Friday, September 02, 2005

Don�t legislate against hate

Hola, amigos. I know it's been a long time since I laid the "don't legislate against hate" rap on ya, but here we go again.

Here's an extract from article by an Australian Muslim describing how Victoria's laws against incitement to religious hatred have sown division, and undermined freedom of speech, thought and conscience. It's an everyday story of Ms Oliva Watts: former policeman, transsexual naturopath, and witch.

In March 2003, Ms Watts decided to run for local government in the City of Casey, a community distinguished by its proliferation of Pentecostal churches. The possibility of a transsexual witch entering local government in this most Christian of communities provoked a fierce reaction. A day of prayer was called to protect the city, and councillor Rob Wilson issued a press release suggesting that a witch in the council might be a 'concern' for some residents of the area.

Understandably, Watts was offended. And to whom do disgruntled transsexual naturopath-witches turn for justice? The Equal Opportunity Commission, of course. It wasn't long before Ms Watts had Wilson hauled before the courts on charges of inciting hatred against witches.

At a time when everyone has a group to protect their 'identity rights', witches are no exception. So into the fray stepped the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN). Fuelled by a $400 donation from the Witches Voice in America ('NeoPagan News/Networking on the net since 1997'), PAN ran a fierce campaign: sending fire-and-brimstone letters to both the premier and attorney general of Victoria; rallying witches across the world; and publishing pamphlets rebuking the councillor for his wiccaphobia. Watts joined the Wiccan PR blitz. 'I have never in my life done any offensive piece of magic, a curse, a hex', she assured the Age newspaper. 'It would be inconsistent with my beliefs.'

As the trouble brewed, the attorney general moved quickly to clarify his government's position. 'We [the government] govern for all Victorians - and that includes witches, magicians and sorcerers', he declared.

Faced with the indefatigable forces of PAN and growing legal fees, councillor Wilson conceded defeat, entering an out-of-court settlement. As part of that, he was required to offer a public mea culpa, 'for any hurt felt by Ms Watts'.

By this time, Wilson had already accumulated a legal bill of $130,000 for the 14-month battle, and, adding insult to injury, the City of Casey faced an increase in its 2005 insurance premium as a result of the litigation.

It would all make a great joke, were it not now illegal to tell it.

You can read the whole thing here. Surely we don't have to jump over this precipice in the UK. There is still time to pull back.

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