Religious Vilification complaint - finally resolved
It is over FIVE years since three people from the Islamic Council of Victoria attended a seminar given by Pastor Daniel Scot about Islam - and then lodged a complaint, along with the ICV, against him and Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries (who organised the seminar and wrote about Islam in his Newsletter).
The case was finally RESOLVED on 22 June, 2007.
The case was heard by Judge Michael Higgins at VCAT in 2003-2004 and he found that the Pastors had breached the Act - the decision was handed down on 17 December 2004. He then made certain orders against the pastors in mid-2005.
CTFM and the pastors appealed to the Victorian Supreme Court - Court of Appeal - and the appeal was heard in August 2006. In December 2006 the Appeal was upheld. Justice Nettle found that the wrong test had been applied and also that Judge Higgins had made errors concerning what Pastor Scot had actually said (for instance he found that Pastor Scot did NOT say that 'Muslims were demons' as the media are fond of reporting). The three Court of Appeal judges sent the case back to VCAT for a re-hearing, by a different Member, on the same evidence as the previous hearing. The Appeal Court ordered that half the costs of the pastors for the appeal should be paid by the ICV. [CTFM already had to pay $40,000 to the ICV for a previous legal hearing during the case.]
Back at VCAT, the parties agreed to go to a mediation prior to the re-hearing to see if the case could be resolved. The case was finally resolved at a Mediation at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Friday 22 June 2007. If mediation had not resolved the complaint it would have gone to a re-hearing at VCAT in December 2007.
The ICV has agreed to withdraw the complaint! The two parties issued a joint statement. An agreement was reached about the payment of costs (as ordered by the Court of Appeal).
The official Statement put out jointly by Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah Pastor Daniel Scot, and the Islamic Council of Victoria is as follows:
Is it really resolved?
For the pastors, the long battle is over.
The agreement affirms the right to robustly debate and criticise religion.
BUT the pastors would say that they did not vilify and were only robustly criticising another religion. They were put through a great deal of angst and expense because of the complaint - and the LAW!
This case has brought worldwide attention to the threat to free speech imposed by such laws. Similar laws in NSW, SA and WA have been prevented. The pastors have spoken about their case in the UK and in the USA and forestalled similar laws there.
BUT the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act is still in place and still intimidates anyone else who may be bold enough to criticise a religion or someone's religious belief. People are unsure what 'action' or speech might result in a complaint that then has to be defended! The message for many is just to keep quiet. . .
The Act is an impediment to reasonable free speech and needs to go!
Church and Islamic council bury hatchet
Handshake ends Vic Christian, Muslim row
Vilification battle ends
Pastors Settle 'Vilifying Islam' Case