Islam was an illegal religion because the Koran preached violence against Christians and Jews, a Christian group told a judge yesterday.
The group’s barrister, David Perkins, said that Christianity was established under Australia’s constitution and had special protection, especially through the blasphemy law.
Mr Perkins told the Victorian and Civil Administrative Tribunal that if the state’s new religious hatred law intended to fetter the teaching of Christian doctrine it was invalid.
Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 referred to lawful religion, and it was in that sense, he said, that by preaching violence Islam was disqualified.
“The Koran contradicts Christian doctrine in a number of places and, under the blasphemy law, is therefore illegal,” he said.
In the first case under the act, the Islamic Council of Victoria has complained that Catch the Fire Ministries, Pastor Danny Nalliah and speaker Daniel Scot, also a pastor, vilified Muslims at a seminar in March 2002.
Opening the defence yesterday, Mr Perkins said Christianity was embedded in the constitution.
He said the law still entitled Christian religious principles to a special place.
He said the reference in the constitution to the people “humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God” referred to Christianity and was inserted at the request of Christians.
He said Australia’s blasphemy law – still in force, if little used – took precedence over the state act, and the Victorian Parliament could not legislate away protection given by the blasphemy law.
Mr Perkins cited the Choudhury case in England, involving Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses, which held that the blasphemy law protected only Christianity, not Islam.
Judge Michael Higgins asked if Mr Perkins meant that the Victorian law did not protect Muslims? Mr Perkins replied: “Yes.”
Judge Higgins: “So it might protect Christians but not Muslims from vilification?”
Mr Perkins: “Yes.”
Judge Higgins said a no-case submission claiming the seminar was exempt as a religious activity would fail “at this time”, so Mr Perkins withdrew the application.
The judge said it was “strongly open” that the seminar breached the act.
He based this on listening to the tape of the seminar, evidence of the effect it had on the complainants, expert evidence about Pastor Scot’s references to the Koran, and that the seminar was not limited to academic study of what the Koran says about jihad.
He said the seminar described the attitudes of a small group of fundamentalist Muslims who “lack association with those Muslim people who live and work peacefully in this community”.
Judge Higgins also mentioned an attempt to influence the court, when a member of the public sent a letter and two CDs to him.
“I want to make it clear to all here it is not appropriate conduct,” he told the gallery.
“What took place was not sinister, but a failure to understand not only protocols but the most important aspect, the independence of the trial judge.”
Judge Higgins said the sent items had not influenced him.