In Western culture, it’s difficult to believe religious discrimination is still legal in industrialized countries. Yet in Australia, Muslims contend they are facing discrimination and continue to strive for religious protection.
All Australians, no matter their religious or political position, are currently afforded criminal protections in that violence against them is a punishable offense. However, hateful messages calling for harmful action against specific persons or groups can still be safely posted online with little fear of penalty.
Australian Muslims in Victoria are currently seeking the protections offered under the Racial Protection Act, in view of anti-muslim sentiment being aired online. Other groups such as Jews have successfully utilized this act based on their recognized ethnic group; now Dr. Yassir Morsi of the University of South Australia feels Muslims should be granted this same legal protection because they also enjoy the dual connection of being both an ethnic racial and cultural religious group.
Reaction to this proposal is mixed. If Muslims are granted protection from hate speech under the law in Australia, this should be expanded to cover members of any religious group including Christians. Members of some other groups such as Catch the Fire ministries, an evangelical Christian group, seem to be confused about why Muslims feel they need this special protection in the first place, citing chronic vilification of Christianity and Buddhism in online venues. Others such as the Australian Christian Lobby claim that existing legislation seems adequate and pursuing further legal restrictions begins to infringe on the free speech of being allowed healthy religious criticism.
The balance between protection from hate speech and the infringement of free speech is a delicate one that calls for ongoing sensitivity. While open discussion & dialogue about religions are healthy, religious minorities should also feel safe to live peaceably among their fellow citizens.