatred, and division in the community based on race and religion.’ (p.38) It also states that our Western Australian democratic society has the maturity to constructively debate matters of religious divergence, arrive at and create balanced solutions. (p.7)

In spite of these two assurances, and in spite of existing laws dealing with various forms of assault, defamation and libel, the majority is being asked to accept the imposition of restrictive laws dealing with matters of faith and religion because of concerns about and from some minorities.

6.) VAGUE, UNDEFINED AND UNNECESSARY

While the Consultation Paper quotes from an Islamic report of some specific, and very unacceptable, forms of physical racial and religious abuse (Racism Today, p.14) the Consultation Paper does not give specific definitions and clear concrete examples of what exactly constitutes ’religious vilification’.

Considerable space is given in the Consultation Paper to what constitutes a ’Public act’ which relates to the potential proscribing of religious criticism and comment (Australian Law, pp.25-29), but attention to, and provision of, the same detailed information as to exactly what constitutes ’religious vilification’ is missing from the Consultation Paper.

The fact that the exact specific nature of ’religious vilification’ is left vague and undefined, or ill-defined, leaves the whole matter open to extremely wide interpretation in the ’eyes of the beholder’. This is not a good basis for law and legal action.

Under the proposed Western Australian ’religious vilification’ legislation would the following comments be legally considered ’religious vilification’?:

’All the world terrorists are Muslims!’

What penalty would be given against a person making such a statement? What difference would it make who said it, or what their religious orientation might be?

The reality is that that exact statement was very recently made — by a well-known Muslim!

“Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, wrote in his daily column published in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, “The painful truth: All the world terrorists are Muslims!”

(see news reports in Appendix 3)

Anyone who doesn’t like what is being stated about his religion, or his religious beliefs, can claim to have grounds for legal action under proposed religious vilification legislation. This is dangerous and divisive for a religiously diverse community such as we have in Western Australia.

With the specific listing of physical acts of aggression listed in the Islamic report, given as an example in the Consultation Paper (Racism Today, p.14), there is a significant omission: the mention of existing laws that cover and deal with a wide variety of forms of physical assault. In other words, there was a failure to acknowledge existing laws that provide protection and redress in relation to the forms of assault given in the example. This is NOT a religious issue but an issue of physical assault and abuse. There are already laws in existence to deal with such matters and ’religious vilification’ legislation is NOT needed to deal with this problem.

If a person believes he has been personally slandered, libelled or defamed with unacceptable critical comments, because of his religious beliefs, or for any other reason, we DO have Western Australian State libel and defamation laws that provide protection and redress in matters of defamation. Additional ’Religious vilification’ legislation proscribing religious comment or criticism is NOT needed to deal with this problem.

7.) OPEN TO MISUSE AND ABUSE OF FREEDOMS

The Consultation Paper states that, ’It is a measure of Western Australia’s maturity as a democratic society that we are able to debate matters where divergent views are held, and to create solutions that balance the right to hold personal views in our private lives with the right of all to exist without harm and discrimination.’ (Introduction, p.7)

It could well be argued that this is a cynical comment that neither the Government, nor the composers of the Consultation Paper, really believe. If they truly believe it, why do we then have a Consultation Paper which tries to show in the remaining 30+ pages that we lack the maturity as a society to create balanced solutions to religious diversity and divergent views, and need the introduction of ’religious vilification’ legislation to ensure what we apparently are unable to do as a democratic society without such laws.

The fact that such legislation is easily open to misuse and abuse is barely touched up in the Consultation Paper

Over the 25 years our organisation has been researching, monitoring, and publicly exposing the dangers of religious extremist groups, including religious racist groups, we have found groups becoming increasingly aggressive, belligerent and litigious — with some groups developing a well-known reputation as extremely aggressive and quick to use whatever legal technicalities they can, to intimidate and silence critics, investigators, journalists, and even students — we believe the addition of religious vilification laws will only add to their powers of intimidation — as your paper acknowledges (p.18) that such laws are and will be ’misused by persons not acting in good faith’;

In spite of assurances that the Consultation Paper endeavours to make, ’Religious vilification’ legislation will have the effect of introducing subtle and dangerous censorship in many areas of religious and secular activity.

Preachers will have to be very careful of what they proclaim in the pulpit. If they make any value judgements or comparisons with faith systems other than their own, and have a visitor from that other faith system present and taking offence at what is said, the preacher could end up with a lawsuit to fight;

Teachers, lecturers, professors at schools, colleges, seminaries and universities could be in trouble if a student from any particular religious group, especially a religious minority, takes offence at any perceived criticism of religious beliefs or practices;

Students, especially tertiary students, will have to be restrained in any comments made in assignments and papers, in regard to any religious beliefs or religious groups, especially minority groups, in case another student, or another person, sees any of the comments, and takes offence;

Journalists could face greater restraints in their reporting of controversial religious issues, and media defamation lawyers could end up with a lot more work in having to analyse media stories and reports with additional and rather vague ’religious vilification’ legislation.

Over the 25 years of our organisation’s research and educational work we have been involved with many students who worked on assignments, in religious studies and related fields, who chose to study minority religious groups or religious fringe groups. Many discovered, in research and inquiry contact with such groups, both subtle and blatant attempts to unduly influence their research, the shape and content of their assignment submission. Quite a number faced intimidation with the threat of complaints to the educational institution and even legal action, if the assignment paper published negative conclusions about the group. Some groups demanded that the students submit the final assignment draft paper to them for their veto or approval before submitting it to their lecturer for marking.

The proposed racial and religious vilification options promoted in the Consultation Paper all have the potential to greatly increase the misuse of our legal system with vexatious and even frivolous lawsuits brought ’by persons not acting in good faith’.

8.) THREAT TO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Over the 25 years our organisation has been researching, monitoring, and publicly exposing the dangers of religious extremist groups, including religious racist groups, we have had many people ask why the Government doesn’t legislate against cults and religious groups. Our response has always been, and remains, that we endorse religious freedom — and freedom of expression and fair comment, including the right to disagree — and that once legislation is introduced to ban religious comment, ban religious groups, to control religious orthodoxy or religious acceptability, we face real dangers of religious control and restriction by civil authorities - we believe the addition of religious vilification laws could lead to the danger of unintended forms of Government control and restriction of religious freedoms.

The Consultation Paper states: ’…there are a number of arguments against anti-vilification laws: that they do not work and are less effective than community education strategies or that they are misused by persons not acting in good faith. The primary opposition however comes from those who believe that vilification laws may unreasonably restrict “free speech”.’ (Vilification and Freedom of Speech and Expression, p.18)

It goes on to state: ’…freedom of speech is necessary for effective communication so that a community can debate important issues, however complex or controversial they may be, and irrespective of whether they support or oppose the Government of the day. It protects and promotes discussions and exchange of information and ideas among people and their government.’ (p.18)

The Consultation Paper seems to almost acknowledge the right of unrestricted freedom of speech in the political realm, but does not suggest the same ’…freedom of speech is necessary for effective communication so that a community can debate important issues, however complex or controversial they may be, and irrespective of whether they support or oppose’ any one or another religious group or entity! This suggests that being politically controversial is acceptable (regardless of how religiously some people may hold their political views), but being religiously controversial is not acceptable.

’Religious vilification’ laws make people uncertain and fearful of what they are free to say in public. Fear and uncertainty of what can be said — rather than sound and cautious comment — IS a threat to freedom of speech, especially when it is realised that freedom of speech is only a frail reality in Western Australia.

