Anti-Pope Activists Given Legal Right to 'Annoy' Catholic Pilgrims

By Roy Eccleston
The Times (United Kingdom)
July 15, 2008

Australian anti-pope activists have won the right to "annoy" Catholic pilgrims at the week-long World Youth Day celebrations in Sydney after a court struck down a new law and backed their right to hand out condoms and coat-hangers.

The decision by three judges in the Federal Court embarrassed the New South Wales Government, which introduced the new regulations this month, providing a fine of up to $5500 for anyone causing "annoyance" to the estimated 225,000 pilgrims who have flocked to Sydney to celebrate with Pope Benedict XVI.

Immediately after the victory, Rachel Evans, one of two 'No To Pope' protesters who took the case to court, started handing out condoms to pilgrims. One threw them on the ground and some were affronted, but Ms Evans said several took them.

Protesters, who claim the pope is homophobic, handed out free condoms to pilgrims
Photo by Rick Rycroft

"We're not seeking to annoy or inconvenience anyone," she said, wearing a T-shirt declaring 'The Pope is wrong, put a condom on'. "We welcome the Catholic youth. We're going to talk to them about how we oppose the conservative contraception policy of the Pope.

"The statement from the judges was very clear: we have the right to peaceful assembly and these annoyance laws contravene that right. The judges specifically said condoms, T-shirts, coat-hangers [symbols of backyard abortions] and so on."

The court decision coincided with the opening of World Youth Day, with a mass by Sydney Harbour attended by more than 150,000 people. Australia's most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, delivered the homily.

Cardinal Pell was earlier keen to ensure that his well-known doubts about climate change did not clash with the Pope's announcement on his flight to Sydney that it would be a key part of his message at the celebrations.

"I'm a bit of a sceptic about the claim that human activity is likely to produce a man-made catastrophe," the Cardinal confessed.

But he added that "we also very clearly have a moral obligation not to damage and destroy or ruthlessly use the environment at the expense of future generations."

Demonstrators wore anti-pope T-shirts earlier this week in an ’annoying’ fashion show
Photo by Greg Wood

The No To Pope protesters now hope the court's decision will boost numbers at a rally on Saturday where they plan to wear T-shirts condemning the pope, and hand out condoms and leaflets to pilgrims.

The New South Wales Government had claimed the new laws only extended to police the same rights to suppress trouble as they currently have for big sporting events. It stressed a ban on causing "inconvenience" remained.

But Ms Evans and another student activist, Amber Pike, argued that the law was unconstitutional because it infringed their right to peaceful protest.

The judges said the attempt to regulate annoying behaviour would affect freedom of speech because of uncertainty about how it could be defined.

The Catholic Church had no comment and the New South Wales Government said it would not appeal.

However, World Youth Day coordinator, Bishop Anthony Fisher, suggested before the decision that the ruling would reduce interest in the weekend protest rally "because they won't be protesting against the laws any more".

"Even people who have been a bit cranky with World Youth Day … will be swept along by the beauty and joy of these young people and they'll just want to be part of that," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.