Anti-annoyance law will return to bite Church

World Youth Day Amendment Last Thursday, Frank Brennan wrote in Eureka Street that the NSW Government's controversial World Youth Day Amendment Regulation is 'a dreadful interference with civil liberties, and contrary to the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching on human rights'.

The freedom of expression which the Amendment Regulation curtails is a right on which the Catholic Church itself relies in order to exist as a fuctioning faith community. In a secular society, some groups will be annoyed by public religious symbols like crosses, and others by protests defending the right to life.

This initiative of the NSW Government appears well-intentioned but ill-considered. It aims to do the right thing by the Church and the general community, and eliminate so-called annoying behaviour. But instead it's likely to foster serious belligerence, and perhaps open hostility and even isolated violence.

Protesters would have done little more than humour the pilgrims with their own playful exuberance, wearing pointedly-worded T-shirts, and handing out condoms as if they were how-to-vote cards. Existing laws empower police to deal with genuinely intolerable behaviour, such as targeting the Pope with a laser pointer.

In May, the Dean of Sydney's St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Phillip Jensen wrote an opinion article for the Sydney Morning Herald titled 'Church of Rome hath erred, but Anglicans won't rain on Pope's parade'. The article itself is contentious, implying that what divides Christians is more significant than what unites them. But he did assert the right of the Church and WYD pilgrims to be treated like any other group in the community.

'World Youth Day does not compromise the separation of church and state. Nor does it undermine secular government. The Government provides facilities and security for any group, either religious or non-religious. We can only complain when there is favouritism for any particular group.'

The favouritism he was referring to gives preference to 'the secularists [who] wish to impose atheistic belief on society through government'. But despite government denials, it appears the favouritism is ironically designed to help the Catholic Church.

The Church needs to go beyond the benign 'we didn't ask for it' excuse for tolerating the laws that it can only regard as convenient. Its answer to the Premier must be 'Thanks, but no thanks!' The Church's own right to strident expression of its views is at stake.

World Youth Day Amendment Regulation 2008 (NSW Government Gazette)
World Youth Day

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: michael mullins, catholic church, world youth day, pilgrims, freedom of speech, annoyance, inconvenience



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Existing comments

The SES and other volunteers have given the Church the lead by declining the powers offered them by the government.

Carol | 07 July 2008  

Even worse than the regulation itself, in some respects, is the assertion by the police that all proposed protests must be approved by them. This is a characteristic of police states. Let's not go down that path.

Mark Tweeddale | 07 July 2008  

Is this sort of interruption of Mass supposed to be okay?

ARCHBISHOP of Melbourne Denis Hart yesterday stopped saying mass and called police to deal with about 200 noisy protesters.

They joined about 20 who regularly protest outside the archbishop's masses calling for him to discuss clergy sexual abuse with them.

The groups chanted so loudly the archbishop stopped his sermon and police were called.

Pat Healy | 07 July 2008  

Might I invite Eureka Street to take a further critical step and write an Open Letter addressed to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference urging them to ask Premier Iemma to abandon the 'annoyance' regulations.

The Open Letter could perhaps also make the point that the church needs to take this move as an act of good faith for the success of WYD ... and all those who have crossed the world to be part and parcel of it.

Perhaps the Open Letter might also canvass the intervention of the papal nuncio given that the Pope himself would be enmeshed in any ridicule or derision that these regulations could well attract through their needless provocation.

Perhaps the Australian Religious Leadership might also be invited to add their support for such an Open Letter. It may be the only remaining hope. The fact that the SES and other volunteers have already declined the powers offered them reveals that such decisions need not be set in concrete.

I plead with the editor and management of Eureka Street to take this initiative.

Brian Haill | 07 July 2008  

Pat, given the Archbishop was able to call the police to deal with the matter, it would appear that additional powers were not needed there.

Besides, if the Archbishop refuses to discuss clergy sexual abuse with them, why shouldn't they protest loudly?

Justin | 07 July 2008  

What ought to have been left as a mole hill has turned into the Himalayan Mountain Range.

WYD is unique in its complexity and dimension. As the largest single gathering of people in one place in Australia's history it has special security problems - and we are not just talking about lasers being pointed at the Pope. Nor are we talking about little more than humouring the pilgrims. The danger lies somewhere in between these two unlikely extremes.

It is quite obvious from statements of some people within the No to Pope coalition and elsewhere that plans are being laid for protesters physically to confront the pilgrims and cause serious disruption at various locations.

What is at stake here is minor, one-off, temporary restrictions to preserve order and the public good, something which the citizenry accepts every day.

Major gatherings sometimes cause whole thoroughfares or sections of a city to be taken out of normal use: Anzac Day, Melbourne Cup Day Parade, Mardi Gras etc. These, too, are accepted. Why now the outrage over the WYD safety regulations? Admittedly, WYD is big, very big, but that is only a difference in degree, not in kind.

The principle of lesser individual rights being temporarily curtailed for special events has long ago been conceded. It is now being made an issue in regard to WYD because those in the mass media who despise Catholicism and their allies within the Catholic Church fear this event because it shows the Church in a rare favourable light.

WYD gets in the way of the myth that the Pope is a superannuated Hitler Youth member, the bishops are cynical control freaks who enter into back-room deals with corrupt politicians and the clergy are child molesters.

In other words, this whole controversy about the WYD security regulations has exposed what was a constitutative factor in the foundation of this country and has never been far away from the surface: anti-Catholic bigotry.

Sylvester | 07 July 2008  

Michael Mullins is spot on. The Church needs to oppose the regulations, not simply distance itself from them while taking advantage of them.

How will George Pell react if the Muslim community objects to the next 'annoying' comments he makes about Islam?

Warwick | 07 July 2008  

Oh dear! How does WYD connect to the screaming needs of the Australian Church? It is a con job, top down. I call for a Catholic boycott.

Bernard P Ryan | 07 July 2008  

Total cost of visit is $220 inc $20 million government grant

Peter Hamilton | 08 July 2008  

My sentiments entirely, Sylvester. The slander and ridicule that the Catholic Church has received from certain sections of the media has been sickening. I have read some reasonable criticism but a lot of it is just sheer ignorance.

John Tobin | 11 July 2008  

The Full Federal Court has now delivered a unanimous judgment striking down the annoyance law. The annoyance provision was not only unsolicited, unnecessary, unworkable, and useless; it was also invalid. It simply provided a lightning rod conductor for those wanting to agitate against WYD. It was a most misconceived exercise in attempted law making.

Frank Brennan | 15 July 2008  

Thank you for upholding the Australian right to free speech. It was with some glee that because of the recent ban on freedom to annoy that I wanted to be just that 'Annoying', now I am only amused. Meeting some pilgrims and seeing the way with sign language we could communicate to take photos and guide them to places where they wanted to attend, was a pleasure and I am sure that the local residents of our street were very privileged to hear some youthful singing and joy coming from their barbecue in the local school grounds.

ann | 16 July 2008  

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