Conferences, 4Rs 2008

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A Question of Boundaries: A Close Encounter with Victoria's Religious Vilification Law
Hanifa Deen

Last modified: 2008-08-31


The Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001) has been covered in controversy right from its inception in 2000. The debate continues amongst diverse groups as to whether this is a 'good act ' or a 'bad act' and whether or not this State law undermines freedom of expression.
The Islamic Council of Victoria v. Catch the Fire Ministries Inc. (the first religious vilification case lodged under the new law) has come to be viewed as an important test case that decides certain boundaries affecting free speech. The original decision, handed down by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), in December 2005, found in favour of the Islamic Council. Nevertheless, almost a year later, the Victorian Court of Appeal allowed Catch the Fire's application and referred the case back to VCAT to begin again. However, in June 2007, the case was conciliated by the Victorian Equal Opportunities Commission; the details remain confidential.
This paper is based on Hanifa Deen's new book The Jihad Seminar. The author discusses the views of the pro and anti legislation groups facing each other across the barricades, the fall out in terms of community relations and the fine line separating freedom of speech from hate speech. Can hate speech legislation set boundaries of tolerance and respect or do these laws exacerbate conflict?. Why did this nightmare of a case, expected to be over in three days, take almost six years to resolve?

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