$5,500 Fine for Anti-Pope T-Shirt

By Iain Clacher
July 2, 2008

Demonstrators protesting the Pope's visit to Sydney for World Youth Day celebrations this month will defy "repugnant" laws that lawyers warn could see fines of up to $5,500 slapped on protesters for wearing an "offensive" T-shirt.

The laws, which give police powers to arrest anyone they deem is causing "an annoyance or inconvenience" to the event, will apply to 40 Sydney city locations, including museums, galleries, cinemas, parks and any venues where the Pope will appear.

Signs like this will likely earn you a fine.

Police and supporting staff from fires services may also subject people entering hundreds of other "declared areas" to be subject to car, baggage and partial strip-searches.

Though the event runs from July 15 to July 20, the regulations come into force for the entire month of July.

Rachel Evans from the NoToPope Coalition said the group, which plans to hand out condoms to Catholic youth visiting Sydney, would defy the laws.

"Australia is supposed to be a democracy. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?" Evans told Evolution Online.

"We will be defying the laws by wearing T-shirts that have a range of messages on them, including 'The Pope is wrong: put a condom on'.

"We're calling for all people to come out and wear T-shirts and defy the law. We must do it together.

"After the heavy handed APEC debacle, you'd think the NSW government would at least accept public dissent to this taxpayer-funded religious circus, rather than try and silence it with this over the top approach.

"Only the most hardened, right- wing conservatives would describe these laws as fair. Any reasonable Australian would describe them as offensive and unjust."

Deputy Commissioner of NSW Police Dave Owens refused to rule out the possibility that the regulations could be used to arrest someone wearing an "offensive" T-shirt or handing out condoms.

"There are individual circumstances that will have to be dealt with individually," Owens said in a media statement.

"Police officers always maintain a discretion, and I expect them to use that discretion."

He said police would facilitate protests that were "law-abiding".

However, a representative of victims of sexual abuse group Broken Rites has revealed senior police told them that all protest messages would need to be pre-approved.

"It will anger a lot of people who are very frustrated as they can't get anywhere with the church and now they are losing the right to get out there and tell the world," Broken Rites spokesperson Chris MacIsaac told the Sydney Morning Herald.

President of the New South Wales Bar Association Anna Katzmann said the laws were "repugnant".

"First of all, the government has by-passed the normal parliamentary scrutiny that would be available if they were introduced by an Act of Parliament," she said.

"Secondly, they are an unreasonable interference with people's freedom of speech and movement.

"If I were to wear a T-shirt proclaiming that 'World Youth Day is a waste of public money' and refuse to remove it when an officer asks me to, I would commit a criminal offence," she said.

"How ridiculous is that?"

Rachel Evans said members of the NoToPope Coalition, which opposes the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality, abortion and contraception, will march as planned along the Mardi Gras route towards Randwick Racecourse on July 19, where they will hand condoms to the some of the 500,000 pilgrims gathered there.

"We will protect our civil liberties and help young people to protect their health, and no pope or premier will stop us" Evans said.

And condoms could prove very useful according to at least one Sydney brothel, which is putting on extra staff during the event.

Sydney brothel Xclusive is expecting an increase in trade.

"We will get a lot of tourists, pilgrims and we will still get the curious," a spokeswoman for Xclusive told AFP.

"The World Council of Churches, when they had their congress in Canberra back in the 1990s that was the best business period ever.

"Obviously we're not promoting it at your traditional Catholic community and it's unlikely we will get priests through. But there'll be lots of tourists in town and there'll be lots of people in town."

The event is claimed to attract up to 500,000 pilgrims.


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