The letters to the Editor section of most newspapers, including the West Australian, carry some controversial comments. One can expect some serious questions and controversial comments when terrorists strike again and again at innocent lives, and especially when children at a school are targeted. Those comments and questions are bound to be all the more controversial when the terrorists are clearly identified as Muslims. Newspapers, including the West Australian, employ lawyers to ensure that controversial letters to the Editor do not overstep the legal boundaries, and most editors are careful not to publish letters that are too inflammatory or hateful. This did not stop one Muslim correspondent replying to several letters with the concluding comments:

’Grow up, stop tarring all people who are different as a threat and keep your inflammatory remarks to yourself. You never know, you may find yourself facing court for inciting racial hatred.’ (S. Nazim, West Australian, Letter, Sept. 14, 2004, p.20)

In reality, Mr Nazim was over-reacting and overstating things in his reply to the other correspondents he names, and was himself, by his own definition, guilty of inflammatory language with some of his comments. The frightening thing is that he makes veiled threats of legal action to control the content of the Letters to the Editor section of the newspaper because he doesn’t like what some people say. The proposed ’religious vilification’ legislation is just what people such as S Nazim are looking for to bring in censorship under the name of religious sensitivity.

Contrary to what many Western Australians may believe (perhaps because of too many American TV programmes), neither our Commonwealth nor our States, including Western Australia, have a Bill of Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech. The Consultation Paper makes this clear: ’There is, however, no provision in either the Commonwealth or State Constitutions that expressly confess any right to freedom of speech.’ (Australian Law, p.23)

This acknowledged reality, and the many comments in the Consultation Paper revealing restrictions on free speech, make the proposed ’religious vilification’ legislation all the more dangerous — especially in relations to the freedoms acknowledged in UDHR Article 18.

9.) EDUCATION AND OPEN PUBLIC DEBATE PREFERRED

Over the 25 years our organisation has been researching, monitoring, and publicly exposing the dangers of religious extremist groups, including religious racist groups, we have found that there are no easy or instant solutions to religious extremes or conflict. However, we have found that, in the long term, the best approach is education, open discussion, public debate.

Some religious groups fear any form of public scrutiny, examination and evaluative comment, and oppose any efforts to publish the findings of any such scrutiny or examination. Contrary to the persecution complex that lead some of these, and other cultic and extreme religious groups, to express opposition to any form of public examination of their belief systems, and oppose any such exposure, discussion, debate, with loud cries of religious discrimination and religious vilification in order to silence any such public discussion — all known religions and religious groups have been examined, analysed, discussed, written about, exposed by critics, proponents and others — otherwise they would have remained unknown.

The public has the right to make informed religious choices — in either accepting or rejecting the public and private claims of religious groups. Informed religious choices cannot be made if religious debate and discussion are constantly under the fear of legal threat and action.

Since our organisation commence in 1979, we have had both public and private discussions with people of very different religious viewpoints. While in some instances these have been controversial, with some people becoming angry and aggressive, in the vast majority of cases all involved had the ’maturity…that [enabled us] to debate matters where divergent views [were] held, and to create solutions that balance the right to hold personal views’ and to agree to disagree with respect. This has included private and public discussions, over religious differences between Islam and Christianity, with members of the Islamic community, and dealing with those differences and correcting some misconceptions, through print media.

’Religious vilification’ legislation has an enormous potential for introduction uncertainty and fear that would restrict and hamper an open educational and interactive approach where people can learn to publicly and privately agree to disagree with respect for persons in the midst of religious diversity, divergence and even controversy.

We strongly believe that openness in education, discussion and debate, public as well as private, is always to be preferred over civil authorities becoming involved in religious issues and disputes with proscriptive and prohibitive legislation and court action.

10.) GUILTY UNTIL YOU PROVE INNOCENCE

When a person makes public comments that another person finds objectionable and offensive there is virtually no protection, in spite of stated defences and statutory provisions.

The Consultation Paper (p.31) makes it clear that the intent and motivation behind any public statement, comment, seminar, debate or any other form of communication that raises religious criticism or disagreement has no relevance in ’religious vilification’ legislation. Unintentional misrepresentation causing offence is regarded as reprehensible as deliberately and intentionally using inflammatory language and/or misrepresentation to cause racial or religious offence. If someone takes offence, for whatever reasons he chooses to take offence, vilification is established and the person(s) accused of religious vilification is then considered guilty of a breach of the religious vilification laws, the onus being on him/them to prove innocence.

Contrary to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, discrimination and religious vilification laws lead to a person being assumed guilty until he can prove (at his expense) that he is innocent. This is simply on the basis of individuals claiming that they have found the public comments, statements, published comments offensive, humiliating or a source of ridicule — even if others from the same religious background have NOT been offended.

The person taking offence and making the accusation of religious discrimination and vilification does not have to have any particular skill, knowledge, expertise, or any other credentials, to actually determine whether a statement or issue raised publicly is factual, actually defamatory, truly offensive, or a true and clear example of ’religious vilification’. The only qualification for a person to lodge a complaint of religious vilification is that such a person is an ’ordinary, reasonable person.’ (p.31)

Not all religious people are people who act in good faith.

The proposed ’Religious vilification’ legislation has the potential to allow all sorts of people to use such legislation to cause mischief, attempt to stifle religious discussion and bring vexatious lawsuits to the courts.

11.) INTENTIONAL SUSPICIOUS SPYING AND INTIMIDATION

In the field of religion and religious studies, as in other areas of life, there is a place for serious and informed research, investigation, observation, and participant observation. This is an area for specialists, experts, academics, theologians and serious students of religion.

’Religious vilification’ legislation will, and already has (see following section on the Victorian experience) brought an entirely different dimension to interaction between members of different and diverse religious groups. There have always been curious inquirers or seekers, as well as students or specialists in the field of religious diversity, interested in visiting new or different religious groups in order to gain a better and more informed understanding of any particular group so visited.

But now there is a new visitor: the deliberate and intentional suspicious spy. Such a person may have no qualification other than being an ’ordinary, reasonable person’ (p.31) - but one with a suspicion that their own particular brand of religion could be maligned, ridiculed, misrepresented, or in any other way vilified by some other group or at some meeting or seminar — and decides to take the initiative to confirm those suspicions by deliberately visiting with the intention of recording all actions, comments or otherwise, that could confirm that such believed vilification has taken place, and then accusing those involved of religious discrimination and vilification.

This is NOT a possible scenario — it is a documented reality, having occurred in the State of Victoria since the introduction of its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

Even without ’religious vilification’ laws in Western Australia, intentional efforts to confirm suspicions of discrimination have occurred in WA. Some years ago a Christian college conducted a seminar on Islam from a Christian perspective, with the main speaker being a former Christian missionary to the Middle East. The seminar was open to the public, and two or three Muslim men came to the meeting. They made it quite clear that they were there to ensure there was no religious discrimination against Islam, and then demanded that the college staff provide them with a private room where they could conduct their obligatory prayers during the day — there was more than a hint that if such a room was not provided for their religious right to pray during their prayer times, it would constitute religious discrimination — even though it was not their college, or their seminar! They wanted, and expected special preferential treatment as members of a minority religious group.

Letters to the Editor with threatening comments suggesting, ’You may find yourself facing a court for inciting racial hatred’ (see section: 8.) Threat To Religious Freedom And Freedom Of Speech) reveal the reality that there are religious people who oppose our limited democratic freedom of speech. Under proposed ’religious vilification’ legislation such threats, and actual legal action, will increase in an endeavour to silence legitimate concerns or criticism being allowed a voice.

In Victoria, Christian Pastors being sued under its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 by the Islamic Council of Victoria and three Muslim attendees at a seminar in 2002, have received more than five death threats and other forms of intimidation, while Yasser Soliman, President of the Islamic Council claims he has received disturbing mail from Christians and Muslims. There have also been claims that some of the other Muslims involved in the case had been stalked and harassed.

