Free speech warning as “huge weight” is lifted
A discrimination claim brought by a gay activist against a young Brisbane Catholic mother has been dropped in a case that exposes a troubling trend throughout the country, says her lawyer.
Katrina Tait shared a petition in January on her Facebook page asking Brisbane City Council to cancel a drag queen story hour led by a former adult entertainer in a council library. In part she wrote, “What happened to protecting children’s innocence and letting them just be kids?”
This month the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board said it would investigate the post at the request of serial complainant Garry Burns, but on 25 June the Human Rights Law Alliance which represented Mrs Tait was advised that he had withdrawn the complaint.
The complaint was withdrawn the day after The Catholic Weekly contacted Mr Burns on 24 June with questions regarding the case.
Her lawyer John Steenhof told The Catholic Weekly that the claim had caused Mrs Tait months of unnecessary stress and anxiety in an increasing pattern of ordinary people being censured for their beliefs on controversial topics or in opposition to prevailing ideologies.
“It should be of concern to ordinary Australians and our lawmakers,” Mr Steenhof said. “Activists are using lawfare to try and silence opinions they don’t like.
“The Human Rights Law Alliance is regularly contacted by other Australians just like Katrina who are personally targeted for voicing their beliefs and reasonable opinions.”
Australian Christian Lobby NSW director Kieran Jackson said the organisation assists many ordinary people in similar situations.
“It is great that this worthless claim has been dropped,” Mr Jackson said. “What is disappointing is that the complaint got this far. This complaint was without basis, but the process was the punishment.
“Vilification claims must not be used to silence reasonable opinions. Discrimination law should not be used to cancel people and silence their ideas.”
Mrs Tait said she was very relieved and grateful that “a huge weight has been lifted”. “We had so many people praying for us and we had been saying a novena to the Sacred Heart as a family for this outcome,” she said.
“We feel very blessed and very lucky to have had so much support from everyone as well as our faith to get us through it all.
“I really felt that what I had written was nothing more than any mother would write who was concerned about this type of public event,” she added. “I also believe we should have the freedom to write about what we believe in or about our opinion without being persecuted.”
“We feel very blessed and lucky to have had so much support from everyone as well as our faith to get us through it all.”
Mrs Tait’s case emerged amid a parliamentary inquiry into a bill introduced by Mark Latham MLC in the NSW Legislative Council in February to prevent unfair claims being pursued through the Anti-Discrimination Board.
In a motion tabled last week, Mr Latham slammed the Board’s decision to investigate the complaint against Mrs Tait made by activist Garry Burns as an “amazing waste of money” and “abuse of process”.
Both the Australian Christian Lobby and the Human Rights Law Alliance support a proposed reform of anti-discrimination law in NSW which allows for a relatively low threshold for the acceptance of complaints.
It is concerning “that others reading about what happened to Katrina will think twice before voicing their beliefs or standing up on important issues for fear of personal attack”, Mr Steenhof said.
“People should be free to raise concerns about important issues like the protection of children, without being harassed by activists or being personally targeted. A civil society and a functioning democracy requires robust protections for freedom of speech and religion.”
When contacted by The Catholic Weekly Mr Burns told the paper said that his complaints could not be deemed “vexatious”.
“I have won around 62 of 65 proceedings,” he said. “My complaints are upheld. I win in court. I have a good grasp of discrimination law.”