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Australian Religious Vilification Laws

Australian Religious Vilification Laws

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Published by Nigel Lo
Discusses the impact of religious vilification laws on society.
Discusses the impact of religious vilification laws on society.

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Categories:Business/Law
Published by: Nigel Lo on Jul 09, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/18/2014

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RELIGIOUS VILIFICATION LAWS IN AUSTRALIACopyright 2012 © Nigel Lowww.Nigel-Lo.com 
INTRODUCTION
Designed to address racial and religious slander in each State, the parliaments of Queensland andVictoria enacted legislation in 2001 entitled the “Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic)”while the Queensland statute was more conventionally named the “Anti-Discrimination AmendmentAct 2001 (Qld)”. The statutes hold the vision and purpose to enable aggrieved victims or their champions to lodge a complaint of racial or religious vilification with the relevant state authorities.In addition, both statutes prescribe criminal offences for more serious incidents of racial or religiousintimidation, harassment, abuse or violence. The Victorian Act is a new enactment in its own rightwhereas the Queensland statute takes effect to amend the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991(ADA (Qld)). The new Victorian provisions commenced on 1 January 2002 and the Queensland provisions in June 2001. This paper addresses the nature of Australia’s anti religious vilificationlaws and its impact on the freedom of speech through its implementation.
ANTI- RELIGIOUS VILIFICATION LAWS: NATURE, SCOPE & PURPOSE
There have always been implied codes of conduct to promote harmony within the community.
 Harmony
is an essential element of unity and peace which has for long played a part in upholdingtolerance among different races and religious groups. ‘Harmony' requires more than ‘respect and justice.' ‘Real harmony' is only possible when the cause of the friction is removed. The alternative isa mutual ‘respect' for the differing viewpoints. In both cases it can only be achieved throughdialogue on the basis of reason. Equal ‘justice' is presumed to apply in every situation and at alltimes.
1
 With regards to the terms “Religious freedom” and “Vilification”, such terms have been oftenmisinterpreted or loosely defined and such aspects are seldom recognised or applied.
1
Keith Cormish,
 Racial and Religious Vilification (WA)
(2004) Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
.<
http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au/submissions/racial-and-religious-vilification-wa> at 4 September 2012.
 
‘Religious freedom' should imply ‘freedom from religion' but this aspect is seldom recognised or applied.
2
This is particularly noticeable and present in public schools where parents or guardiansmust submit written application for the children or child under their care to be excused fromattending religious education sessions. There are many areas where religious organisations aregranted special privileges which are denied to non-religious organisations. ‘Vilification' on the other hand is very loosely defined term and will need a much better definition. While ‘racial vilification'is defined, ‘religious vilification' is not defined. As ‘religious belief' is defined therefore, to avoiddiscrimination, ‘non-religious belief' must also be defined.
3
Vilification might take many forms in aworkplace. The
scope
of vilification would include
 public acts
such as hate-speech, racist gesturesor graffiti, racist material posted on Internet sites, or through workplace intranet or email messagingsystems, the distribution of pamphlets or stickers and the wearing of clothing, insignia or badgeswith racist or derogatory religious meaning. Given the applicability of the legislation to work relations, and the climate of heightened racial and religious tension in Australia, it appears to be particularly timely to note these new Victorian and Queensland provisions on racial and religiousvilification and to briefly discuss their potential application in work contexts.
4
Anti-vilification laws play an important role in ensuring that people can live free of mental and physical violence.
5
The preamble of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic), whilerecognising that “freedom of speech is an essential component of a democratic society” expressesthe rationale for anti-vilification legislation as follows:
2
Ibid.
3
Ibid.
4
Alan Chapman , “New Vilification Laws and Victorian and Queensland Work Relationships” (2002) 15
 AJLL
277.
5
M Jones, “Empowering Victims of Racism by Outlawing Spirit-Murder” (1994) 1
 Australian Jnl of Human Rights
.
 
“Vilifying conduct is contrary to democratic values because of its effect on people of diverse ethnic,indigenous and religious backgrounds. It diminishes their dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging to the community. It also reduces their ability to contribute to, or fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals, thus reducing the benefit that diversitybrings to the community”
Such laws arguably set public standards and provide a platform for education of the public and particular sections of it such as the media.
6
The possibility of significant awards of damages,adverse publicity and the threat of criminal charges may also act as a brake on the most extremeforms of racist, homophobic and transgender violence, harassment and intimidation. In the years prior to the introduction of Commonwealth legislation, three national enquiries into race-relatedissues recommended legislation in relation to racial and religious hatred.
7
The “Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) (R&RTA)” starts with an extensive preambleof four paragraphs, which sets out specific
objects and purpose
clauses. The content of these provisions reflects the contentious context of this enactment. The preamble also reflects on thevalues of 
‘freedom of expression’
in addition to the ‘right of all citizens to participate equally insociety’, the diverse ethnic and indigenous and religious backgrounds of people of Victoria, and thatslanderous conduct contradicts directly the democratic values for they diminish the ‘dignity, senseof self-worth and belonging to the community’ of the people vilified.The statute recites that vilifying conduct: “
also reduces … [people's] ability to contribute to, or  fully participate in, all social, political, economic and cultural aspects of society as equals, thusreducing the benefit that diversity brings to the community
”.
6
 N Hennessy and P Smith, “Have We Got it Right? NSW Racial Vilification Laws Five Years On” (1994) 1
 Australian Jnl of Human Rights
7
Mary Tibbey, “Developments in anti-vilification laws” (2001) 21
 Aust Bar Rev
, 204.

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