Laws aimed at curbing “racial vilification” have been extended in three states to include “religious vilification”. There are concerns that while these laws legitimately forbid incitement to hatred, they also ban “severe ridicule” and “serious contempt” of persons based on religion, and have been used in practice to prosecute people for criticisms of religion as such.
The Australian constitution bars the federal government from making any law that imposes a state religion or religious observance, prohibits the free exercise of religion or sets a religious test for a federal public office.
There are no national, constitutional protections for freedoms of speech and the press, but in practice various statute laws protect these rights, there is a free press and citizens have significant freedom of expression.
However, the federal government and several states have passed laws outlawing “racial vilification” and the states of Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria have extended those laws to also outlaw any “religious vilification”.
Section 8 (1) of the law states: “A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of persons, engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons.”
The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act passed by Victoria in 2001 has been used several times to prosecute people for religious criticism.