Tasmanian pastors fight for freedom of speech

Pastors Campbell Markham and David Gee are fighting for religious freedom and freedom of speech in Tasmania with a constitutional challenge to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act. Markham and Gee initially became involved in the issue when they came under fire for perceived anti–LGBT speech.

Hobart resident Sam Mazur found it offensive that Markham, a Presbyterian minister, had referred in his online blog from 2011 to the “distressingly dangerous homosexual lifestyle,” and that Gee, in his street evangelism, preached against same-sex marriage.

Mazur, who does not identify as homosexual, filed a suit against the two under section 17 of the Act, which bans conduct that “offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules” someone on the basis of 22 attributes, including sexuality. After a legal battle lasting about six months, Mazur dropped the suit.  The situation that Markham and Gee found themselves in was similar to that of Archbishop Julian Porteous, who was taken before the Anti-Discrimination Commission, and wasted time, funds, and energy defending himself before the complainant discontinued the suit.  In so many of these cases, the process itself is the punishment.

The broad definition of offensive conduct in Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act poses a great risk to religious freedom. It is also concerning that Tasmania accepted a case from an individual who was not affected on a personal level; as Pastor Markham put it:

If the EOT starts accepting third-party complaints then every Tasmanian is exposed to legal ­action — not just because a person may be offended by what they say, but because someone may decide that someone else, somewhere, might be offended.

Markham believes that Mazur, a professing atheist, was just trying to make trouble for Markham and his church. The pastor stands by his comments:

I won’t be changing a word what I wrote, unless someone can point out something unbiblical. But I have not had any feedback of that nature from my brother ministers.

Markham believes that if no one stands up for religious freedom now, the rights of pastors to voice their religious beliefs will only be further eroded:

We feel a responsibility to fight this law — not for ourselves, but on behalf of all Tasmanians who want to live in a free society.

On that basis, Markham and Gee are continuing to fight for religious freedom and free speech in Tasmania by moving forward with their constitutional challenge to Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

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