Gauntlet thrown down

Two Christian pastors convicted of thought crimes in the state of Victoria have announced that they will go to jail rather than give up their rights.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) deputy president Michael Higgins ordered two pastors of an evangelical order, Catch the Fire Ministry, to apologise for comments they made in a speech, on a website and in a newsletter.

In a landmark ruling, the tribunal found Muslims were vilified by claims that Muslims were training to take over Australia, encouraging domestic violence and that Islam was an inherently violent religion.

The case was the first to be heard by VCAT since the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act took effect in Victoria at the start of 2002.

Outside the tribunal, Danny Nalliah – one of the pastors taken to VCAT by the Islamic Council – described himself as a martyr and said he would go to jail before apologising.

"Right from the inception, we have said that this law is a foul law, this law is not a law which brings unity," Pastor Nalliah said.

"It causes disunity and as far as we are concerned right from the beginning we have stated we will not apologise.

"We will go to prison for standing for the truth and not sacrifice our freedom and freedom to speak."
This challenge brings the prospect that the two could become Australia's only political prisoners if both sides refuse to back down. Numerous groups, both religious and non-religious, are campaigning aganist the controversial and oppressive legislation.

Free speech is an inalienable right, and the Victorian government's use of political censorship to suppress dissent should be protested by everyone who supports democracy and human rights. This is an issue on which compromise cannot be tolerated.

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