'Annoyance laws' challenged

Activists have asked the Federal Court to rule that the recently gazetted NSW regulation declaring that people can be fined $5500 for "annoying" behaviour during July, but especially during the pope's World Youth Day (WYD) visit, be declared invalid. The case was heard on July 11.

NoToPope spokesperson Rachel Evans described the regulation as "an assault to everyone's democratic rights". She said that those who want to express their views on the pope's reactionary views on condoms, homosexuality, reproductive freedoms and women's rights on their T-shirts, for instance, should not have to worry about being fined for doing so, whether it was annoying to someone or not.

Challenged on the regulation, which falls under the under the World Youth Day act, the NSW government minister responsible, Christina Keneally, has said that the laws are aimed at everyone, not just protesters. But Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, disputed this. In a July 10 NoToPope statement, he said that the WYD laws "make Sydney a police state by giving police and authorised volunteers unlimited discretion to decide what conduct is annoying to WYD participants".

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is supporting the Federal Court proceedings because it believes that the right of free speech is a fundamental democratic right.

Amber Pike, one of the plaintiffs in the Federal Court case, who is a student nurse, said that the police had not guaranteed that NoToPope Coalition members will be able to hand out condoms at its rally on July 19.

"The statistics show a massive 41% increase in HIV infection rates across Australia over the last four years. This could be addressed by the greater promotion of safe-sex practices, including the use of condoms, and health education. But we're told that we risk being fined for pushing the safe sex message when the pope, an extremist on many important social issues, is in town", Pike told Green Left Weekly.

Evans said she was encouraged to learn that after World Youth Day in Rome, in 2000, thousands of used condoms were discovered during the clean-up. "That means that young people are choosing to have sex safely, contrary to the pope's teachings that premarital sex is a sin", she said. The nation's peak sexual health group, Marie Stopes International, announced on July 11 that it will provide all WYD pilgrims with access to free condoms and sexual health advice. Jill Michelson from MSI said not providing condoms advocated unprotected sex. "The simple fact is that many young people — including Catholics — have sex", she said.

The NoToPope Coalition is supporting lesbian, gay, queer and Christian activists' forums and services during WYD. It is organising a peaceful protest on July 19 at 12 noon in Taylor Square, which will call for an end to homophobia and anti-condom policies, reproductive rights and the right to protest.

On July 9, NoToPope organised a "fashion show" of "annoying" T-shirts outside Parliament House. A "The pope is wrong, put a condom on" T-shirt attracted much attention, including from pilgrims passing by. Another hot seller, according to its designer, Colin Charlton, read: "This T-shirt is annoying" followed by the names of the NSW cabinet ministers.

The Federal Court ruling will be handed down on July 15.

[To get involved in the NoToPope Coalition call Rachel on 0403 798 420 or Amber on 0439 427 604. Visit http://www.notopope.com&.]

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