Such actions are to be deplored, but Victoria’s ’religious vilification’ laws are part of the root cause behind such aggressive reactions. This legislation increases the potential for disharmony, discrimination, intimidation and unfortunate retaliatory attitudes, which can only damage open dialogue and mature interaction between peoples of diverse religious views.

12.) THE VICTORIAN EXPERIENCE

In the final part of the Consultation Paper it states: ’Western Australia has the advantage of being able to draw on the experience of each of the other Australian jurisdictions in introducing and administering laws dealing with racial and religious vilification.’ (Conclusion, p.43)

The Consultation Paper refers to the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, which came into operation in 2002 (p.20f), almost with enthusiasm and as a model for Western Australia.

It is the Victorian experience that we believe is amongst the strongest evidence against the introduction of ’religious vilification’ legislation in Western Australia. It is our hope that our Government will truly learn from the Victorian experience, and take notice of the submissions opposing ’religious vilification’ legislation, and drop the proposed legislation.

A.) Two important aspects of the Victorian legislation under PART 2-UNLAWFUL CONDUCT are Sections 8 and 11, as shown below (these will be referred to in subsequent comments):

RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE ACT 2001

Act No. 47/2001
Version as at 1 January 2002
 
TABLE OF PROVISIONS
Section Page
PART 1-PRELIMINARY
1.      Purposes
2.      Commencement
3.      Definitions
4.      Objects of Act
5.      Contravention does not create civil or criminal liability
6.      Act binds the Crown
 
PART 2-UNLAWFUL CONDUCT
Division 1-Unlawful Vilification
7.      Racial vilification unlawful
8.      Religious vilification unlawful
9.      Motive and dominant ground irrelevant
10.     Incorrect assumption as to race or religious belief or activity
11.     Exceptions-public conduct
12.     Exceptions-private conduct

RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE ACT 2001 - SECT 8

Religious vilification unlawful
8. Religious vilification unlawful
(1) A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of
another person or class of persons, engage in conduct that incites hatred
against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other
person or class of persons.
Note: “engage in conduct” includes use of the internet or e-mail to publish or
transmit statements or other material.
(2) For the purposes of sub-section (1), conduct-
 
(a)  may be constituted by a single occasion or by a number of occasions
over a period of time; and
(b)  may occur in or outside Victoria.

RACIAL AND RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE ACT 2001 - SECT 11

Exceptions-public conduct
11. Exceptions-public conduct
A person does not contravene section 7 or 8 if the person establishes that the
person’s conduct was engaged in reasonably and in good faith-
(a)  in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
(b)  in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made
or held, or any other conduct engaged in, for-
(i)  any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or
(ii) any purpose that is in the public interest; or
 
(c)  in making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or
matter of public interest.
 

B.) Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 came in to effect at the beginning of 2002. On March 2002 a seminar was organised by the Christian group, Catch the Fire, to provide information on Islam from a Christian perspective so that Christians could have a better understanding and more sensitively share their faith with Muslims. The Victorian Islamic Council encouraged three Australians who converted to Islam in the 1990s to attend the seminar, which commenced at 10 am. The seminar’s main speaker was Pastor Daniel Scott, and its organiser was Pastor Danny Nalliah. Most of pastor Scott’s presentation involved an examination of the Quran and the Hadith — primary sources of authority and guidance for all Muslims. Yusuf Eades, Jan Jackson and Malcolm Thomas all missed the first hour of the seminar, during which the purposes of the seminar were clearly stated, qualifying statements were made and which set the tone for the remainder of the day. They also missed the seminar presentation between 2 pm to 3.30 pm. The seminar concluded at 5 pm. Eades attended between 11 am and 12.30 pm; Jackson between 11 am and 2 pm; Thomas 3.30 and 5 pm.

C.) The three relatively new Muslims reported back to the Victorian Islamic Council, and the Council, with Eades, Jackson and Thomas, then took action against Catch the Fire and the two Pastors, claiming that they, and Islam, had been vilified at the seminar. Efforts to resolve the matter through conciliation before the Victorian Equal Opportunities Commission and the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal were rejected and the matter then went before Judge Michael Higgins.

D.) The action of the Victorian Islamic Council has led to the court having to examine Islam, its teachings and main primary sources of authority and guidance, the Quran and the Hadith, and to decide that if non-MuslimS reveal what those sources state it equals religious vilification (against Muslims and Islam), but if Muslims reveal the same it is not religious vilification. It is leading the court INTO having to make judgments on the merits of religious belief — in this case, on the merits of Islam.

E.) This case, used by Muslims as a test case under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, has now gone on for some two and a half years at enormous financial costs. It has been an enormous waste of resources and time. It has not enhanced religious harmony but raised deep concerns about the power of some religious minorities to disrupt, manipulate and limit the rights and freedoms of other religious groups. It has brought division, fear, uncertainty and polarisation. Victoria’s legislation has brought a no win situation. Whatever the final outcome, there will be increased dissatisfaction and feelings of intimidation and manipulation. If the Christians win their case the Muslims will be angry and upset; if the Muslims win their legal action, Christians will feel angry about the denial of their religious rights and freedom of well-intentioned speech, which could lead to feelings of the need to retaliate in similar fashion. Victoria does not need, nor does Australia, the courts to become the battle field for Australia’s 21st Century religious wars.

F.) There are supposed to be safe-guards, exceptions or defence provisions against inappropriate use of the religious vilification laws. These are meant to safeguard legitimate discussion and comment, and ensure that the legislation will not be used by people who are not acting in good faith. The Victorian experience has shown clearly that such assurances of exceptions and safe-guards are a hollow sham.

Under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, section 11, on public conduct exceptions,

A person does not contravene section 7 or 8 if the person establishes that the
person’s conduct was engaged in reasonably and in good faith-

(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made

or held, or any other conduct engaged in, for-
(i)  any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or
(ii) any purpose that is in the public interest; or
 
(c)  in making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or
matter of public interest.

Any careful examination of the available information on the Catch the Fire Seminar of 9th March 2002 will see that all of the above applied — the presenters of the seminar, those who attended — other than the Muslim complainants, printed material relating to the seminar and Catch the Fire Ministries, all indicated that the seminar and its main speaker:

Presented information:

reasonably;

in good faith;

for a genuine religious purpose;

for the public interest;

in a fair and accurate report of matters of public interest.

(See also: http://www.catchthefire.com.au/pdfs/Catch%20The%20Fire%20Ministries%20Submission%20to%20EOC.pdf

’Catch the Fire Ministries Submission to the Equal Opportunities Commission of Victoria in response to complaints made by the Islamic Council of Victoria’

http://www.catchthefire.com.au/pdfs/Combined%20Appendices.pdf

“The Call to Jihad in the Quran” by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammed bin Hamid

http://www.muhammadanism.org/Hadith/Bukhari/pi.htm)

Everyone else could accept the nature of the seminar being in keeping with these exceptions — except THE three Muslim observers, who were not there for the whole seminar, and who were there with an apparent predetermined intentional negative agenda. Their complaint was enough to ignore these supposed legal safeguards and exceptions, bring discredit to themselves and Islam, in their efforts to discredit a Christian organisation and two Christian leaders, and drag them through a costly and prolonged process that has also discredited Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act in the process.

Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act’s declared legal public exceptions under section 11 failed to prevent vexatious legal action and failed to prevent the case dragging on for two and a half years.

G.) There have already been serious and negative repercussions as a result of what the WA Consultation Paper calls ’The Victorian Approach’ (p.26f)

In his address to the National Day Of Prayer and Thanksgiving Commemoration at Scots Church in Melbourne on Saturday, 29 May 2004, Federal Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello referred to Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act as ’bad law’.

He noted that The Age newspaper had reported a couple of weeks before, that the Islamic Council
of Victoria had been critical of his willingness to address the meeting at Scot’s Church because, by his presence, he ’could be giving legitimacy to parties that the Islamic Council is suing under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001’!!

