Annoying WYD pilgrims

Catholic teaching affirms freedom that may annoy pilgrims

Eureka Street – Frank Brennan
July 03, 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 the right to hold an opinion without interference and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Limitation on such rights in Victoria and the ACT is now permitted only if the limitation can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The rights of law abiding, peaceful protesters at WYD need to be ‘recognised, respected, coordinated, defended and promoted’, just as surely as the rights of the pilgrims. The rights of free speech and assembly should not be curtailed only because visiting pilgrims might be annoyed or inconvenienced in public places.

World Youth Day Amendment Regulation 2008 (NSW Government Gazette)
World Youth Day

Frank Brennan SJ AO is a professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University and Professorial Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of NSW.

Catholics split on freedom to annoy

Sydney Morning Herald – Linda Morris, Joel Gibson and Jano Gibson
July 3, 2008

The prominent Catholic priest and lawyer Frank Brennan has condemned new police powers for World Youth Day as a "dreadful interference" with civil liberties and contrary to Catholic teaching on human rights.

The Catholic Church yesterday stood firm behind the State Government’s laws restricting annoying and inconvenient public protests.

Father Brennan’s attack came as groups that had had no plans to protest during the event vowed to do so in response to the new laws. World Youth Day organisers said they had no objection to the open-ended nature of the regulations and confirmed the church had "discussed" with the Government the use of "standard laws" for the efficient running of the event.

Father Brennan said the Catholic document on human rights, Pacem In Terris, the 1963 encyclical of Pope John, said the responsibility of all authorities was "to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person".

"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," he said.

"The rights of free speech and assembly should not be curtailed only because visiting pilgrims might be annoyed or inconvenienced in public places."

Dr John Sweeney, the co-ordinator of research at the Edmund Rice Centre, said Jesus Christ had paid the price for saying what he thought and the right to free speech needed defending.

"It would rather be like Jesus calling for a police escort on Palm Sunday. Obviously, he wouldn’t and when Jesus went into Jerusalem people yelled out things the religious leaders in their time didn’t like and they rebuked Jesus and he said he couldn’t quieten his supporters."

The director of, Brett Solomon, did not rule out a campaign of protests or pranks among his 280,000 members to highlight what he called the "absurdity" of the rules, even if it meant fines of $5500. Many had not been angry before about the papal visit. "We could organise 1000 people in annoying or inconvenient T-shirts to people the route," he said.

The groups planning protests include anti-homophobia and pro-contraception organisations, atheists, agnostics, gay- and lesbian-friendly churches, victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, and civil libertarians.

Victims’ groups who met police in Melbourne on Tuesday were told they would not be allowed to protest in 40 designated areas, and that they must apply seven days ahead to hold a demonstration and their banners and T-shirts would be vetted.

For the first time, the NSW Government confirmed that the clause had not featured at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit or the 2000 Olympics. But it produced a list of 15 pieces of law where the clause had been replicated permitting removal of people from venues including Parramatta Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The powers were mostly limited to single venues and did not have the scope of the World Youth Day regulations, which covered more than 600 sites including parks, roads, stations and schools.

Faced with disquiet among Catholics, the chief operating officer of World Youth Day, Danny Casey, said the church was not asking for a redefinition of the laws. "Yes, we support free speech, but we are also concerned to make it clear that the event must run efficiently. We believe Sydney is behind us. All the research suggests they are. Everyone will be swept away with this wonderful wave of joy and enthusiasm."

Pam Krstic, from the Healesville Education and Awareness Raising group, which represents victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, said police had told her members they would not be allowed near sites including East Darling Harbour, Randwick Racecourse, Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral. "We’re not anti-Catholic. We’re anti-abuse," she said. "Who’s not anti-abuse?"

Suddenly, people turn shirty

Sydney Morning Herald – Jano Gibson
July 3, 2008

Some of the T-shirt messages suggested by Herald readers.

Tell people what they can’t do, and they will surely go ahead and do it.

Barely 48 hours after the Herald revealed that protesting, skateboarding or even wearing a particular T-shirt could result in a fine of $5500 if it annoys a pilgrim during World Youth Day, hundreds of people have designed T-shirt slogans in protest.

Thousands more have voiced their opinions through online polls, blogs, letters and talkback radio. And more than 500 media outlets worldwide have run stories about the controversial regulations. Most people were opposed to any intrusion on civil liberties.

"I am a Catholic and will be participating in the WYD," wrote Andrew on an blog. "I think these laws are stupid and ridiculous."

Others cautioned people against directing anger towards participants.

"Your beef should be with the Government, not the pilgrims," Graeme wrote. "Anyone who wants to use this as an excuse for pilgrim bashing does not deserve to be called Australian."

More than 90 per cent of 10,000 respondents to an poll opposed the laws.

Catholica Australia
July 3, 2008

Then there’s the story about the police banning inappropriate t-shirts that upset or provoke the poor dears attending the festivities. One priest in Sydney has come up with a creative solution and he’s going into production doing a bit of merchandising of his own for his local parish. The big print on the t-shirt reads: PAPA. In small print underneath it reads "People Against Pell’s Administration! Last time I looked the Poll the SMH has been running on these draconian police powers the vote was 90% against them. I suppose one thing is for sure now: we ARE going to see plenty of protests and Chaser-type skits taking the Mickey out of us Micks over the coming weeks. You thought they might have learned from the banning of Bishop Robinson in America.

If you want to encourage protests just ban than, or make it more difficult for the people who want to protest.

Sydney Morning Herald – Alan Moir, Thursday, 3 July, 2008

The Church Mouse cannot understand what all the fuss is about. After all, Bishop Anthony Fisher, WYD coordinator, only three years ago wrote in a letter to St Vincent’s that he had directed the parish priests "to contact the Police and seek their assistance" when annoyed by parishioners.

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