Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Shouting 'fire' in a crowded church?

An interesting decision on religious vilification was recently handed down by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The decision is titled Investigation report no. BI-205 (23 August 2016).  It concerned the broadcast by United Christian Broadcasters Australia Limited (t/as Vision Christian Radio) of a lecture by Biblical apologist Chuck Missler as part of the 66/40 series.  The lecture discussed the Book of Revelation and included these passages -
This beast, of course, is the one that was described in Revelation thirteen. It’s a political system on the one hand and/or the leader of that system on the other, and here it’s presented as a scarlet coloured beast. That’s a very interesting colour. That’s the colour that’s been adopted by the Vatican as its primary thematic colour. ...
Verse four: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication”.  Well purple has a lot of different meanings – it certainly was the imperial colour of Rome, every Senator and Councillor wore a purple stripe as his badge of his position, and the Emperor of the empire was arrayed in purple. And scarlet is the colour that’s been adopted in a similar fashion by Roman Catholicism. ...
Let’s move on, Revelation seventeen verse six “I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus ...”. ... Now as you’re following this I want to recommend, I don’t normally do this but I want to recommend another non-biblical source that you ought to have for your library, if you’re a serious Christian. And that’s a book by Dave Hunt called “A woman rides the beast”. Dave Hunt is a sound scholar, thorough researcher, he does have some views that I happen to have a slight disagreement with, one of which I explain to you as we get to it. But I have an extensive library on this subject - the classic work in this area is one by Alexander Hislop, published in 1881 and it is in most serious libraries. However it’s very dated, it’s also somewhat argumentative and not as perfect a reference as you’d like. Dave Hunt has repaired that, he’s done a thorough amount of research, it is extremely well documented, it is very controversial, because he doesn’t pull any punches. He makes a very clear linkage between the woman in Revelation, which isn’t the beast, it rides the beast, he makes that distinction. Many prophecy buffs that write books are insensitive to the fact that the Pope is not the Antichrist. The Vatican rides the beast, it isn’t the beast and so, but there is a clear linkage to the Vatican. That doesn’t mean it is limited to the Vatican but the Vatican certainly qualifies. The history of the Roman Catholic Church is part of what you need to acquaint yourself with if you’re going to understand your bible. There is no organisation on the planet earth that has murdered more Christians than the Roman Catholic Church. One Pope, one afternoon, murdered more Christians than all the Roman Emperors put together, and you need to understand that. I’m not going to get into that heavy here because there’s more to be done... but when you understand the history of the medieval Europe, and you see verse six, you immediately, draws you to a recognition of the abuse, of Christians specifically, by the Roman Catholic Church.
“I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the Saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus”. You can’t even find a second choice that comes close to them as an identity here. And that’s one of the reasons, I think, that John says “I wondered with great astonishment”. If he was shown the blood of the martyrs at the hands of pagan Rome, he wouldn’t be surprised – pagan Rome was the enemy of the church. But to find the so-called “Christian church” guilty of murdering martyrs astonished John. There’s a clue right there that the source of the blood of the Saints is in a surprising place.
A complainant alleged that this broadcast breached cl. 1.3 of the Open Narrowcast Radio Codes of Practice, relevantly providing that "Narrowcasters will not broadcast programs which are likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of ... religion"

The Authority dealt wih the matter this way by noting that the speaker intimated a connection between certain passages of the Bible and the Catholic Church, particularly referring to the Vatican, Roman Catholicism, the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.   This was considered sufficient to establish that "for the purposes of clause 1.3, the group of persons identified is members of the Catholic Church and the relevant basis is religion".

In considering whether the broadcast was likely to incite hatred against or vilify a person or group based on religion, the Authority asked if the broadcast "was likely to have urged a reasonable person to share feelings of hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of religion".  The terms ‘hatred against’ and ‘vilification’ are directed towards the provocation of of a very strong reaction in listeners: it is not enough to induce a mild or even a strong response. 

In this case the Authority considered that the broadcast "was sectarian and to some extent critical" and that "some listeners may have considered the statements to be critical of the Catholic Church by associating it with the Antichrist, blasphemy, a counterfeit religion and claims of murder".  However, the relevant clause had not been breached because
Dr Missler did not use explicit language during the program that would have been understood by an ordinary reasonable listener as directly urging, stimulating or encouraging them to share feelings of hatred against or vilify a person or group on the basis of their religion or current religious practices and beliefs
[to] the extent that some listeners may have understood that the program was inciting them to share feelings of hatred against or vilify of members of the Catholic Church on the basis of their religion, it was not explicit or extreme enough to provoke the strength of audience response contemplated in clause 1.3 of the Codes
As such, the broadcaster did not breach clause 1.3 of the Codes.

Interestingly, the Authority was referred to but did not consider relevant the history of antagonism in which a strand of Protestant thought has considered Catholics to be inherently disloyal and murderous.  For example, the 'Chick tract' Are Roman Catholics Christians? (Ontario 1985) includes these passages -

Page 4

Page 11

Nor is it difficult to imagine a ready audience for these views among those who consider the Catholic church to be deceitful -

Note the refusal to use the names adopted save in quotation marks

... or demonic -

In this context, the broadcast is arguably a kind of auditory equivalent of the "Deutschland erwache" flag.  Strictly in itself, it carries little or no threat.  In context, it operates as an incitement to people of a certain strain of thought to view part of the community as a mortal enemy.  'Awaken' indeed.

Image from here

To this extent, then, one may submit that the Authority is using too stringent a test for claims under cl. 1.3.  A better test may, perhaps, be to ask whether the broadcast would be understood to incite a listener to shun contact with the group discussed.

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