 

He added: ’It is not my intention to influence those proceedings. But nor will I be deterred from attending a service of Christian Thanksgiving. Since the issue has been raised I will state my view. I do not think that we should resolve differences about religious views in our community with lawsuits between the different religions. Nor do I think that the object of religious harmony will be promoted by organizing witnesses to go along to the meetings of other religions to collect evidence for the purpose of later litigation.

I think religious leaders should be free to express their doctrines and their comparative view of other doctrines. It is different if a religious leader wants to advocate violence or terrorism. That should be an offence — the offence of inciting violence, or an offence under our terrorism laws. That should be investigated by the law enforcement authorities who are trained to collect evidence and bring proceedings.

But differing views on religion should not be resolved through civil law suits.’

(See Appendix 4)

In this matter, we wholeheartedly agree with Treasurer Costello.

More importantly, at least one Muslim community leader from Victoria, ALSO agrees with the Treasurer.

Amir Butler is also a 1990s Australian convert to Islam. He has been a ’passionate activist for Islamic causes’ since his conversion. He is the executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC), which exists to assist Muslims with: ’Harrassment in all walks of life, including at work, in sporting associations, and in education; Discrimination in employment; Combating the spread of hate-literature against Islam and the Muslims; Acts of vilification directed towards Muslims’ - amongst other things.

He is one of the main people on the Editorial Board of ’A True Word [which] was established to provide an authentic Islamic viewpoint on contemporary issues, and to actively engage the non-Muslim world in a constructive and honest dialogue of ideas. We write for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Editorial Board

Amir Butler: Amir Butler is currently the Executive Director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee (AMPAC). He is a prolific writer, having been published throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world, in publications as diverse as the Melbourne Age, Herald Sun, Canberra Times, Frontier Post, Charlotte Observer, Japan Times, Asia Times, Jakarta Post, IslamOnline, AntiWar.com, and al-Jazeerah.

http://www.atrueword.com/

He is also very actively involved in F A I R - Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, which includes, amongst its many other objectives: To defend the rights and freedoms of all Australians to practice their religion openly and without fear of persecution or discrimination.’

http://www.fair.org.au/

In an Age opinion column (and elsewhere), Amir Butler, explains that though he once promoted Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and such similar ’religious vilification’ laws, he has changed his mind! He soundly argues that such laws are very counterproductive, and agrees with Treasurer Costello that Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is ’bad law’:

THE AGE (Newspaper — Melbourne)

Home > Opinion > Article

’Why I’ve changed my mind on vilification laws

June 4, 2004

Peter Costello was quite correct in his National Day of Thanksgiving address (“The moral decay of Australia”, on this page on Tuesday) to describe Victoria’s anti-vilification legislation as “bad law”.

As someone who once supported their introduction and is a member of one of the minority groups they purport to protect, I can say with some confidence that these laws have served only to undermine the very religious freedoms they intended to protect.

At every major Islamic lecture I have attended since litigation began against Catch the Fire Ministries, there have been small groups of evangelical Christians - armed with notepads and pens - jotting down any comment that might later be used as evidence in the present case or presumably future cases. (The Islamic Council of Victoria is suing Catch the Fire under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.)

The organisations being targeted by these evangelical Christians are neither involved in nor supported the legal action by the Islamic Council, and yet must now suffer the consequences of having their publications and public utterances subjected to a ridiculous level of scrutiny and analysis. The hope being, I assume, that some elements of the Christian community might exact revenge on the Muslim community by way of their own vexatious legal actions.

The problem is that as long as religions articulate a sense of what is right, they cannot avoid also defining - whether explicitly or implicitly - what is wrong.

If we love God, then it requires us to hate idolatry. If we believe there is such a thing as goodness, then we must also recognise the presence of evil. If we believe our religion is the only way to Heaven, then we must also affirm that all other paths lead to Hell. If we believe our religion is true, then it requires us to believe others are false.

Yet, this is exactly what this law serves to outlaw and curtail: the right of believers of one faith to passionately argue against or warn against the beliefs of another.

It is obvious that criticism of one’s religion is likely to offend, but just as Muslims should be entitled to aggressively criticise other faiths, likewise those same faiths should be afforded the right to voice their concerns about Islam.

The idea that such speech - regardless of how wrong-headed or offensive it might appear - must be banned to protect these religious communities is a furphy: discrimination on the basis of religion was already outlawed; incitement to commit violence was already illegal; and slander was already covered by existing legal instruments.

All these anti-vilification laws have achieved is to provide a legalistic weapon by which religious groups can silence their ideological opponents, rather than engaging in debate and discussion.

In doing so, people who otherwise might have been ignored as on the fringes of reality will be made martyrs, and their ideas given an airing far beyond anything they might have hoped for.

And at the same time as extremist ideas are strengthened and given legitimacy by attempts to silence them, the position in our society of the religions themselves is weakened and undermined.

Who, after all, would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers?

Amir Butler is executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee.’

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/06/03/1086203561682.html?oneclick=true#

While, as a Christian organisation, we obviously have significant differences of religious beliefs, we wholeheartedly agree with Amir Butler’s succinct and reasoned argument against ’religious vilification’ legislation, and would echo both his comments and those of Federal Treasurer, Mr Peter Costello, and declare that if the Western Australian government seeks to introduce its own version of the ’religious vilification’ legislation embodied in Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act it will be bringing ’bad law’ to Western Australia’s diverse multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious community.

Other countries are watching what is happening in Australia with concern. It seems that Britain is undergoing some changes in immigration and related legislation, and is also contemplating similar discrimination laws.

An example of concern is revealed in comments from the British Christian group, the Barnabas Trust, which focuses on the problems of such legislation by drawing attention to Australia, as an example of the negative impact of such counterproductive legislation, as is obvious in Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

’Fears that the law could be a major blow to freedom of speech are not based on speculation alone, but from direct evidence from Victoria, Australia, where two Christian pastors have already found themselves in court under a similar law after raising human rights concerns about Islamic teaching on a website and at a seminar. They are accused of stirring up hatred against Muslims despite the fact that both repeatedly emphasised that Christians should show nothing but love to Muslims.

Far from creating a more tolerant society the case has seriously damaged religious harmony and community relations.’

(See Appendix 5)

Controversial Daily Telegraph commentator, Piers Akerman, is not alone with his March 2004, comments: ’When legal absurdity is watched world-wide…A religious vilification case has embarrassed the plaintiffs and shown the stupidity of the law…IN a case being closely followed around the world, the Victorian Government has effectively placed Islam on trial under its controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.’

(See Appendix 6)

If Western Australia is going to adopt the same, or similar, ’religious vilification’ legislation as Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 — the Premier, his advisors, and all who contributed to the Consultation Paper, will show that they have not learnt a thing from the Victorian experience, and will have failed to wisely utilise ’the advantage of being able to draw on the experience of each of the other Australian jurisdictions in introducing and administering laws dealing with racial and religious vilification.’ (Conclusion, p.43)

APPENDIX 1

http://www.ishr.org/

’The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) is an international non-governmental organisation which bases its work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948.

ISHR seeks to promote international understanding and tolerance in all areas of culture and society. It is a non-profit organisation, independent of all political parties, governments or religious groups.

Founded in 1972, ISHR acts according to the philosophy that the realisation of human rights and the improvement of social conditions cannot be pursued by use of force. ISHR was founded in order to support individuals who share this principle and, consequently, strive non-violently for their rights.

