You may not know that in many parts of Australia, blasphemy—the criticism of religion—remains a criminal offense, though it’s almost never enforced. Wikipedia describes the complicated situation:
All common law offences were abolished and replaced by a criminal code without replacing the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel with criminal code offences in Queensland in 1899, Western Australia in 1919, and the Commonwealth in 1995. Tasmania abolished common law in 1924 but introduced blasphemy offences with the Tasmanian Criminal Code Act 1924. In 1996, the Australian Capital Territory abolished the common law offence of blasphemous libel but not blasphemy.
Although the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were abolished in England and Wales in 2008, they have not been abolished in Australia in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and Norfolk Island, and blasphemy but not blasphemous libel remains as an offence in the Australian Capital Territory.
. . . In some jurisdictions, such as Tasmania, Queensland, and Victoria, someone who is offended by someone else’s attitude toward religion or toward one religion can seek redress under legislation which prohibits hate speech.
As far as the Australian Capital Territory (the area around Canberra, the nation’s capital) goes, Wikipedia adds this:
By its Law Reform (Abolitions & Repeals) Act 1996, the Australian Capital Territory abolished the common law offence of blasphemous libel. The common law offence of blasphemy may yet exist.
“May yet exist” is a bit ambiguous. But it doesn’t seem ambiguous any longer, for, as the Brisbane Times reports, on Thursday the ACT Parliament passed a “religious vilification law” that is punishable by fines up to $7500 and a criminal conviction. It seems spurred largely by an attempt to protect Muslims, but it appears to prevent criticism of all religions, and other stuff as well (my emphasis in extract below):
Both Labor and Liberal supported the move put by the Greens Shane Rattenbury, who said the display of hatred, intolerance and offensive behaviour towards Muslims was one of the biggest intolerance issues in Australia today.
The University of South Australia had found about 10 per cent of Australians were highly Islamophobic, and while the ACT showed the lowest rates in the country, Islamophobia was still significant here.
“It is clear [Muslims] are frequently, almost constantly, exposed to discrimination, vilification and targeted offensive behaviour,” he said.
Thursday’s changes to the Discrimination Act also added disability to the list, so it is now illegal to vilify someone because of disability, religion, race, sexuality, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status. Vilification can include social media posts, actions in a workplace and wearing clothes, signs or flags that would incite hatred, contempt, ridicule or revulsion.
Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson said the Liberals wanted a harmonious, multicultural society free from extremism. He had been shot at by Sunni and Shiite extremists and by the IRA, so he knew firsthand the consequences of extremism, but others in the community experienced the consequences daily.
Christians and Jews were also vilified for their beliefs and would be protected by the new legislation, he said.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the change was not designed to limit freedom of speech but to “ensure the political discourse does not descend into hatred”.
Now if this were simply targeted and repeated harassment of an individual, that’s one thing, but it’s far more than that. First, it would give me the right to bring charges against someone who said, “Coyne is a bloody money-grubbing big-nosed Jew who’s soft on Israel.” (In fact, that comes close to stuff I get from time to time.) That is not slander, which is harming someone’s reputation through known falsehoods. It may be motivated by hatred, but if it’s a one-off and is not directed personally at me through repeated phone calls and emails, or in the workplace, I wouldn’t care a whit.
But the law, as you can see from the bolded bit, goes beyond that, implying that individuals don’t have to be the targets, but also religion, race, sexuality, and so on. Wearing clothing with Jesus and Mo cartoons on them would, for instance, be illegal because they could be claimed to incite “contempt, ridicule, and revulsion.” (Indeed, wearing those shirts was prohibited at a Fresher’s Fair at the London School of Economics.) And not just against Muslims, but against Christians (Jesus and Mo is an equal-Abrahamic offender.)
Such regulations would never stand under the U.S.’s First Amendment to the Constitution.
With this law, the ACT sets itself up to be the Oberlin College of Australia. Aussies, do you want this kind of free-speech suppression in your capital territory? I think a test case, perhaps wearing one of those tee-shirts, is in order.