What the NSW Government is doing to liberal democracy in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Mutaween is a generic term for religious police in Islamic countries. They’re the guys (and of course they tend to be guys) who go around arresting, beating, flogging and even killing ordinary citizens who flout religious laws. In countries like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, women tend to find themselves the victims of the sadistic dogma-enforcers (see this Amnesty report from 2000), who on one occasion prevented schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building “because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress.” (15 of the schoolgirls subsequently died, having been beaten back into the blaze by the police.) We in the modern, enlightened West like to pride ourselves on our difference from sickeningly backward societies like the theocracies of the Islamic world. We value religious freedom, and are not so cognitively immature that we require the repressive apparatus of the state to artificially prop up religious faith and deliver us from reality. Certainly nothing could be more alien to the liberal democratic values we cherish than the idea of religious police, right?
Wrong. As you are doubtless already aware, the NSW Government has deemed it necessary to outsource the Sydney constabulary (as well as emergency services) as rent-a-cops for the Spanish Inquisition, and they have already proceeded to heavy potential critics:
Lapsed Catholic Luke Roberts is a homosexual activist and performer who goes by the stage name Pope Alice, a character best described as a celestial being of indeterminate gender. Along with Pope Benedict, Pope Alice will also be in Sydney during World Youth Day, hosting a “kiss-in” along Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.
“I want to see Pope Alice express herself as a focal point for anybody – gays, lesbians, transgender, queers, bisexuals, heterosexuals, anyone who has an open mind and wants to say, ‘We’ve had enough of the medieval religions that keep the world backwards,'” Mr Roberts said.
The performer has made no secret of the proposed kiss-in.
“You’re having your thing and we are having ours,” he said. “This is one of the gay capitals of the world.”
Yesterday, it appeared the NSW Police got wind of the plans. Mr Roberts received a call in Brisbane from a detective who identified himself as being from the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice World Youth Day Investigation Squad. He was then asked a series of questions. (ABC News Online)
Despite firm denials by the Minister for World Youth Day, the Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that police have informed protesters that “they need to have placards, banners and T-shirts pre-approved or risk losing their protest “rights” – even those groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.”
And there may be, as Bruce and jim the lesser (a commenter at Matt’s Notepad) suggest, another angle to this. The State Government regulations also prohibit the distribution of “religious items” without the approval of the World Youth Day Co-ordination Authority: “for example, rosary beads, candles, candle holders, prayer tokens and prayer cards.” Jim suggests that
The regulations have little to do with protesters; rather they are designed to protect the “official merchandises” but more importantly, to prevent church groups, who are not conservative enough for the Sydney Cardinal and the Opus Dei senior echelons of the World Youth Day Committee, from distributing any material which is not orthodox enough for them.
So it may turn out that we have a situation where the state is not merely privileging a particular religion, nor a particular denomination within that religion, but a specific faction within that denomination. Which is a very good reason to favour secularism and the separation of church and state, is it not?
There are those who will bristle at the comparison being made between the religious police in Islamic theocracies such as Saudi Arabia, and the (albeit temporary) religious police that will pound the streets during the World Youth Day festivities. Said bristlers are, in my view, simply invoking the “NABA defense“. Of course, protesters in Sydney don’t have to fear anything like the kind of savage brutality to which the citizens of the aforementioned theocracies are subject at the hands of state-sponsored sharia-enforcers; the worst a gay rights or Broken Rites protester can potentially expect is a $5,500 fine. That is not the point. The point is that in a mature liberal democracy that cherishes freedom of religion, freedom and speech and the marketplace of ideas, the state has no business using police powers to shield members of a particular faith from protest and criticism.