Australia Makes It Illegal to Annoy Catholics

National Secular Society (United Kingdom)

July 5, 2008

In preparation for the visit of Pope Ratzinger for the “World Youth Day”, the authorities in New South Wales, Australia, have sneaked in new laws to prevent “annoyance or inconvenience” to Catholics participating in the event. The police have told organisations planning to campaign during the event that they must have placards, banners and T-shirts pre-approved or risk losing their protest “rights” – even for those groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

The NSW Government immediately faced a public backlash when the news emerged of the laws. An online retailer is already advertising T-shirts with the slogan: “$5,500 – a small price to pay for annoying Catholics”. Another reads: “The Pope touched me down under”.

During a meeting with two leading groups supporting the victims of clerical abuse, senior police said protesters would also have to include details of their planned messages. Protesting without police clearance could result in charges. NSW police also travelled to Melbourne to instruct victims of sex abuse on how they should behave if they decide to protest. A NSW police spokesman confirmed officers were seeking out potential protesters to warn them off behaviour that may offend or threaten participants in the event.

In an e-mail to the Melbourne-based victim support group Broken Rites, NSW police offered to update the group on “new legislation” in NSW as they were aware that other groups “may be attempting to recruit members of your organisation to protest”. Broken Rites president Chris Maclsaac said the laws would “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”.

Other protesters said they would defy the regulations, risk­ing a A$5500 fine. Rachel Evans, spokeswoman for the NoToPope coalition, which is planning to hand out condoms at a 19 July rally, said: “We will protect our civil liberties and help young people to protect their health, and no Pope or premier will stop us.”

David Nicholls, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc, is encouraging people to defy the law. He said; “When governments enact laws or police overstep their discriminatory powers in enforcement, against the common good, the obligation upon the public is to react with civil disobedience.”

Ian Robinson of the Rationalist Society of Australia said: “World Youth Day itself is very annoying to most non-Catholics in Australia and extremely inconvenient for those living in Sydney.”


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