Friday, 20 December 2019 08:38

The County Court’s decision sends a powerful message about religious intolerance

Woman holding sign at rally - what lessens one of us lessens all of us

There is a clear message in yesterday’s County Court’s decision to uphold Victoria’s first conviction under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act – that there is no place in Victoria for hateful conduct that incites ridicule and contempt for members of our community because of how they look, where they are from or what they believe.

 “Today’s decision recognises the corrosive nature of racial and religious intolerance – its ability to divide, marginalise and silence both individuals and their communities,” says Victorian Equality Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton. “Victoria is enriched by the diversity within our community, and this decision shows unequivocally that conduct driven by hate will not be tolerated.”

Today’s decision upheld a September 2017 conviction in the Magistrates’ Court under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 for inciting serious religious vilification against Muslims.

His Honour Chief Judge Kidd noted the important role anti-vilification laws play in ensuring the vitality and diversity of the community: “In my view, racial and religious vilification speech – especially of an extreme kind – ‘is antithetical to the fundamental principles of equality, democratic pluralism and respect for individual dignity which lie at the heart of the protection of human rights’. Such legislation positively promotes people of different religions to participate in public life and discourse, free from vilification.”

This case also brings into focus the important conversation underway on strengthening Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. The Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee is considering the adequacy of Victoria’s anti-vilification laws and what could create a more robust framework for managing hate speech while still respecting freedom of expression.

“While the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act has been in operation for nearly two decades, it has resulted in very few convictions, and we know that some groups of the community remain vulnerable to vilification – whether online, on the street or on public transport,” says Commissioner Hilton.

“Expanding the range of attributes protected from vilification to include other vulnerable groups – for example, women, LGBTIQ people and people with a disability – and lowering the threshold for civil and criminal vilification are two important ways that we can better enable all Victorians to live their lives from free vilification.”

The Commission will be making a submission to the Parliamentary inquiry in January 2020. To inform our submission, we’re conducting a short survey on people’s experiences of racial and religious vilification.

Take our survey and share your thoughts on how we can better protect Victorians from hate speech

If you’ve experienced vilification because of your race or religion, you can make a complaint to the Commission on 1300 292 153. Our free complaints service can help you to understand the law and resolve your complaint.

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Peter Davies
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