ISHR Australia began its work in 1982 as the Australian Human Rights Society (AHRS). AHRS became a member of ISHR in 1985. ISHR Australia is also an associate member of the Refugee Council of Australia.’

http://www.igfm.de/religion/konvertE.htm

Freedom of religious conversion

· 1. The human right to religious conversion in founding international declarations

· 2. The concrete human rights situation of converts in Islamic countries

· 3. Demands for the 2000 Conference of the Human Rights Commission

 

1. The human right to religious conversion in founding international declarations

Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief...”.

Several Islamic countries expressed reservations about the right to religious freedom during the UDHR discussions. In the final ballot, Saudi Arabia abstained.

The ’International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ of 19.12.1966 recognises the “freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”(Article 18). Unlike the UDHR, the countries which signed this Covenant accept a full legal commitment to the rights protected in the convention. (Art. 2.1). It is deplorable that Egypt and Sudan, among others, have signed this treaty and yet simply violate the right to religious freedom. In each of these countries, converts are imprisoned. For example Achmed Abdulrachman and Al Faki Kuku in Sudan in 1998/1999, who were only released after international protest.

According to the facultative protocols to the treaty, citizens of a country who have signed the treaty and the relevant protocol may inform the human rights commission in writing of violations of the treaty. A further limitation consists in the fact is that the internal legal system is exhausted. Converts who are discriminated against for being ’lapsed Muslims’ seldom have the opportunity to appeal to the internal legal system which might protect their rights to religious conversion. It is striking that a few countries, for example the Maldives and the Comoros, where converts have been imprisoned over the last few years, have not even signed the ’Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights’.

The right to conversion is not specifically mentioned in the ’Declaration for the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion or Belief’ of 25.11.1981. Article 1 paragraph 2 of this declaration defines religious freedom: “This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of choice.” The term “adopt” includes conversion.

The declaration is a resolution of the UN General Assembly and therefore not legally binding. The countries which violate this declaration are named annually in the report of the Special Rapporteur. The declaration has its uses, but is in no position to control advances in the interpretation of religious freedom. It is a non-enforceable document.

2. The concrete human rights situation of converts in Islamic countries

The problem of conversion and potential violations of human rights is particularly prevalent in Islamic countries. This short presentation is therefore largely limited to conversion in the Islamic world.

The UHDR and other declarations and treaties, from an Islamic point of view, ’only’ apply to the secular and natural authorities.

The ’Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights’ of the Islamic Council of Europe (1981) and the ’Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam’ (5.8.1990) formulate human rights according to the Sharia. The right to conversion (apart from into Islam) is not included. This is in direct contradiction of the above international declarations of 1948, 1966 and 1981. Elisabeth Odio Benito, the Special Rapporteur of the sub-commission for human rights noted in her report for the 1986 subcommission that the afore mentioned international declarations all share the aim of protecting the right to a religion or belief, to change religion or belief, and also to have no religion or belief. This remained either rejected or not accepted by many Islamic counties.

Riddah, turning from Islam, is not specifically mentioned in the constitution of Muslim countries. However, punishment for Riddah is clearly defined in the criminal law. In countries like Mauritania (art. 306 of the Criminal Code), Sudan (art. 126 of the Criminal Code), Iran, Afghanistan und Saudi Arabia provide for the death penalty as punishment for Riddah. Early February 2000 in Iran, three Bahais were condemned to death for renouncing Islam.

In Egypt a special provision has been in force since 1981 (state of emergency after the murder for President Sadat) according to which damaging public security is punishable. As conversions cause public unrest, they can be punished according to the above provision (two years’ imprisonment). Cases of this are known, and some converts have been imprisoned without trial for up to three months.

In the Maldives there is a law to punish renouncing from Islam with loss of citizenship. In 1998 several native converts to Christianity are imprisoned for several months for renouncing Islam. In 1998 and 1999 in Comoros (Anjouan island) police-like forces attacked converts in attempts to reconvert them to Islam.

The consequences on civil rights of renouncing Islam are drastic, for example enforced divorce, removal of custody of your children and denial of inheritance rights. For example, in a Muslim country, a non-Muslim is legally not entitled to inherit from a Muslim. In Pakistan, for example, because of the Hudood Ordinance of 1982, non-Muslims have a significantly less credible status as witnesses in court.

In commercial terms, persecution (from either the extended family or radical Muslim groups and individuals) can take the form of loss of job, overt ostracism, discrimination and harm, and in extreme cases murder.

Pastor Mehedi Dibaj, a convert to Protestantism, was murdered in July 1997 in Iran. 22-year-old Rahila Khanum was killed by her brother on 16.7.1997 in Lahore (Pakistan) for her interest in the Christian faith. These two cases testify to the very real risk of death for converts. In Bangladesh in 1998, almost one hundred converts were forced to leave the country because of death threats. Houses and businesses belonging to converts are often plundered and set fire to. The demands of Muslim reformers are worthy of attention. They see a pluralist society as an unavoidable fact, like globalisation. Several Muslim reformers therefore demand recognition of the right to religious freedom. The Tunisian lawyer Mohamed Charfi for instance defines this as ’the rights to choose ones own religion, the rights to practise, semi-practise or not to practise religion and finally the right to change ones religion.”(J.Schwartländer/Heiner Bielefeld “Christen und Muslime vor der Herausforderung der Menschenerchte”, Bonn 1992, S.29f.) According to reformist thinkers, the Koran itself forbids any limitation of religious freedom. They quote Sure2,256: “There is no pressure in religion “. This is a potential starting point for a human rights dialogue with the Islamic world, which should be wholeheartedly encouraged and employed by international human rights forums.

This reformist Muslim current is important for modern human rights work.

This short presentation of the situation of converts in Islamic countries can only be representative and not comprehensive.

Problems also exist for converts in the realm of Hindu culture. Hinduism is the national religion of Nepal. Conversion and missionary work are forbidden. Prevention of conversion also occurs in several Indian states e.g. Orissa. This stands in contradiction to the fact that both India and Nepal have signed the ’Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’.

3. Demands for the 2000 Conference of the Human Rights Commission:

ISHR recommends that the Human Rights Commission

· name and condemn all countries which threaten to punish conversion with the death penalty.

· urge all countries where converts are imprisoned because of their beliefs to secure the immediate release of such prisoners.

· condemn every state punishment of convert and state ban or state prevention of conversion.

· condemn association of citizenship with religion.

· urge the community of nations to recognise non-state persecution of converts as a legitimate reason for asylum.

· support reform movements, groups, theologians and politicians who stand up for the right to free religious conversion.

· express their recognition of projects supporting interreligious dialogue and interreligious co-operation.

Frankfurt, 26.02.2000

APPENDIX 2

Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics

by Ann Elizabeth Mayer
Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1991. 258 pp. $39.95

Orbis
Winter 1992

Reviewed by Daniel Pipes

Mayer, a legal expert at the Wharton School, has written a quiet but scathing attack on the notion that cultural relativism applies to human rights. She does so by comparing the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, plus associated documents, with a selection of its self-styled Islamic equivalents: the 1979 Iranian constitution, a 1979 proposal of the Islamic Research Academy in Cairo, the 1981 Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, as well as schemes forwarded by such intellectuals as Sultan Husayn Tabanda and Abu’l A’la Mawdudi.

The result is sheer devastation. Mayer exposes the Muslim efforts as only tenuously connected to Islam and uninterested in individual freedom. “Instead, they accord priority to rationalizing governmental repression, protecting and promoting social cohesion, and perpetuating traditional hierarchies in society, which means discriminatory treatment of women and non-Muslims.” Dissidents and human rights campaigners invariably dismiss the watered-down “Islamic” alternatives as tools of repression and look to the universal codes as inspiration.

But not so Western academics who, Mayer charges, consider a critical evaluation of this topic “off limits” in the belief that it promotes Western biases and impedes the understanding of a foreign society. Not only does this condescending attitude condemn Muslim populations to live under regimes whose human rights records range from “the mediocre to the atrocious”; it also allies those academics with dictators, their security services, and their legal flaks. With the appearance of this brave book, let us hear no more about Islamic exceptionalism to the universal norms of human rights.

