Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Australia's Top Court Upholds Permit Requirement For Preaching On Streets

Yesterday the High Court of Australia, the country's supreme court, upheld a By-Law of the city of Adelaide that requires the obtaining of a permit in order to "preach, canvass, harangue, tout for business or conduct any survey or opinion poll" on any public or private street. The by-law was challenged by two street preachers.  In Attorney-General (SA) v Corporation of the City of Adelaide, (HCA, Feb. 27, 2013), Justice Hayne, writing one of the opinions upholding the By-Law, said:
... [T]he concern of those who must decide whether to grant or withhold consent is confined to the practical question of whether the grant of permission will likely create an unacceptable obstruction of the road in question.  Once that is understood, it is readily evident that the impugned provisions are reasonably appropriate and adapted to prevent obstruction of roads in a manner which is compatible with the maintenance of the constitutionally prescribed system of representative and responsible government.... 
The Australian reporting on the decision gives additional background on events that led to the case:
In September 2010, the preachers - who are not affiliated with any church - were banned from holding their self-described "prayer meetings" in the mall. Retailers and shoppers had complained their preaching - done through amplifiers and megaphones - was "xenophobic, homophobic and sexist". They claimed the group "shout and scream slanderous" comments including "Muslims are dirty" and "you are all sinners who will be killed by God". Adelaide City Council claimed it had the power to exclude them from the Mall under a bylaw governing the proper use of roadways.