A landmark Australian legal case has put freedom of speech under the spotlight when a judge ruled evangelical pastors had breached a new race and religion law when presenting a seminar and articles on Islam.

Pentecostal Pastor Daniel Nalliah (president of Catch the Fire Ministries) and speaker Pastor Daniel Scot may now face financial penalties at a hearing as early as January.

Judge Michael Higgins of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) found on Friday December 17 that a Catch the Fire seminar in March 2002—and both a newsletter and website article—had breached the state's Religious and Racial Tolerance Act of 2001.

Judge Higgins said Scot had made fun of Muslim beliefs and conduct at the seminar, and presented his talk in a way that was "essentially hostile, demeaning and derogatory of all Muslim people, their god, Allah, the prophet Mohammed and in general Muslim religious beliefs and practices."

The judge ruled Scot had made statements that Muslims were liars and demons and that the Qur'an promoted violence, killing and looting.

"Pastor Scot failed to differentiate between Muslims throughout the world, [and] he preached a literal translation of the Qur'an and of Muslims' religious practices which was not mainstream but was more representative of a small group in the Gulf states," Judge Higgins ruled.

'Black Day'

Reacting to the verdict, Pastor Nalliah told Christianity Today it was a "black day for freedom of speech and truth, as truth is not a defense under this new racial and religious vilification legislation.

"This law is subjective rather than objective, which leaves the door wide open for anyone to claim feeling hurt or vilified from words spoken or read from their very own religious text," ...

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