From www.danielpipes.org | Original article available at: www.danielpipes.org/article/534

APPENDIX 3

By Associated Press
Published September 5, 2004

CAIRO - Images of dead, wounded and traumatized Russian children being carried from the scene of a rebel school siege horrified Arabs, prompting forthright self-criticism Saturday and fresh concern about an international backlash against Islam and its followers.

Arab leaders, Muslim clerics and ordinary parents across the Middle East denounced the school siege that left more than 330 people dead, many of them children, as unjustifiable.

Some warned such actions damage Islam’s image more than all its enemies could hope. Even some supporters of Islamic militancy condemned it, though at least one insisted Muslims were not behind it.

The terrorists were reportedly demanding the independence of the mostly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya - a cause embraced by Arab Islamists. “Holy warriors” from the Middle East long have supported Chechen fighters, and Russian officials said nine or 10 Arabs were among militants killed when commandos stormed the Beslan school in southern Russia on Friday.

The nationalities of the Arabs among the dead terrorists was not known. However, a prominent Arab journalist wrote that Muslims must acknowledge the painful fact that Muslims are the main perpetrators of terrorism.

“Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, wrote in his daily column published in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, “The painful truth: All the world terrorists are Muslims!”

Al-Rashed ran through a list of recent attacks by Islamic extremist groups - in Russia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen - many of which are influenced by the ideology of Osama bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida.

Ahmed Bahgat, an Egyptian Islamist and columnist for Egypt’s leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, wrote, “If all the enemies of Islam united together and decided to harm it . . . they wouldn’t have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations, and misunderstanding of the nature of this age.”

Other Islamists were more cautious in their criticism.

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt’s largest Islamic group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said the siege did not fit the Islamic concept of jihad, or holy war, but took care not to characterize it as terrorism.

“What happened . . . is not jihad because our Islam obligates us to respect the souls of human beings,” Akef said. “Real jihad should target occupiers of our lands only, like the Palestinian and Iraqi resistance.”

[Last modified September 4, 2004, 23:36:20]

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) Images of dead, wounded and traumatized Russian children being carried from the scene of a rebel school siege horrified Arabs, prompting forthright self-criticism Saturday and fresh concern about an international backlash against Islam and its followers.

Arab leaders, Muslim clerics and ordinary parents across the Middle East denounced the school siege that left more than 340 people dead, many of them children, as unjustifiable.

Some warned such actions damage Islam’s image more than all its enemies could hope. Even some supporters of Islamic militancy condemned it, though at least one insisted Muslims were not behind it.

The hostage-takers were reportedly demanding the independence of the mostly Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya a caused embraced by Arab Islamists. “Holy warriors” from the Middle East long have supported Chechen fighters, and Russian officials said nine or 10 Arabs were among militants killed when commandos stormed the Beslan school in southern Russia on Friday.

Middle East security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was too early to know the nationalities of the Arabs among the dead militants. However, a prominent Arab journalist wrote that Muslims must acknowledge the painful fact that Muslims are the main perpetrators of terrorism.

“Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture,” Abdulrahman al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, wrote in his daily column published in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. It ran under the headline, “The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists are Muslims!”

Al-Rashed ran through a list of recent attacks by Islamic extremist groups in Russia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen many of which are influenced by the ideology of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the al-Qaida terror network.

“Most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims,” he wrote. Muslims will be unable to cleanse their image unless “we admit the scandalous facts,” rather than offer condemnations or justifications.

“The picture is humiliating, painful and harsh for all of us.”

Arab TV stations repeatedly aired footage of terrified young survivors being carried from the school siege scene, while pictures of dead and wounded children ran on front pages of Saturday’s newspapers in the region.

Ahmed Bahgat, an Egyptian Islamist and columnist for Egypt’s leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, wrote that the images “showed Muslims as monsters who are fed by the blood of children and the pain of their families.”

“If all the enemies of Islam united together and decided to harm it ... they wouldn’t have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations, and misunderstanding of the nature of this age,” Bahgat wrote.

Other Islamists were more cautious in their criticism.

Mohammed Mahdi Akef, leader of Egypt’s largest Islamic group, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, said the siege did not fit the Islamic concept of “jihad,” or holy war, but took care not to characterize it as terrorism.

“What happened ... is not jihad because our Islam obligates us to respect the souls of human beings,” Akef said. “Real jihad should target occupiers of our lands only like the Palestinian and Iraqi resistance.”

Ali Abdullah, a Bahraini religious scholar who follows the ultraconservative Salafi stream of Islam, condemned the school attack as “un-Islamic” but insisted Muslims weren’t behind it.

“I have no doubt in my mind that this is the work of the Israelis who want to tarnish the image of Muslims and are working alongside Russians who have their own agenda against the Muslims in Chechnya,” said Abdullah.

Some contributors to Islamic Web sites known for their extremist content praised the separatists and predicted the Islamic fighters from Egypt would avenge the killings of Muslims elsewhere.

Syria condemned the hostage-taking “in the harshest terms,” describing it as “a terrorist, cowardly action,” the state-run SANA news agency said.

“As a father, I can tell you that all the fathers and mothers in Jordan pray humbly to God to stand by their counterparts in Russia in their grief,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II, whose wife is expecting their fourth child, said on state-run television.

Mona Khalil, a 48-year-old secretary in Amman, said her heart ached at the sight of the frightened children and their weeping relatives.

“What on earth were the kidnappers thinking about when they took the children hostage?” she asked. “These criminals don’t fear God? They have no mercy in their hearts? They don’t have children?”

Mohammed Saleh Ebrahim, a 31-year-old Bahraini who was back-to-school shopping in the Gulf island nation with his two daughters, described the hostage-takers as “worse than animals.”

“It’s because of these people Muslims and Arabs are getting a bad name around the world,” he said.

Associated Press reporters Jamal Halaby in Amman, Adnan Malik in Bahrain and Maggie Michael in Egypt contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APPENDIX 4

National Day of Prayer & Thanksgiving
THE HON PETER COSTELLO, MP TREASURER

ADDRESS TO NATIONAL DAY OF THANKSGIVING COMMEMORATION SCOTS CHURCH

MELBOURNE 7.10 PM

SATURDAY, 29 MAY 2004

When Jesus told his disciples that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth, the known world consisted of the Roman Empire — the Mediterranean and surrounds.

No one in the Roman world, no one in the Jewish world, knew of Australia. From the then known world of the Mediterranean, Australia was beyond even the uttermost parts of the earth.

And yet the teaching of Jesus came to Australia. It took nearly 18 centuries. And we can pinpoint quite accurately the first time a Christian service was held on Australian soil. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Richard Johnson, Chaplain of the First Fleet. It was preached on Sunday 3 February 1778 under a large tree in Sydney. His text was from Psalm 116 Verse 12: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?”

The first Australian Christian service was a thanksgiving service. It was thanksgiving for a safe passage in dangerous sailing ships, on a dangerous mission half way around the world.

Two hundred and twenty six years later we meet tonight to mark a “National Day of Thanksgiving” for all the benefits rendered to us, in the modern Australia.

Of course, the members of the First Fleet were not the first people to come to Australia. The Aboriginal people were here long before that. And I am so proud that we have descendants of those first Australians who are here tonight and who we have just honoured.

But it was the First Fleet that brought the first chaplain and first knowledge of the Christian faith to Australia. This was the critical and decisive event that shaped our country.

If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Indonesia had brought Islam to Australia and settled, or spread their faith, amongst the indigenous population our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would all be vastly different.

But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition.

As a society, we are who we are, because of that heritage.

