Warning From Australia For British Government Over Religious Incitement Law

17th December 2004

The "religious hatred" case that has been pending for months under an Australian religious hate law has come to a conclusion - with the Tribunal judge finding against the Christian fundamentalists, who he said "made fun" of Islamic beliefs in breach of the Religious and Racial Tolerance Act 2001. It was expected to last just a few days but has taken around a year.

The case involves a Christian fundamentalist group, Catch the Fire Ministries, which held a seminar and distributed printed material that offended members of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal said that Pastor Daniel Scot of Catch the Fire Ministries "made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct. It was done not in the context of a serious discussion of Muslims’ religious belief; it was presented in a way which is essentially hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their God, Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in general Muslim religious belief."

Pastor Scot is a Christian who left Pakistan after being charged with insulting the prophet Mohammed under the Pakistan Blasphemy law.

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society, said: "This case has dragged on interminably and now that it is resolved we get an insight into what could happen in Britain if the new incitement to religious hatred law is brought in. The judge has had to pour over religious texts to decide whether they had been fairly represented, and even if they had been used selectively. We do not think secular judges should be involved in such theological judgments.

"His judgement upholding the complaint that the offending speech at the seminar was hostile rested partly on his opinion that ‘it produces a response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter’. This gives more credence to Rowan Atkinson’s fears that comedians and satirists will be severely constrained by the similar proposed religious incitement law in Britain."

"The judgment sends a clear message to the citizens of Victoria that they had better be very careful what they say or do in relation to religion. We now have the ludicrous situation where Christians are attending meetings organised by Muslims in an attempt to catch them out vilifying Christianity so that they can get their own back. This case should act as a warning to the UK Government about the likely consequences if they go ahead with their very similar religious incitement law."

A copy of the judgement is available on request.