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Kangaroo court

"Kangaroo court" Continued...

Issue: "Barrier riffs," Feb. 10, 2007

Meanwhile, Employment Opportunity Commission (EOC) workers were holding seminars to train Australians about the reach of the new anti-vilification law. When EOC officer May Heloud, a former leader in the Islamic Council of Victoria, learned that Scot and a colleague, Daniel Nalliah, were speaking at a March 2002 seminar, she urged three Australian converts to Islam to attend. They subsequently filed a complaint with the agency under the new law. Soon both Daniels were in court.

Based on his statements at the seminar, Scot was cited for 19 counts of vilifying Muslims. Yet in cross-examination it became clear that 15 of the 19 statements were direct quotes from the Quran. "In essence, the judge's complaint was that Daniel Scot was educating Christians using the Quran," said Mark Durie, vicar of St. Mary's Anglican Church in Victoria. Durie, with a Ph.D. in linguistics and the study of Islamic tribes, was called as a witness at the trial and attended a previous seminar on Muslims led by Scot, but his testimony was rejected by the judge.

Many Australian papers editorialized in Scot's favor, and Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt noted that Scot "actually understood the Quran far better than did the people complaining he'd misquoted it." Nonetheless, Victoria Judge Michael Higgens heard in full seven witnesses for the complainant, the Islamic Council of Victoria, while five witnesses for Scot and Nalliah, including Durie, had part or all of their testimony (including a transcript of the seminar) thrown out. Excluded were witnesses who said Scot not only quoted from the Quran but also discussed practical ways to show love to Muslims.

In ruling against Scot and Nalliah in 2004, the judge ordered the two not only to pay court costs but to take out full-page ads in Australia's leading newspapers apologizing for vilifying Muslims. The ads would have cost $70,000 and court costs at that time exceeded $600,000. "When I came to Australia I had $6," said Scot. During the legal proceedings, "some months we received $4,000 in donations and had $10,000 in expenses."

The case remained under persistent review, and Scot did not place the ads. But it took two years before a three-judge appeals court panel in Victoria conclusively overturned the verdict late last year. The panel rejected the lower court's interpretation of the law that to speak out against Muhammad or Islam is to "vilify" Muslims. It ordered the Islamic Council to cover half the defendants' legal costs. The appeals panel also rejected much of the evidence against Scot as "inaccurate." But the case is not over: The appeals panel ordered a new hearing with a new judge.

"The court made an important distinction between hatred of beliefs and hatred of the person," said Durie. "This is a profoundly Christian perspective but Islam denies it." Durie also told WORLD that the case shows that "church leaders cannot afford to be asleep on their watch. This law was brought in while the church was asleep by politicians who did not comprehend what they were doing."

Scot told his New York audience the case has sober lessons for lawmakers and judges who debate such laws, as well as pastors and others who could be tried under them. But he said there is one lesson he is not taking to heart: To keep silent about Islam.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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