Australian Preachers in free speech test on atheists and gays

Australian Preachers in free speech test on atheists and gays, by Matthew Denholm.

A new anti-discrimination complaint will test the limits of free speech and religious expression in Australia, with two preachers — a Presbyterian pastor and a street evangelist — accused of offending gays and atheists.

Hobart pastor Campbell Mark­ham and street preacher David Gee told The Australian the complaint, which had been ­accepted by Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sarah Bolt, was an attack on the rights of all Australians to speak their ­beliefs.

Mr Markham said the accu­sations against him related to online blogs in 2011 in which he referred to the “distressingly dangerous homosexual lifestyle”, “appalling health risks of the homosexual lifestyle” and criticised posters — designed for school­children — normalising same-sex couples. …

Mr Markham … did not believe his blogs, which he saw as an extension of his preaching and aimed primarily at parishioners, were demeaning of, or hurtful to, homosexuals.

“Has stuff I’ve said or written upset people?” he said. “Of course. I don’t set out to do that, but that’s part of being a human being.”

While the complaint was heading to a conciliation conference, he would refuse to modify his preaching. “I don’t think it’s right that people can be threatened with legal action for expressing what they believe is true,” he said. …

Tasmania has some of the nat­ion’s broadest anti-discrimination laws, which make it unlawful to “offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule” someone on the basis of certain attributes, including sexuality and religious belief.

Both preachers were receiving legal advice and did not believe they could, at this stage, name the complainant.

Anonymous complaints. “I’m telling.”

hat-tip Stephen Neil