Australia

Christian Pastors Taken to Court to Silence Criticism of Islam

12 September 2003

Two Christian pastors have been taken to court by the Islamic Council of Victoria
and three Australian Muslims after making critical statements about the Islamic
faith on a website and at a seminar for Christians held in March last year.

A complaint of religious vilification was made against the two Christian pastors,
Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot.  The complaint deals with many issues, such as the
nature of jihad, aspirations of Muslims in the west, and the connection between
the laws of jihad and the treatment of non-Muslims under Islam.

The Victorian Racial and Religious Vilification Act was passed in 2001 and has
yet to be fully put to the test.  It was established in order to promote
intercultural and interfaith harmony in Victoria, in support of democratic
ideals, in itself a worthy aim.  Victoria has established an Equal Opportunity
Commission which is empowered to develop programs under this legislation.  One
of their programs, called “Stand up to Racism”, promotes positive regard for
Islam's stand on universal human rights.

The complaint against the two pastors has had to be mediated through this same
Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission, but attempts at achieving conciliation
failed. Following this the Islamic Council of Victoria brought the case before
the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, a legal court which has the
power to impose a significant fine against the two pastors, if they are found
guilty.  The case is due to be heard at the Tribunal in mid-October 2003.

To pursue their complaint, the well-funded Islamic Council of Victoria has
retained the services of the prestigious Australian law firm, Allens Arthur
Robinson, which has offices in seven countries throughout the Asia-Pacific
Region.

The case is one of the first to be brought under the new legislation and its
result will set an important precedent which will have influence and
ramifications not only in Victoria, but also in other parts of Australia.  Many
evangelical Christians in the state fear that the Islamic Council of Victoria is
using the case to stifle all criticism of Islam or Muslims, in effect bringing
in a pseudo-blasphemy law to protect Islam.  Similar legislation against
religious ‘hate speech’ is currently before parliament in both New Zealand and
the UK and is prompting serious concern from libertarians and supporters of free
speech who fear the similar misuse of such laws.

DANIEL SCOT
The fact that one of the defendants is Pastor Daniel Scot is bitterly ironic. 
Scot, a Pakistani Christian, became one of the first victims of Pakistan’s
notorious blasphemy laws when in 1986 he was charged with insulting the Islamic
prophet Muhammad, which under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code carries a
death sentence.  The blasphemy laws have attracted widespread condemnation from
human rights groups and the international community for their harsh punishments
and the way they have been misused to target vulnerable religious minorities
(link http://www.barnabasfund.org/News/Archive/Pakistan/Pakistan-20030821.htm). 
Scot had been threatened by the council of the college in Okara, Pakistan, where
he worked, that a charge would be brought against him unless he converted to
Islam.  The charge was brought after he refused to do so and explained his belief
that his spiritual salvation could come only from Jesus Christ, and not Muhammad.
Political pressure meant that Daniel was never prosecuted.  However, he was
forced to flee to Australia with his family to escape the threat of Islamic
extremists who have since murdered four Christians accused of blasphemy in
Pakistan.

Now seventeen years later, having fled religious discrimination in Pakistan, Scot
 again finds himself accused of a similar crime in Australia, the country in
which he originally found refuge. This is an indication of the growing trend to
place Islamic teaching and Muslim actions beyond the bounds of criticism, not
only in the Islamic world, but also, as a result of misguided ideas of political
correctness, in the West as well.  It is a bitter twist that Scot, an Asian
Christian, should face this accusation from three white Australian converts to
Islam who unannounced attended the March 2002 seminar (intended for the religious
instruction of Christians only – and as such should fall outside the remit of
the Act) and took offence resulting in the complaint.  In a painfully ironic
reversal a law designed to prevent racial and religious abuse under which the
Equal Opportunity Commission operates is being used by three white men to attack
an Asian.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH
It is clear from the charges brought against Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot, that
both may well have been unwise in their choice of words, and over-the-top in
some of their criticisms of Islamic teaching.  However it would be a travesty of
justice should their statements be found illegal in a country which claims to be
a strong advocate of freedom of speech and expression.  One of the grounds of
the complaint is that Pastor Daniel Scot mentioned in a seminar that Muslim
fundamentalists have the responsibility to “kill” apostates from Islam.  This
was cited in the complaint as unlawful vilification of Muslim believers. 

This is despite the fact that the death penalty for apostates from Islam is an
extremely well documented part of Islamic law (shari’a) and is well attested by
Muslim sources both historically and today
(Application http://www.barnabasfund.org/Apostasy/application.htm
Consequences http://www.barnabasfund.org/Apostasy/Consequences.htm). 
Furthermore it is not merely a matter of language or legal niceties but a very
real problem for thousands of converts around the world today which has resulted
in many deaths attested to by numerous creditable human rights organizations. 
Nevertheless it seems that merely drawing attention to this problem may be
considered a vilification of Islam; in future converts may have to suffer in
silence and those who seek to draw attention to their plight may face
prosecution for offending Muslim sensibilities.

However Muslims in Victoria may, in the future, find this law being used against
them.  For if drawing attention to the more unpalatable teachings of one
particular religion is to be regarded as religious vilification, surely the
actual expounding of those teachings will certainly attract prosecution under
this law.  The next time Qur’anic verses such as the famous sword verse, “But
when the forbidden months are past, then fight them and slay the Pagans wherever
 ye find them, and seize them and beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in
every stratagem (of war)” (9:5  A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation
and Commentary and Meaning) are quoted in a mosque, there may be anonymous
pagans in the audience who take offence and bring a case against them for
‘unlawful vilification’.  Could the unpalatable verses of the Qur’an
(together with those of the scriptures of other religions) be effectively banned
in Victoria?

The two Australian pastors are seeking the support of international experts in
Islam to assist in their defense.  Inquiries about the case can be sent to Mark
Durie (markd@shack.org.au).
PRAY

• Pray that a just decision would be reached that does not set a precedent
restricting freedom of speech.

• Pray that similar legislation in the UK and New Zealand will have
suitable safeguards ensuring the protection of free speech.


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