Court backs WYD activists’ right to annoy is good news for any Australian concerned about the creeping erosion of civil liberties in this country.
Two student activists have won a court challenge to special World Youth Day laws that allowed police to detain people or fine them $5,500 for annoying or inconveniencing Catholic pilgrims.
No To Pope Coalition members Amber Pike and Rachel Evans took the New South Wales Government to the Federal Court, arguing the laws were unconstitutional because they would make their peaceful protest illegal.
The Government passed the rules two weeks ago without discussion or debate.
The Full Bench of the Federal Court ruled the definition of ‘annoyance’ was too broad and the scope of the laws was uncertain.
It found that in giving the World Youth Day Coordination Authority the power to set the regulations, the Government would not have intended to infringe on freedom of speech.
The court said the law was intended to encourage policing and public safety but could be misused to infringe on people’s rights.
Not of course freedom to be downright offensive, or, as some have chosen to do, scrawl anti-Pope graffiti over the Hyde Park War Memorial. But you can wear that shirt! Oh, and condom distributors may go about their business, even if it is just a reminder to visiting pilgrims of the reality of the world out there and the inadequacy of the Catholic Church in this area. On the other hand, it isn’t really all that smart proffering said condoms to under-age pilgrims, is it? Zeal can be unfortunate at times, whatever side of the fence one might be on.
And whatever the Catholic Church officially teaches, on the ground here in Sydney Catholic institutions such as St Vincents Hospital and the Hospice are second to none in their practical help in the area of AIDS, and much the same might be said for initiatives like the Kings Cross injection room for drug users, even if on the surface it is the Wayside Chapel and the Uniting Church that have most been associated with that important venture. The fact is that St Vincents at some levels has supported the idea, though church politics — i.e. Pell and company — made direct association difficult.
Similarly, it is ironic given what parts of the Catholic Church do for Sydney’s homeless and down-and-out that WYD has not exactly played the Good Samaritan role: Homeless ‘removed’ for WYD.
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