The Greens’ Shane Rattenbury successfully pushed through a well-meaning yet dangerous amendment to Australia’s Discrimination Act that has expanded the scope of the Act to cover religious “vilification”. This amendment has essentially brought back the blasphemy law in Australia’s capital territory. The reason behind Rattenbury’s amendment is related to the horrible and ignorant bigotry some Muslims have experienced in Australia in recent years, a problem certainly worth addressing. Having made this initial concession, it must be said that this amendment is not only a horribly inefficient way of remedying anti-Muslim bigotry, but it is also an affront to the cornerstone human right to freedom of expression, upheld by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia has ratified. But here we run into the first problem with the protection of this fundamental human right. Freedom of expression is expressly protected by the ICCPR in the following words:
Article 18 subsection 1:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
Further, Article 19 subsection 2 states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
These provisions make it perfectly clear that even atheists have a right to express their disbelief and contempt for certain inhumane and ridiculous religious teachings. The problem, however, is that subsections attached to these two articles nullify this freedom.
Article 18 subsection 3 limits this freedom:
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Article 19 subsection 3B reiterates these limitations:
It [freedom of expression] may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
B: For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
These broad and ambiguous limitations have made it possible for member states to pass and maintain human rights-infringing blasphemy laws. Naturally, the ‘provided by law’ exception is necessary for the protection of each nation’s sovereignty, however, it has the effect of making this particular human right subject to the limitations of each of the member states’ laws, which, in many cases expressly prohibit freedom of expression. Further, the ‘order’ and ‘morals’ exclusions are also heavily relied upon by proponents of blasphemy laws to hinder the rights of dissidents and minorities within nations that employ blasphemy laws to restrict the rights of their people. You can read more about this issue here.
Australia’s brand new blasphemy law has been successful due to the fact that it is, perhaps unwittingly, disguised as an anti-vilification law, but if you read its scope and the kinds of conduct it criminalizes, it becomes clear that it is nothing but a blasphemy law.
In her article for the Canberra Times, Kirsten Lawson reported:
Vilification on the grounds of religion is now illegal and in serious cases could result in a criminal conviction with a fine of up to $7500…Vilification can include social media posts, actions in a workplace and wearing clothes, signs or flags that would incite hatred, contempt, ridicule or revulsion.
The new amendment also prohibits ‘offensive behaviour’, which, as mentioned above, extends to social media posts and clothing choices. My primary objection to this new amendment is that it attempts to protect a supremely powerful social institution (religion) from justified contempt and criticism, and protecting religion from ridicule, contempt and revulsion, which this “vilification” amendment seeks to do, creates a situation in which contemptuous, revulsive, hateful and ridiculous religious beliefs are shielded from necessary criticism and contempt, thereby empowering religious persecutors whilst further disenfranchising their victims, who are most frequently women, children and members of the LGBT community.
I will Now Intentionally Break This New Law
Thankfully, I don’t live in the ACT, but I have a feeling that this new amendment is only the first stage in a concerted effort to make such laws apply across the nation and to all citizens.
Anyway, here we go:
Surah 4:34 of the Qur’an reads:
Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband’s] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.
I hate this verse. But not only do I hate this verse, I encourage everyone who cares about women’s rights to hate this verse. I openly express contempt for this Quranic verse and I strongly urge you to express contempt for this Quranic verse. This vile verse is ridiculous because it asserts that Allah, who is but the copy-and-pasted sky-wizard of the Bible, created women to be the obedient slaves of men. This is just one verse of many from the Quran that I find revulsive, ridiculous and worthy of contempt and I emphatically encourage everyone who places human rights above human beliefs to find such teachings revulsive, ridiculous and contemptuous.
Here is an article on other religious vilification laws in Australia.