A Christian pastor ordered to apologise for vilifying Muslims says he will go to jail before he says sorry for his comments.
Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) deputy president Michael Higgins ordered the evangelical order, Catch the Fire, to apologise over statements made in a speech, comments on a website and in a newsletter.
In a landmark ruling by the tribunal, it found in favour of the Islamic Council of Victoria, which took the action against Catch the Fire and two of its pastors.
The comments made by members of the evangelical movement included that Muslims were liars and demons, they were planning to take over Australia and that Islam was inherently a violent religion.
The case was the first to be heard by VCAT since the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act took effect in Victoria at the start of 2002.
Outside the tribunal, the church leader and unsuccessful senate candidate for the Family First party in last year’s federal election, Danny Nalliah, described his group as martyrs and said he would go to jail before apologising.
“Right from the inception, we have said that this law is a foul law, this law is not a law which brings unity,” Pastor Nalliah said about Victoria’s vilification laws.
“It causes disunity and as far as we are concerned right from the beginning we have stated we will not apologise. We will go to prison for standing for the truth and not sacrifice our freedom and freedom to speak.”
A person found to not comply with a VCAT order faces up to three months jail and a fine of up to $7,000.
VCAT found statements made by Pastor Nalliah in a newsletter were likely to incite hatred towards Muslims and sought to create fear against Muslims.
Judge Higgins said a seminar presented by another pastor, Daniel Scot, in 2002, was not a balanced discussion, and that he presented the seminar in a way that was hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people.
He said a public apology over the comments would be appropriate, ordered that the vilifying comments not be repeated and that the group publish a statement outlining VCAT’s ruling in its newsletter and two Melbourne metropolitan newspapers.
However, Pastor Nalliah said that at this stage the group did not intend to publish the statement and it was appealing the VCAT decision at the Victorian Supreme Court.
He said the evangelical group had nothing against Muslims, that its comments were misrepresented and that it was taking a stand for free speech.
Islamic Council of Victoria executive committee member Waleed Aly welcomed the ruling and said he hoped it brought an end to the matter.
“We’re satisfied with the remedies, they’re modest, we only ever asked for modest remedies, we never sought any monetary compensation,” he said.
“We just hope common sense prevails now and we can move on.”