I am not sure this is well understood in Australia today. It may be that a majority of Australians no longer believes the orthodox Christian faith. But whether they believe it or not, the society they share is one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The foundation of that tradition is, of course, The Ten Commandments. How many Australians today could recite them? Perhaps very few. But they are the foundation of our law and our society, whether we know them or not.

The first Commandments: Thou shalt have no other God before me; Thou shalt not make any graven image; Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain; Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; are the foundation of monotheism.

The Commandments: Honour thy father and mother; Thou shalt not commit adultery; are the foundation of marriage and the family.

The Commandment: Thou shalt not to kill; is the basis for respect for life.

The Commandment: Thou shalt not steal; is the basis for property rights.

The Commandment: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour; and Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s property; is the basis of respect for others and their individual rights.

These are the great principles of our society. On them hang all of the laws and institutions that make our society what it is.

When Moses gave the Ten Commandments he initiated the rule of law. From the moment that he laid down these rules it followed that human conduct was to be governed according to rules — rules which were objectively stated, capable of being understood and, if necessary, enforced by the Hebrew judges. Prior to that the people of the ancient world were governed by Rulers rather than rules. The ruler was much more subject to whim and capricious behaviour. Rulers were not subject to independent review or interpretation. The rule of law is the basis for our constitution and justice system.

And so we have the Rule of Law, respect for life, private property rights, respect of others — values that spring from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Tolerance under the law is a great part of this tradition.

Tolerance does not mean that all views are the same. It does not mean that differing views are equally right. What it means is that where there are differences, no matter how strongly held, different people will respect the right of others to hold them.

I mention this because “The Age” newspaper reported (10 May 2004) that my appearance here tonight has been criticized by the Islamic Council of Victoria. According to the President of that Council by speaking here tonight I could be giving legitimacy to parties that the Islamic Council is suing under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (the Act).

It is not my intention to influence those proceedings. But nor will I be deterred from attending a service of Christian Thanksgiving. Since the issue has been raised I will state my view. I do not think that we should resolve differences about religious views in our community with lawsuits between the different religions. Nor do I think

that the object of religious harmony will be promoted by organizing witnesses to go along to the meetings of other religions to collect evidence for the purpose of later litigation.

I think religious leaders should be free to express their doctrines and their comparative view of other doctrines. It is different if a religious leader wants to advocate violence or terrorism. That should be an offence — the offence of inciting violence, or an offence under our terrorism laws. That should be investigated by the law enforcement authorities who are trained to collect evidence and bring proceedings.

But differing views on religion should not be resolved through civil law suits.

My view on this is not new or recent. In 1994 I opposed a proposed Commonwealth Bill on Racial Vilification on the following grounds:

“The legislation is going to make certain subjects very difficult to discuss in an open way. It is going to vest a large supervisory role in Government appointees over exactly what can or cannot be said.”

At the time I was worried that ’vilification’ legislation would inhibit free discussion of important political issues. Since then the Victorian Parliament has passed the Act dealing with racial and religious ’vilification’. No one likes vilification.

We are an open and tolerant society. But if rival camps start sending informants to rival meetings so they can take legal proceedings against each other in publicly funded tribunals we shall not enhance our openness or tolerance.

The proceedings which have been taken, the time, the cost, the extent of the proceedings, the remedies that are available all illustrate, in my view, that this is a bad law.

We would be better to forget the litigation and work to reinforce the values drawn from the tradition that underlies our society — respect for individuals, tolerance within a framework of law, and mutual respect.

This is the legacy of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Unfortunately today we see that legacy fraying all around us. It is almost as if the capital deposit has been drawn down for such regular maintenance that the capital is running out. The maintenance demands are unending. But we are not building up the capital required to service it.

We do not have to look far to see evidence of moral decay around us. We can see it and hear it in entertainment like rap music, in songs which glorify violence or suicide or exploitation of others.

As we speak drug barons compete for the distribution rights to sell drugs to our children in Melbourne. These rights are so lucrative that they are prepared to kill to protect their profits with 24 or 25 unsolved gangland murders in Victoria since 1998.

These barons sell young people into addiction. Drugs break up families and marriages. Many addicts end up in prostitution or burglary. These outcomes are the very antitheses of all those values set out in the Ten Commandments about how to order society.

People well known to the police apparently live in luxury with no visible means of support or explanation as to how they maintain their lifestyles.

And it seems to me that as a society we have become complacent about this issue, in some cases, the media has glamourised it.

A few weeks ago I called for a sense of outrage about what is happening in our midst. And I pledge that if Federal Tax authorities can assist in tracking and taxing the flow of money that sustains the lifestyles of these drug barons then everything that can be done will be done. We stand ready, anxious, to assist.

We have such a rich heritage. But in so many ways it is being run down. The values which it has given us - respect for life, respect for others, for property, respect for family - seem to be undermined in many ways.

What should we do?

At this point it is usual for some leading churchman from some well known denomination to appear in the media to call on the Government to fix things.

I do not want to suggest that there are no initiatives the Government should take. And what Government can do, it should do. But I do want to suggest something much more radical and far reaching. I want to suggest that a recovery of faith would go a long way to answering this challenge. A Government should never get into religious endeavors. But if our church leaders could so engage people as to lead them to genuine faith we should be much richer and stronger for it.

The Bible tells the story of the Prophet Elijah who got despondent about the state of decay all around him. He was running for his life. He fled out to the wilderness. He sat under a juniper tree and asked to die. He felt alone and let down. He had no supporters. He thought he was the only person left that was true.

But the still small voice of God came to him and lifted him and told him that there were still thousands that had not lowered the knee to the spiritual and moral decay all around him. (1 Kings, Ch 19)

And this is the point I would like to make to those who have gathered here tonight. There are many that have not, in their hearts, acquiesced to the kind of decay which is apparent around us. They do not believe it is right. They earnestly pray for the expansion of faith and yearn for higher standards.

They will get up tomorrow and go to their places of worship in suburbs and towns across the country, affirm the historic Christian faith, and go to work on Monday as law-abiding citizens who want their marriages to stay together, their children to grow up to be healthy and useful members of society, and their homes to be happy. They care deeply about our society and where it is going.

These people will not get their names in the media. They will not be elected to anything. They will not be noisy lobbyists. But they are the steadying influence, the ballast, to our society when it shakes with moral turbulence. They give strength and stability and they embody the character and the traditions of our valuable heritage. It is their inner faith which gives them strength. Our society won’t work without them.

All citizens share in the heritage and the blessings that heritage brought to our country, something for which we can all give thanks. We should not take these blessings for granted. We should not become complacent. We should genuinely give thanks because we have been genuinely blessed. And each, to our own ability, should nurture the values which were so important in bringing us to where we are today and which we need so badly to take us on.

APPENDIX 5

RELIGIOUS HATE LAW: A THREAT TO FREE SPEECH?

PRESS RELEASE: BARNABAS FUND LAUNCHES NEW CAMPAIGN

Press Release - 01 September 2004

For Immediate Release

Barnabas Fund has today launched a major campaign raising concerns on laws proposed by the British government to ban incitement to religious hatred. The Fund echoes the fears of many senior lawyers, MPs, peers, human rights groups and civil liberties organizations who believe such laws could pose a major threat to free speech.

Home Secretary David Blunkett announced that the government is planning to introduce a new law banning incitement to religious hatred “as soon as possible” in a speech on 7 July. The intention is to extend existing legislation banning incitement to racial hatred to cover religious groups as well in order to prevent crimes such as extreme right-wing organizations stirring up hatred against Muslims.

However, critics of the law point out that existing legislation banning incitement to violence and other criminal acts already provides protection if enforced properly. They argue that in reality this new law could end up being used to prevent all reasonable debate and criticism of another person’s religion.

