Australian Court Hears Muslim Complaint Against Christians

Oct 16, 2003 04:01 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau - A court case now underway in Australia is regarded by some observers as a legal challenge to Christians' freedom to question the validity of other religions.

Two Christian pastors appeared in a tribunal in the state of Victoria Wednesday to face complaints brought by Muslims who accuse them of vilifying Islam.

The case arose from a seminar organized last year by a Christian organization, Catch the Fire Ministries, with the aim of explaining the teachings of Islam to Christians.

Three Muslims who attended the seminar claimed to have been horrified by what they heard, and they took up the matter with a state Muslim body.

The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) then took the case, under new anti-discrimination legislation, to a state body called the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC).

EOC mediation efforts failed, and the ICV and the three individual Muslims took the pastors to a tribunal, set up under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

The pastors facing the complaint both have personal experience with Islam.

Catch the Fire president Danny Nalliah worked with underground Christians in Saudi Arabia, while Daniel Scot, who addressed the seminar, is described as an expert in Islamic studies, who fled his native Pakistan for Australia in the 1980s to escape religious persecution.

The complainants charge that Scot and Nalliah engaged in conduct that incited "hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule" of the Islamic faith, citing a number of specific statements they found offensive.

Among others, these related to jihad, suicide bombing, the treatment of non-Muslims in Islamic countries, and the legitimacy of lying for Muslims under certain conditions.

In their 57-page response to the EOC, the pastors said, "Many of the complaints were about statements that are in fact part of the foundations of Islam, some taken straight from the Quran."

In some cases, they said, statements were taken out of context, while others were inaccurate, when compared to recordings of the seminar.

They also claimed that they made "a clear distinction between Muslim people and the teachings of Islam."

A Christian ethical action group in Victoria called Saltshakers is closely following the case.

Executive officer Peter Stokes said all Christians in the state were affected by the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, "if they stand up and declare the truth."

The Christian gospel -- that Jesus died to save the world and there is no other way to gain eternal life -- is going to be offensive to followers of other faiths because it exposes their religions as "false," he said.

According to the EOC, any offences under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act can result in fines of up to $3,900 for individuals and $19,800 for organizations.