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Free speech farce

Andrew Bolt 24jun05

PREMIER Steve Bracks promised four years ago to give us “racial and religious tolerance” if we gave up our free speech.

What fools people were to believe him. You could see the “tolerance” his vilification laws gave us this week when two pastors became the first to be punished, after criticising the Koran.

Police were posted outside the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to watch Christians and Muslims bicker, and the pastors – Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah – were escorted by security guards.

Protesters waved placards, and in a radio interview a heated Nalliah was told by a hostile ABC presenter to “mind your p’s and q’s” and had his reply censored.

All this before he and Scot were even jailed – as they likely will be – for refusing to accept the unfair punishment ordered by Justice Michael Higgins.

Gee, that worked well, Premier. Much more of your tolerance and we might actually get ourselves a war.

Oh, the promises that were made when this shiny-eyed government introduced its vilification laws.

They would “prohibit only the most noxious forms of conduct”, Bracks claimed.

Yet we’ve since had complaints by a transgender witch against a Christian councillor who warned against covens; by a One Nation candidate cross that I’m too nice to Jews and Chinese; and by a pedophile witch upset that the Salvation Army uses an anti-witch King James version of the Bible in prison classes.

Every case, each more trivial than the last, involves worry and legal costs. Each one makes yet more people too scared to talk freely.

Then there was that other promise – that the laws would “promote . . . tolerance”. Instead, they’ve set us at each other’s throat.

Take this case against Nalliah and Scott, pastors with the Catch the Fires pentecostal church.

Without Bracks’ laws, these men would have quietly given their church seminar on jihad three years ago to 250 fellow worshippers and none of us would have even known. But the laws changed everything.

They inspired the Equal Opportunity Commission to urge Muslims to complain, and one EOC employee, May Helou, even asked three converts from the Islamic Council of Victoria — of which she was an official — to drop in on the pastors’ seminar.

So began a three-year prosecution against the pastors that has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last December, Judge Higgins finally ruled that Scot in particular had offended by quoting the Koran in a way that got “a response from the audience at various times in the form of laughter”. Is laughter now a crime?

Stranger still, he gave 13 examples of how Scot had “made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct”, at least eight of which involved him quoting the Koran, and, I believe, accurately. Yes, the Koran indeed authorises men to beat their wives. Yes, it indeed calls for thieving hands to be chopped off.

What did Scot say that was false? The judge listed just two trivial examples, but also said Scot hadn’t made clear enough he was giving a literalist reading of the Koran that wasn’t mainstream.

Did he? Isn’t it? On such points, so deserving of debate, Scot was convicted of stating the wrong opinion.

But if the judgment was strange, so was the penalty.

Scot and Nalliah must now run four big advertisements, costing $70,000, in the Herald Sun and The Age, declaring they’ve been found guilty of bad-mouthing Muslims.

Oddly, these apologies must reach not just the 250 people who were at their seminar, but 2.5 million newspaper readers who weren’t. Odder still, the judge ordered the pastors to never even imply what they’d said about the Koran. They are banned from speaking their mind not only in Victoria, but anywhere in Australia, where others are still free to say what they may not.

Not surprisingly, the pastors say they’d rather go to jail than comply. Let’s see if Bracks dares let this happen.

He should note, though, that other Labor leaders have seen this disaster of his and promised never to make such a mistake themselves.

NSW Premier Bob Carr announced on Tuesday he’d fight plans by an independent MP to introduce such laws, warning: “The Victorian experience spells out how anti-religious vilification can be misused.” Likewise, South Australia’s Attorney General, Michael Atkinson, dropped a similar proposal, agreeing “they are liable to misuse”.

As we’ve seen.

Enough. These laws shame us by curbing our right to freely debate what free people deserve to debate. And they harm us by creating the strife they promised to end.

Ask yourself: Before this week, did you ever see on TV Christians and Muslims quarrelling on our streets? Scrap these sorry laws now.


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