In Sydney, Australia, the annual World Youth Day, a massive Catholic event, starts on July 15th. It is a week-long affirmation of Catholic power that seeks to “mobilize” young people, and will bring millions of dollars in revenue to the area. Unsurprisingly, local government is doing everything in its power to avoid scandal, controversy, or conflict. And when I say “everything”, I mean everything.
Do I annoy you, yeah?
“Australians have been warned: Don’t get caught annoying the crowds when they gather here later this month to see the pope. New regulations give police and emergency services workers the power to order anyone to stop behavior that “causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event,” according to a New South Wales state government gazette. Anyone who does not comply faces a $5,300 fine … Anna Katzman, the president of the New South Wales Bar Association, which represents almost 3,000 lawyers in the state, said making someone’s inconvenience the basis of a criminal offense was ‘unnecessary and repugnant.’”
While it is good sense to regulate violence, intimidation, or interfering with someone else’s event, to regulate such arbitrary offenses as “annoyance” or “inconvenience” is downright draconian. The No To Pope Coalition is already testing the law by parading around in “annoying” t-shirts outside the New South Wales parliament.
“When about a dozen protesters showed off their new T-shirts, eight policemen stood and watched them. “This is an attempt to intimidate people to not come to our rally and saying their piece against the Pope,” said Rachel Evans of the NoToPope coalition. The coalition wants Sydney citizens to defy the laws and protest against the Pope on July 19. The demonstrators plan to march through Sydney distributing condoms to young Catholic pilgrims as a protest against the Vatican’s opposition to contraception.”
“The Federal Court has been told the New South Wales Government’s World Youth Day regulations are too broad and could be applied to members of the public going about their everyday business. Two student activists, with the help of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, are challenging the State Government’s regulations. The regulations allow police to detain and fine anyone who annoys or inconveniences World Youth Day pilgrims. The activist’s lawyers told the court the area where the powers apply include train stations as far away as Parramatta and Camp…”
The government’s response to these charges is expected later today. In the meantime, these laws have local residents worried (a whopping 90% of Sydney residents are against them). One Australian Wiccan e-mailed me wondering if she could be fined thousands by openly wearing her Pentacle at the train station (or any of the 600 “controlled areas”). Seem unlikely? All you need is one over-zealous Catholic copper and an innocent individual could face a strip-search and hefty fine.
So what, if any, input did Catholic officials give to the local government about these laws? According to a World Youth Day spokesperson, none.
“A World Youth Day spokesperson, however, told ENI that the Catholic Church had not requested any special measures to prevent protests. “The Catholic Church supports people’s right to protest. We’re fine with that, as long as they do it in a peaceful manner,” the spokesperson stated.”
In fact, at least one Australian Catholic organization has publicly spoken out against these foolish and dangerous new regulations.
“The Edmund Rice Centre, an Australian Catholic advocacy organisation, claimed that the laws introduced in New South Wales to restrict protests are contrary to Catholic traditions of social justice. “These laws significantly dampen our right to freedom of speech and to demonstrate inside or outside the church,” a spokesperson for the centre, John Sweeney, told Ecumenical News International on 4 July.”
So now, the question is why did government officials think this was a good idea? Were they so afraid of Catholics being offended, of negative publicity, that they became intent on quashing all planned dissent? Were these laws urged on by a totalitarian need for control, or a misplaced fidelity to their own Christian faith? Whatever the motivation, if this law isn’t struck down in the courts, massive civil disobedience seems to be in order.