No Apology from Pastor in Muslim Vilification Case

A pastor found guilty of vilifying Muslims in Australia says that his conscience would not allow him to apologize for his 2002 comments. Penalties by the court are still pending.

One of two Australian pastors found guilty of vilifying Muslims in December of 2004 says he will rather go to jail than apologize.

At a Christian seminar in March 2002, Pastor Daniel Scot said that Muslims were aiming to take over the country and encouraging domestic violence. He also called Islam an inherently violent religion, according to the Herald Sun.

The judge in the case has yet to assign a date to hand out a penalty, which could include a mandatory speech of apology or a fine. The judge stated that the pastors' comments demeaned Muslims.

"It was presented in a way which is essentially hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their God, Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in general Muslim religious beliefs and practices," said Judge Michael Higgins.

The Islamic Council of Victoria had sought a court order that the pastors’ ministry and both pastors acknowledge religious discrimination in statements in their newsletters and website. The requested posting would also include the judge’s findings that both were not credible witnesses and that they had not distinguished between mainstream and extremist Muslims in their 2002 comments, said the Herald Sun.

The Sun reported that on May 2, the pastor said his conscience would not allow him to give an apology or acknowledgment, and added that he was prepared for jail.

The defendants in the case were Daniel Scot and Danny Nallilah of Catch the Fire, an evangelical ministry. They were both found guilty of violating the Victorian Racial and Religious ACT. The ministry and two defendants were criticized over a March 2002 seminar in Melbourne, where several articles in a newsletter attacked Islam, said the Age.

In a statement a few days after the initial decision in December, Waleed Aly, the spokesperson for the Islamic Council, which had brought the case to court, said that the pastors’ comments were not conducive to dialogue.

“When your places of worship are described as ‘Satan’s strongholds,’ you sit up and take notice. That kind of thing helps no-one and certainly doesn’t enhance debate.”

In the same statement, the President of the ICV, Yasser Soliman, said he had hoped the case could have been resolved outside the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

“We were saddened that despite our attempts to resolve the issue informally, we were left with no alternative than to pursue it through VCAT. We couldn’t ignore the continuing vilification that was taking place in public.”

The case drew attention from the Becket Fund, a law-firm dedicated to freedom of religion cases. It issued a statement on May 4 warning the Australian government that it would be violating “international obligations” to protect human rights if its laws were used to punish religiously motivated speech. The case was tried in the state of Victoria.

The judge had ruled that “unreasonable” critiques of Islamic theology were made, according to Becket Fund. The law-firm also said that Australia was violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“By allowing its court system to become a sermon review board that censors religious expression, Australia not only violates international law but also undermines the true basis for tolerance, that is, the freedom to openly discuss and debate views that differ from one’s own,” said Roger Severino, counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

The pastors’ ministry, Catch the Fire, is currently appealing the decision in the Australian Supreme Court. The ministry claimed that the judge in the case was biased against them.