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Racial and religious vilification

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 makes it against the law to vilify a person or group of people because of their race or religion. 

What is racial or religious vilification?

Vilification is behaviour that incites hatred, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of a person or group of people because of their race or religion.

The legal definition is conduct that ‘incites hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule’.

Behaviour that is likely to be seen as racial or religious vilification

Behaviour that could be seen as vilification includes:

  • speaking about a person’s race or religion in a way that could make other people hate or ridicule them
  • publishing claims that a racial or religious group is involved in serious crimes without any proof
  • repeated and serious spoken or physical abuse about the race or religion of another person
  • encouraging violence against people who belong to a particular race or religion, or damaging their property
  • encouraging people to hate a racial or religious group using flyers, stickers, posters, a speech or publication, or using websites or email.

It is also against the law to give permission or help someone to vilify others.

For example, Michael is a Muslim and complains that a social networking site publishes offensive material  that encourages people to hate Muslim people.

Behaviour that is unlikely to be seen as racial or religious vilification

Behaviour that is not likely would not be seen as vilification includes:

  • being critical of a religion or debating racial or religious ideas in a way that does not encourage others to hate racial or religious groups
  • actions that offend people of a particular race or religion, but do not encourage others to hate, disrespect or abuse racial or religious groups.

Comments, jokes or other acts related to the race or religion of a person may not be seen as vilification, but they could still be the basis for a complaint of discrimination if they take place in one of the areas of public life covered by the Equal Opportunity Act.

For example, Ranjit complains that a local bus driver asked him where he was from, told him to sit at the back of the bus and sniffed loudly as he walked past. This is not racial or religious vilification but Ranjit might be able to make a complaint about racial discrimination in the area of goods and services.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 includes some exceptions. This means that behaviour that is likely to be seen as vilification may not be against the law in particular circumstances.

This includes where a person can show that their conduct:

  • was reasonable, done in good faith and undertaken for discussion, reporting or as part of an artistic work
  • was for a genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose, or any purpose in the public interest
  • was meant to be private, that is, seen and heard only by them.


It is against the law to victimise a person for making a complaint about racial and religious vilification.

For example, Ravi’s employer dismisses him after he complains that his co-workers called him a terrorist at a staff meeting and put up posters saying terrorists should go back to their own country.

Make a complaint to the Commission

If you think you have been discriminated againstsexually harassedvictimised or vilified, contact us and talk about your concerns. Our dispute resolution service is free and confidential. We can send you information about the complaint process and if we can’t help you we will try to refer you to someone who can.

To make a complaint:

Find out more about making a complaint.

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