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Religious Vilification Case in Victoria, Australia

UPDATE – Christian Pastors – Australian Prayer Network Newsletter November 12, 2003

http://www.ausprayernet.org.au/

UPDATE ON RELIGIOUS VILIFICATION CASE AGAINST CHRISTIAN PASTORS

The court hearing brought against Catch the Fire Ministries, and Pastors Nalliah & Scot associated with that ministry, by the Islamic Council of Victoria has continued at a very slow pace. The hearing was originally intended to last three days but has now been progressing for three weeks with an adjournment now in place until December 11th to allow Judge and Counsel to participate in other cases.

Whilst the hearing is progressing well from the point of view of the Christian Pastors time taken is of course adding enormously to the costs associated with the hearing.

We are indebted to Salt Shakers Ministry in Melbourne for the material from which this report is compiled.

Highlights of the evidence given to date is as follows:-

The Islamic Council sought, and was granted permission, to broaden the hearing from just the complaints lodged by their members to include the whole seminar proceedings. This allowed all tapes of the seminar to be played in court and heard in full by the Judge hearing the case. This has proven to be a tactical error by the Islamic Council and one of the most important factors in favour of the Christian Pastors as evidenced by comments made by Judge Higgins who is hearing the case.

He indicated that when he first read the transcript of the seminar he thought the first part breached the act, but as he heard the full seminar he had doubts. ”The speaker talks about concern for Muslims, the need to create a dialogue with Muslims, he talks about the need to develop relationships with them, mixing socially etc. Is the document as a whole an incitement to hatred as set out in the act? ”If you stop at page 67 it’s pretty easy to say yes, but when you go through the rest, then I think the first view you might adopt starts to wane somewhat,” the judge said.

The Judge also sought to play down reports that a negative verdict against the Pastors involved in this case could result in them being placed in prison. He stated that under the act imprisonment was not an option and that apologies, written statements, compensation for the aggrieved party, or in extreme cases, fines of up to $6,000 for individuals or $30,000 for corporations were the only options available as punishment under the Act.

The Islamic Council sought to refer the Judge to another similar case where a court had found Christians guilty of vilification (we assume this was overseas) and to accept this as a case precedent. Upon investigation the Counsel acting for Catch the Fire Ministries was able to point out that that verdict had been in fact overturned on appeal which turned the point the Islamic Council was seeking to make, one in favour of Pastors Nalliah & Scot.

In evidence one of the three complaintants for the Islamic Council, Jan Jackson, under cross examination admitted she obtained her interpretation of the Qur’an from other people and that there were diverse views of Islam amongst Muslims. Her connections to the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) were also explored. She admitted she knew May Helou a former head of the ICV Women’s Network and that this lady worked with the Equal Opportunity Council as an educator to help people understand how this Religious Vilification Act worked. The barrister concluded with a statement that this was ‘set-up’ and that she went to the seminar with pre-existing ideas. She had only attended parts of the seminar and the barrister took her to parts of the transcript that said Christians should love Muslims.

A second witness put forward by the Islamic Council was Malcolm Thomas. When questioned about his knowledge of the Qur’an he acknowledged that he was not a scholar of the Qur’an. He was informed of the meeting by May Helou former head of the Islamic Council Womens Network. It appeared from his evidence that one of the things that concerned him was the fervent prayer for Pastor Scot at the end of the meeting. [He then stated that he grew up in the Methodist Church and had not been to an evangelical Christian meeting before.]

The third complaintant in the case, Domenyk Eades, did not attend the hearing but was interviewed by telephone from Oman where he is currently living. He was questioned as to whether his recollections of what Pastor Scot said matched the transcript record of what Pastor Scot actually said in the seminar. He thought that his recollections reflected what was said but had not done a detailed comparison after receiving the transcript. (In fact they were very different) Barrister for the Christian Pastors, Mr Perkins, read the relevant sections to Mr Eades to highlight the differences in these sections of the witness statement which related to ”abrogation’ (when one verse of the Qur’an replaces, or cancels out, another) and payments made for conversions. David Perkins repeatedly voiced concern that this witness was in Oman and had chosen not to attend the hearing, and that he seemed very unprepared for the cross examination.

Yasser Soliman, President of the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), also gave evidence. Under cross examination he was questioned on his role at the ICV, whether the ICV was a representative body for all Muslims and on the membership of the ICV. He said that the ICV does not have individual members but Islamic Societies are members of the ICV. A Society has to have aminimum of 100 members to join the ICV and a membership fee of $1 per member is paid to the ICV. David Perkins, barrister for Catch the Fire, noted that the annual statement of the ICV showed that the membership fees in 2001-2002 had contributed $1000 to their funds.(While discussing this issue David commented that this meant only 1000 members. Yasser Soliman said this represented 10 Societies and suggested that Societies often only declared they had 100 members so they did not have to pay more money!)

David Perkins noted that Yasser Soliman had responded to a statement made by an Afghan cleric declaring a holy war on Australia in 2001. He then asked what dealings the ICV had had with Afghanistan prior to 2001, Mr Soliman said none. Mr Perkins then produced an official document that revealed the ICV had given money to the mujahideen in Afghanistan prior to September 2001. Mr Soliman acknowledged that, but said the ICV had not made a payment to them since September 2001.

Christian witnesses called by the Islamic Council included Father Patrick McInerney, of the Columban Mission Institute who was questioned mainly on matters relating to the Qur’an and Christianity.The hearing also heard from Professor Gary Bouma, a professor of sociology at Monash University who studies the sociology of religion and ethnic groups. Cross examination by Catch the Fire Barrister David Perkins, revealed that he had been asked by the Islamic Council to assist them, and agreed to do this before reading the transcript of the seminar. It was also revealed under cross-examination that he is an Anglican minister who speaks on inter-faith relationships.

These witnesses appear to have had little impact on the case other than to highlight differences of opinion regarding Islam within the Christian Church. In fact the Judge made a statement that at least some of the evidence of Professor Bouma actually supported the case of the defendants.

The Judge put forward the question of mediation, saying the case was getting out of control, and asked the parties to consider whether mediation could resolve the matter. The barrister for Catch The Fire Ministries, David Perkins, said they would be willing to consider mediation, but the QC for the Islamic Council wanted to delay such a consideration. Previous attempts at mediation earlier in the 18 month process of this case have failed due to the Islamic Council insisting on nothing less than an admission of guilt and a full public apology from the Christian Pastors involved.

The case will resume on Thursday 11th December and further reports will follow later next month.

Please continue to pray for Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot and all others involved in this case.

The following prayer points are given to assist you in this regard.

Please give thanks:

– that God has been revealing important matters to the court, and

– he has been bringing the complex issues involved into clearer focus

Please pray:

– for things hidden to be revealed, specifically concerning the planning that was involved in arranging for the complaint to be made

– for the case to go to the full extent that God desires, and not be cut off short or delayed more than it should

– for clarity and fairness in the judge’s mind

– for all the witnesses, including those for the Islamic Council

– for freedom of speech to be preserved in our land

– for individuals and groups to be protected from vexatious complaints in the future

– for the Equal Opportunity Commission’s role in these matters to be scrutinized and understood clearly

– for strength, wisdom and gifts of speech for the barrister for Catch the Fire Ministries,

http://www.christiansincrisis.net/newsu.php3?headline=1221

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