Cleric says hate law abused

Herald Sun, Australia/September 26, 2008

Victoria's religious hatred law is open to manipulation by groups who want to stifle criticism of their faith, a Uniting Church minister says.

Cult expert the Rev David Millikan said the original intention of the law was being undermined.

"If the purpose of the law is to protect religion from excessive and pernicious comments, then fair enough," he told the Herald Sun.

"But if it means that journalists and experts have got to be careful when they're doing nothing more than reporting matters of fact, then the law is allowed to become an ass."

The Rev Millikan said the Exclusive Brethren, a Christian cult, was threatening him with the state's religious vilification laws over comments he had made about the group.

The Sydney-based minister often gives interviews and legal evidence about cults.

The Rev Millikan said he was worried that the law was being used in a bid to shut down factually based criticism of religion.

"We have available to us instruments elsewhere within the law to protect the rights of religion, and that (religious vilification) law is not really doing its job," he said.

"The law is open to manipulation."

In a high-profile case, two Victorian Christian pastors were found to have vilified Muslims in 2002 during a seminar and in some publications.

Danny Naliah and Daniel Scot, from Catch the Fire Ministries, eventually had the ruling overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Last year 29 inquiries and four complaints relating to alleged religious vilification were received by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

Commission CEO Helen Szoke said the Rev Millikan appeared to misunderstand the purpose of racial and religious hatred laws.

"If a journalist or an academic or a commentator is discussing a race or religious matter, and they're doing that in the course of their work and in good faith . . . then that doesn't constitute vilification," Dr Szoke said.

"The concept of vilification is about inciting hatred and really promoting and provoking serious contempt and revulsion of other people because of their race or religion."

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