Thursday, February 01, 2007

Australian Pastor Convicted for Criticizing Islam

Christian leaders from six continents gathered in New York City Jan. 26 to recognize an Australian pastor who became one of the first people indicted under the country’s new “religious vilification” law, which makes public criticism of any religion -– including Islam -– a hate crime.

In 2002, Scot found himself a defendant in the courts of Victoria in Australia. Three Muslim converts accused the pastor of vilifying Islam after he had given a series of lectures about the differences between Islam and Christianity. Scot’s indictment touched off a four-year legal battle. He was convicted and ordered to apologize to Muslims in a series of advertisements in Melbourne -– at a potential cost of nearly $50,000.

But Scot would not purchase the advertisements and launched an appeal in 2004. Mark Durie, vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Caulfield, in Melbourne, recounted at the dinner that Scot would not dishonor Christ or the Gospel by disavowing what he had said. Durie said Scot has a passion for sharing the Gospel with Muslims, adding that people one day will grasp the significance of the stand he took.

Scot, Durie said, gave a “very carefully argued presentation from the Koran” at his own church and then gave further lectures on how to love Muslims and be friends with them. But the government was listening when three Islamic converts of the Islamic Council of Victoria complained. Scot was then indicted under the state’s new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle said the lower court had erred, misinterpreting honest and comparative discussions of religion for hate speech. It is “essential to keep the distinction between the hatred of beliefs and the hatred of their adherents steadily in view,” Nettle noted.

Scot’s case tallied a cost of more than $500,000 in legal fees. The high court ruled that the Islamic Council of Victoria must pay half of the cost of the original appeal from 2004. Scot’s legal troubles, however, may be far from over as he continues to face opposition from Muslims in Australia.

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