ECAJ: Charlie shouldn’t impact on 18C
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ECAJ: Charlie shouldn’t impact on 18C

THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has confirmed its continued support for Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits offending and intimidating people because of their race, national or ethnic origin, after the terrorist attacks in Paris sparked renewed calls for its repeal.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.

Full coverage in this week’s AJN

THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has confirmed its continued support for Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits offending and intimidating people because of their race, national or ethnic origin, after the terrorist attacks in Paris sparked renewed calls for its repeal.

As the French magazine Charlie Hebdo became a celebrated worldwide symbol of free speech after 12 of its staff were shot dead over cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, critics of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to abandon the government’s earlier policy of repealing 18C in the name of free speech raised their voices.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson said Charlie Hebdo could not be published in Australia under 18C. Meanwhile, Liberal Senator Dean Smith, who chairs the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, announced a new private bill to repeal 18C, co-sponsored by Liberal colleague Cory Bernardi and senators from minor parties. But the government has confirmed that repealing 18C remains off the table.

ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim said this week that notions that 18C stifled debate about religious beliefs were wrong. “That is simply not the case. It prohibits publicly offending people because of the colour of their skin, or because of their race or national or ethnic origin. It does not prohibit offending or insulting people because of their opinions or beliefs, including their religious beliefs. No topic, or side of the argument on any topic, is placed ‘off limits’ for discussion.

“Contrary to the hysterical nonsense being disseminated from certain sources, Section 18C would not prohibit the publication in Australia of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons which portrayed Muhammad,” he said.

Wertheim said that in a free society, ideas of any kind – religious, political, ideological or philosophical – are and should be capable of being debated, satirised and defended. “Robust critiques of ideas of any kind, no matter how passionately adhered to, do not constitute a form of social exclusion of those who adhere to them. To offend or insult a person or group merely by confronting them with ideas or opinions which they perhaps find incompatible with their own belief systems might hurt their sensibilities, but does not in any way entail an assault upon their human dignity. People can change their opinions and beliefs.

“In contrast, to offend or insult a person or group because of their ethnicity, which is unalterable, necessarily sends a message that such people, by virtue of who they are, and regardless of how they behave or what they believe, are not members of society in good standing. This is an assault on their human dignity and cannot but vitiate the sense of belonging of members of the group, and their sense of assurance and security as citizens.”

PETER KOHN

ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim.

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