Barnabas Fund is calling on its supporters to write to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and their MP in order to raise these concerns now in preparation for when a bill comes before parliament.

AUSTRALIAN PASTORS ALREADY VICTIMISED

Fears that the law could be a major blow to freedom of speech are not based on speculation alone, but from direct evidence from Victoria, Australia, where two Christian pastors have already found themselves in court under a similar law after raising human rights concerns about Islamic teaching on a website and at a seminar. They are accused of stirring up hatred against Muslims despite the fact that both repeatedly emphasised that Christians should show nothing but love to Muslims.

Far from creating a more tolerant society the case has seriously damaged religious harmony and community relations. One former prominent supporter of the law, Amir Butler, executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, has now come out strongly against it. “All these anti-vilification laws have achieved is to provide a legalistic weapon by which religious groups can silence their ideological opponents,” he wrote in a recent article.

COULD THE SAME THING HAPPEN IN THE UK?

In the UK as well there are hints that at least some supporters of the law intend to use it not only to prevent incitement to religious hatred, but also to stifle legitimate criticism and debate. Speaking

on BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze on 14 July Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, indicated that in his view any “defamation in the character of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)” should be illegal under the new law.

Similarly when Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi faced media criticism when he came to speak to British Muslims in July for his views that suicide bombers can target women and children, men can beat their wives and homosexuals should be executed, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said that “this legislation is necessary”, not to prevent Dr al-Qaradawi from preaching such views, but for silencing those who criticise him for doing so.

Speaking from his office in Pewsey Barnabas Fund’s director Dr Patrick Sookhdeo warned “The potential impact of this law is very grave indeed. With the best of intentions and a noble aim the government may inadvertently open the door to a serious restriction of free speech in the UK.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The government first attempted to bring in a law banning incitement to religious hatred as part of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill in 2001. In the end the clauses relating to inciting religious

hatred were dropped because they faced strong opposition from the House of Lords.

In the following year the proposed legislation was reintroduced as a private member’s bill by Lord Avebury. The Religious Offences Bill reached a second reading stage in the House of Lords but went no further and so was dropped at the end of that parliamentary year.

In 2002 the House of Lords also set up a Religious Offences Select Committee to examine whether there was a need to introduce legislation banning incitement to religious hatred. In its concluding report the Committee was divided over whether there was a need for a law or not.

David Blunkett’s announcement on 7 July reintroduced the prospect of such a law once more and led to much speculation. The text of the proposed law has not yet been published. Neither has any firm indication been given of exactly when the government plans to bring the law before parliament other than “as soon as possible”

For further information please contact Paul Cook, Advocacy Manager,

Barnabas Fund on +44 (0) 1672 564938, or by email [1].

Further information on Incitement to Religious Hatred can also be found on Barnabas Fund’s website [2].

LINKS

[1] - mailto:info@barnabasfund.org

[2] - http://www.barnabasfund.org/news/itrhc/about_itrhc.htm


Barnabas Fund works to support Christian communities mainly, but not exclusively, in the Islamic world where they are facing poverty and persecution.

Barnabas Fund, The Old Rectory, River Street, PEWSEY, Wiltshire, SN9 5DB, UK.

Tel: +44(0)1672 564938, Fax: +44(0)1672 565030, E-mail: info@barnabasfund.org

Web: www.barnabasfund.org

APPENDIX 6

When legal absurdity is watched world-wide
March 4, 2004
Piers Akerman
http://dailytelegraph.news.com.au/story.jsp?sectionid=1292&storyid=986134

 

A religious vilification case has embarrassed the plaintiffs and shown the stupidity of the law, says PIERS AKERMAN.

IN a case being closely followed around the world, the Victorian Government has effectively placed Islam on trial under its controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

It didn’t mean to, of course. The legislation was intended to shield religions — particularly Islam — from scrutiny and was championed by the Islamic Council of Victoria and other Muslim organisations before being passed by the Bracks Government in mid-2001.

Indeed, the current matter was the first brought under the flawed legislation when it came into effect early in 2002.

The case in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission bears all the hallmarks of a set-up, but it has exploded in the equal opportunity industry’s face.

Consider the facts. The matter had its genesis in a seminar held under the aegis of Catch the Fire Ministries, one of the major opponents of the legislation.

Three complainants, all Australian converts to Islam, were encouraged to attend the seminar by contacts within the Victorian Islamic Council.

One of those who encouraged one of the female attendees was May Helou, who was then employed by the Equal Opportunity Commission and also involved with the Islamic Council as its women’s education officer, the Australian Arabic Council, and Victorian Arabic Social Services. (Helou has apparently recently left her EOC position.)

The principal speakers at the seminar were Christian pastors Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah and they were charged under Victoria’s appalling legislation with allegedly vilifying Islam.

Attempts at conciliation before the Victorian EOC and the Victorian Civil Administration Tribunal failed and the case is now being heard by Judge Michael Higgins at VCAT.

Unfortunately for both the EOC and the Victorian Islamic Council, the three complainants — whose evidence is critical to the case — have scant knowledge of the Koran.

Pastor Scot, on the other hand, has testified to having read the Koran more than 100 times and has made a study of Islam and Islamic scholars.

Attempts to discredit his knowledge of the topic have backfired embarrassingly for the complainants’ counsel, Brind Woinarski QC, and have highlighted some crucial differences between Christian and Islamic teachings.

Among the arguments Mr Woinarski has tried to develop is the claim that laughter during Pastor Scot’s reading of the Koran at the seminar may have breached the Act’s prohibition on “severe ridicule”.

The screwy law was already on dangerous ground concerning freedom of speech, but now freedom to laugh is also under threat in Victoria.

Pastor Scot has also been asked to comment on the Koranic verse which calls for the cutting off of the right hand of a thief, and another verse which mentions repentance.

As Pastor Scot’s barrister, David Perkins, noted, there is nothing about re-attaching the hands of those who later repent.

Pastor Scot was also able to point out that Mohammed cut off the hands of thieves and that Muslim scholars, four schools of Sunni Islamic law, as well as Shi’a law, all say that a hand can be cut off and do not link the verse relating to repentance with the earlier verse about such punishment.

Indeed, he explained that the Koranic law as well as the hadith (the collected teachings second only to the Koran) say that if a thief steals again they also will have their right leg chopped off.

Islamic mercy, he said, was shown by the fact those who had been punished by having a hand chopped off did not have their leg similarly treated — so long as they changed their ways.

The case has even examined the question of differences between Allah in the Koran and God in the Bible.

The hearing was also given chapter and verse references (or Koranic reference and hadith) to the role of women in Islam.

The hearing was told that the Islamic view was that the testimony of a woman was worth half that of a man, that a woman was a “toy”, was “not to be seen” and was as a “rib that is crooked”.

It was told that a husband’s sexual demands must be met even if his wife is cooking a meal, that a wife is as property, that a “temporary wife” is acceptable and that a woman is “deficient in intelligence”.

Whether May Helou will be as energetic an exponent in promoting Islam when this matter is finally resolved will be interesting to see.

Perhaps the most telling moment to date came just last Friday when Pastor Scot was asked by the Islamic Council’s barrister Debbie Mortimer to stop reading passages from the Koran and just give verses because the readings vilified Muslims. He replied: “If it is not for reading, it shouldn’t be in the book.”

Relatively straightforward and accurate reports of the trial have been placed on the web by Pastor Scot’s church; certainly in all the pertinent facts they accord with the few reports that have appeared in the local press.

Summing up in the case should begin next week. The greatest crime is that the politically correct Victorian Government ever enacted the shameful legislation which permitted the case to begin at all.

Rev. W.A. van Leen

Director

Concerned Christians Growth Ministries Inc.

September 21, 2004