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Catholic teaching affirms freedom that may annoy pilgrims

  • 03 July 2008

The NSW Government's controversial Amendment to the World Youth Day Act is a dreadful interference with civil liberties, and contrary to the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching on human rights.

As an Australian Catholic lawyer, I am saddened that the state has seen fit to curtail civil liberties further in this instance than they have for other significant international events hosted in Sydney.

The great Catholic document on human rights is Pacem In Terris, the 1963 encyclical of Pope John XXIII. He said:

It is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognised, respected, coordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.

Thus any government which refused to recognise human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.

One of the principal duties of any government, moreover, is the suitable and adequate superintendence and coordination of men's respective rights in society.

This must be done in such a way that the exercise of their rights by certain citizens does not obstruct other citizens in the exercise of theirs; that the individual, standing upon his own rights, does not impede others in the performance of their duties; and that the rights of all be effectively safeguarded, and completely restored if they have been violated.


No fair application of these principles would permit an extension of police powers simply to preclude protesters from causing annoyance to pilgrims attending World Youth Day.

There is presently strong debate in Australia about the desirability of a bill of rights. The NSW Government is strongly opposed. The Victorian Labor Government is strongly in favour, having enacted its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There is no way the Victorian parliament would have passed a law authorising police to stop protesters simply from causing annoyance to pilgrims.

Any Victorian regulation like that made by the NSW Government would be struck down by the Victorian Supreme Court as being contrary to section 15 of the Victorian Charter, which states that every person has