In April 2014, the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department opposing the repeal of 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act stating that, “The Uniting Church in Australia is committed to positively contributing to a nation that is inclusive and harmonious. We believe that diversity strengthens us: as individuals, in the life of our Church, and our society as a whole. We firmly reject the proposed amendments contained in the Bill as we believe they lessen the protections against racial vilification and have the potential to open the floodgates with regards to the production, dissemination and broadcast of materials that propagate racial hatred. When individuals are targets of racial vilification, their dignity is diminished; by our values, traditions and beliefs. We find this wholly unacceptable.”
So it must have come as quite a shock to discover that they themselves have had a complaint made against them under the notorious 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. Their crime: to build a memorial to the ‘comfort women’ who were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers during World War 2. There were roughly 200,000 of these women forced into sexual slavery, most of whom came from China and Korea.
The Australia-Japanese Community Network have described the memorial as, “This hurtful historical symbol is detrimental to the local community and will only result in generating offence and racial hate.” The Uniting Church has a fairly significant Korean congregation who no doubt find the memory of the forced rape of their ancestors and relatives to be rather hurtful. This hurt has no doubt been made worse by Japanese denials and the claim that the women weren’t raped and claims that they were well paid prostitutes. The fact the Japanese community have the audacity to use racial vilification laws to censor their critics must be deeply offensive.
The absurdity of this case should convince even the social justice warriors at the Uniting Church that 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act is a completely unacceptable attack on free speech. Laws such as 18c can be used as weapons to silence people who discuss difficult issues. In this case it’s Japanese War crimes. No doubt some Japanese feel raising Japanese war crimes is racial vilification targeted at them. However such discussions are for the Japanese the only way the animosity between the Japanese and Korean communities is going to be overcome is by speech.
Many in the Uniting Church have strongly opposed to Australia’s tough border control policies. The recent protests that disrupted the sitting of parliament were conducted by people associated with the Uniting Church in Queensland. No doubt the refugee advocates within the Uniting Church would love to use 18c to prevent free discussion around immigration and the possible negative consequences of the open border policies they advocate. Whatever one may think of such arguments people should have the right to make them. The Japanese community are absolutely entitled to debate the historical accuracy of the comfort women memorial. They aren’t entitled to to silence people who disagree with them. Maybe now they’ve experience the true censorial nature of 18c they might reconsider their position.