- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Australian hate law

A Washington-based Christian human rights group is urging supporters to contact the Australian Embassy to protest the trial of two Christian pastors accused of insulting Islam.

“This case is a major affront to the basic values of Western society, such as freedom of speech and religious expression, and has the potential to impact the right to assembly peacefully and discuss other faiths,” International Christian Concern (ICC) said in an e-mail message yesterday.

The civil trial of Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot, which began last year, is scheduled to resume tomorrow in Melbourne, Australia. Lawyers for both sides expect the case to be concluded by March 5.

The embassy already has received hundreds of e-mails, letters and phone calls from Americans who are concerned about the case brought by the Islamic Council of the Australian state of Victoria.

“We have a very considerable amount of correspondence from people right across the United States,” embassy spokesman Matthew Francis said yesterday.

He said the embassy has explained that the case is a civil trial and that “there is no jail sentence involved.” Reports in Australia say the men could face a fine of up to $23,000.

“Australia is a country that respects the rule of law and cherishes freedom of expression and opinion,” Mr. Francis added.

He also explained that the case is not a federal matter. It was brought under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001.

The Islamic Council says the two pastors incited hatred toward Islam at a seminar in Victoria in March 2002 and in a newsletter published by Mr. Nalliah’s Catch the Fire Ministries. Three Muslims who attended the seminar filed the complaint before Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Supporters who have read the transcript of the seminar say the pastors emphasized the need for Christians to understand Islam.

Rich Braidich of the ICC, who attended the earlier hearings, said Mr. Scot spoke of the “need to love Muslims and reach out to them.”

“Not once was there a condescending remark made concerning Muslim people or Islam,” Mr. Braidich said.

Defense attorney David Perkins argued in October that the Victoria law “is in conflict with the rights and immunities we have as Australian citizens.”

Brind Woinarski, representing the Islamic Council, said Mr. Scot preaches that “Muslims are terrorists, rapists and a whole lot of things.”

Catch the Fire responded to the complaints in a written rebuttal of the charges, saying certain passages in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, incite Muslims “to violence and hatred of non-Muslims.”

“Exposing the roots of this problem within Islam is not the same thing as inciting hatred,” the group said.

Australian showcase

On a positive note for Australia, Ambassador Michael Thawley invited U.S. governors to a reception that showed off Australian wine, beer, seafood and one of its most famous exports to the United States, country music star Keith Urban.

The guests at the weekend event included Maria Shriver, the first lady of California, and the governors of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming.

“The event was a tremendous opportunity to showcase Australia to significant political leaders in the United States and to highlight the potential offered by the [U.S.-Australia] free-trade agreement for greater trade and investment between Australia and the United States,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Urban, who has sold more than 2 million records in the United States, performed numbers from his album “Golden Road.” He is now a resident of Nashville, Tenn.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

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