Tasmania’s Supreme Court has fined a man who refused to publicly apologise for distributing anti-gay flyers.
James Durston distributed the flyer titled “Homosexuality stats” in the Hobart suburb of Sandy Bay in 2013.
The flyers said “homosexuality should not be tolerated” and claimed scripture rejects homosexuality as “utterly abominable”.
The anti-gay flyers made false claims including gay people died on average in their 40s and lesbians were 400 times more likely to die in traffic accidents.
In 2015, a tribunal ruled Durston breached the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act. The tribunal ordered him to make a public apology and retraction in a newspaper.
Durston appealed but in October the Hobart Supreme Court ruled against him.
Justice Michael Brett said Durston’s flyer was a “direct attack” on gay people and he intentionally demeaned them.
“It seeks to separate those persons out from the rest of society, in a demeaning and offensive way,” he wrote.
“It is disingenuous in the extreme to claim that the material was only revealing facts that might generally assist the public.”
He found Tasmania’s hate speech laws don’t unduly impinge on Durston’s freedom of religion or free speech and are constitutional.
And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ordered Durston to pay $2000 after refusing to comply with the order to publish a public apology.
Hobart man Robert Williams lodged the earlier anti-discrimination complaint against Durston, arguing he incited hatred against homosexuals.
‘What he did was wrong and illegal’
Williams said he did not intend for Durston to be punished financially and only wanted an apology.
“I wanted a public apology [to undo] some of the damage caused by the flyer, particularly to young, vulnerable LGBTI people,” he said.
“The damage done to young and vulnerable people through vilification based on their personal characteristics is immeasurable.
“Mr Durston doesn’t seem to understand that Tasmania’s laws protect everyone equally, including people of faith.
“What he did was both wrong and illegal regardless of how often he invokes God.”
On Tuesday, Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rodney Croome said the conviction comes amid the national “religious freedom” debate.
Unlike most of Australia’s hate speech laws, Tasmania has no exemption allowing hate speech in the name of religion.
“The Durston case shows the value of Tasmania’s strong hate speech laws for promoting a more inclusive society,” he said.
“[It shows] why these laws should not be watered down in the name of ‘religious freedom’.”
He said federal and state governments should bring Australia’s hate speech laws up to the standard set in Tasmania.
“Robert Williams deserves the gratitude of LGBTIQ Australians for his calm, patient and resolute action against hate,” he said.
Croome said fewer LGBTIQ Australians will suffer the adverse impacts of hate speech if people call it out more often.
On Tuesday, more than 50 Australian LGBTIQ groups signed a joint statement cautiously backing a Religious Discrimination Act.
But new laws must not sanction new forms of discrimination against others, the statement adds.
Attorney-General Christian Porter is still drafting the legislation following the Ruddock religious freedom review.
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