RELIGION: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Costello attacked over thanksgiving speech
, June 19, 2004
Leaders of Melbourne's Muslim community attacked Federal Treasurer Peter Costello over comments he made at a Christian thanksgiving service in Melbourne on May 29.
Islamic Council of Victoria president Yasser Soliman described Mr Costello's remarks on Victoria's first religious hatred case as "a gross misrepresentation".
Mr Costello had addressed a National Day of Thanksgiving Commemoration at Scots' Church, attended by representatives of most Christian denominations.
Even beforehand, he had been criticised by the Islamic Council for accepting the invitation to speak. The council suggested that by addressing the gathering, Costello could be giving legitimacy to parties that it was suing under Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. The council had complained that the Christian Catch the Fire Ministries had vilified Islam at a seminar in March 2002.
In his speech at Scots' Church, Mr Costello said about this case:
"It is not my intention to influence those proceedings. But nor will I be deterred from attending a service of Christian Thanksgiving.
"Since the issue has been raised I will state my view. I do not think that we should resolve differences about religious views in our community with lawsuits between the different religions. Nor do I think that the object of religious harmony will be promoted by organising witnesses to go along to the meetings of other religions to collect evidence for the purpose of later litigation."
Waleed Aly, a Melbourne lawyer on the executive of the Islamic Council of Victoria, also attacked Mr Costello's speech. He said that, although freedom of speech was "immeasurably important", it had to be "continually balanced against other social objectives".
By contrast, Amir Butler, executive director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, defended Mr Costello's remarks. Mr Butler said that he had changed his mind on the vilification laws which, he now feared, "have served only to undermine the very religious freedoms they intended to protect".
He asked: "Who, after all, would give credence to a religion that appears so fragile it can only exist if protected by a bodyguard of lawyers?"
Two Christian clerics - Rev Dr John Dupuche, chairman of the Catholic Interfaith Committee in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and Professor Gary Bouma of Monash University, who is also an Anglican priest and vice-chairman of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Australia - attacked Mr Costello's speech and defended Victoria's vilification laws.
The Melbourne Age
in its editorial of June 3 claimed that Mr Costello's speech implicitly disparaged those who did not share his faith.
In the Sydney Morning Herald
of the same day, Helen Irving, an associate professor of law at Sydney University, attacked the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, for remarks they made at the launch of the National Day of Thanksgiving at Government House on May 29.
On that occasion, Mr Howard had claimed that Australia was "predominantly a society instructed by the Judeo-Christian ethic". Governor-General Jeffery had said that Australia's "Christian heritage" and "faith in God" had been "an important establishing and unifying principle for our nation".
Such claims, said Irving, were "offensive to the many decent and honourable Australians who are either non-religious or follow another faith."