Is This the Death of Christianity in Australia?

by Bill Muehlenberg

I just returned from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Melbourne, where the two Christian pastors have been found of guilty of vilifying Muslims. The decision handed down this morning marks the beginning of the end of freedom of speech in Australia, and the official restriction of proclaiming the Christian gospel.

While the full report of 100 pages will not appear until next week, a short summary by Judge Higgins said that the two Danny"s (Daniel Scot and Daniel Nalliah) breached section 8 of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 which says a person cannot engage in conduct that "incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons".

While exemptions are in place for "any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purposes; or any purpose that is in the public interest", the Judge found that these exceptions did not here apply, because the person's conduct could "not be regarded as reasonable and in good faith".

Interestingly, section 9 of the Act says a "person's motive in engaging in any conduct is irrelevant". If so, how can one be accused of acting in bad faith? Who decides what is reasonable here or unreasonable?

The Judge said that Pastor Scot "failed to differentiate between Muslims throughout the world, that he preached a literal translation of the Quran and of Muslims' religious practices which were not mainstream".

Most Muslims would of course object to this, arguing that they do adhere to a literal understanding and translation of the Quran. And how does a secular judge with no expertise in religion make such decisions, when Islamic scholars themselves are divided on such crucial questions of theology, interpretation and exegesis?

Much of what the Judge considered offensive was simply quotations from the Quran itself. To argue that quoting a religious book makes one guilty of vilification would put 98% of religious discussions out of bounds.

The whole tenure of the ruling is that one religious group cannot frankly and openly speak of another religion, for fear of vilification. Or in this case, it amounts to shutting up Christians who dare try to criticize Muslims or any other religion.

The exclusive claims of the Christian gospel, in other words, are directly at threat here. We mounted a determined fight about this law when it was first introduced in 2000. We said it would put at risk freedom of speech in general and would act as an anti-Christian law in particular.

This is exactly what we are now seeing. Christians should be greatly concerned about this decision, as should all who value freedom of speech.

The truth is, probably the majority of what any Christian has said or written about other faiths will be found to be vilifying, based on the decisions of the Judge. Many of us are now liable for jail terms or hefty fines.

This could well be the beginning of a government-sanctioned crackdown on Christianity in Victoria. And if some Federal Labor MPs have their way, national laws would be introduced as well, threatening believers right across the country.

What is to be done?

The sentences have not yet been handed down, and appeals will undoubtedly be forthcoming, even though great expense has already been incurred by the two Pastors.

In the meantime, several things can be done. We should all make a public protest about this decision. Write letters to newspapers, get on talk-back radio, contact your Victorian MPs.

Also, the Victorian legislation needs to be turned back. Write to your local State MP, asking that this destructive law be removed.

Also, we need, like in the US, to set up Christian legal aid groups to battle these sorts of laws and decisions.

Finally, we all need to pray, and pray hard.

This is a very serious decision indeed. Much more detailed analysis needs to go into the decision, including a close look at the full 100 page finding. But the initial prospects do not look good at all.

This decision must serve as a wake up call to all believers. We are in very real danger of losing our religious freedoms in Australia. Do we care enough about our faith to finally wake up from our slumber and start to act and pray? Or will it be business as usual?

All Christians should be concerned by this decision. Unfortunately not all are. The Uniting Church in Victoria and Tasmania put out a media release immediately after the decision, welcoming it! They said they were concerned about "small Christian extremist groups in Victoria that are damaging the reputation and good name of the broader Christian community"

Of course if your gospel is one that makes no distinctions and offers no exclusive truth claims, then sure, we can all share one big religious bandwagon. But if you believe that the claims of Christ are distinctive and exclusive, that truth is important, then this decision is alarming.

The question is, are you ready for prison ministry? That is where many of us may soon be heading if this decision stands. Now is the time for people of faith to stand up and be counted. If we do not, we may well see the death of Christianity in Australia.