Sydneysiders refuse to turn the other cheek for Pope Benedict
Sydney is not a city famous for protests. In fact, people usually only get angry at traffic congestion, if their football team loses on the weekend or if rain stops them hitting the city’s sandy beaches. But Sydneysiders have become angry and many are aiming to vent their spleen at Pope Benedict and pilgrims attending the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day here this month.
Except for a handful of people promoting the safe sex message of using condoms, nobody was publicly planning to protest during the Pope’s first visit to Australia. Australians mostly come from a Christian background and Catholics make up the biggest congregation.
But now every man and his dog seems to be planning to take to the streets in protest. What changed?
Sydneysiders believe their civil liberties have been crushed with police introducing tough new anti-protest powers for the papal visit that allows them to arrest and fine people A$5,5000 (US$52,885) for annoying or disturbing Catholic pilgrims. Wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Catholic message or handing out condoms can break the law. Police have asked anyone planning to protest to send them photographs of their banners and what they will be wearing so they can be approved.
“I’ve had it up to my rosaries with my city…Thou shalt not annoy or trespass on World Youth Day,” Bianca Nogrady wrote in protest to the Sydney Morning Herald. “This is religious oppression. Despite being a contented heathen, I am driven by sheer outrage to take up the mantle and T-shirt of every other religion and march proudly through the streets of my secular city.”
The anti-protest laws cover hundreds of city precincts, like cinemas, schools, train and bus stops, and allow police to partially strip-search people.
Before news of the extra police powers, most Sydneysiders were merely annoyed at the traffic inconvenience of World Youth Day, which organisers say could attract 500,000 pilgrims. Now talkback radio is jammed with irate listeners and newspapers have been flooded with letters and emails from angry people, many who now say they will protest. “World Youth Day arrives and roads are closed, parks cordoned off and traffic tipped to be a nightmare, but if we wear a T-shirt that might annoy the visitors we cop a A$5,500 fine. Jesus Christ,” wrote Andrea Kerekes.
Sydney is Australia’s gay capital, annually hosting the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, one of the world’s biggest homosexual parades and festivals, and the new laws have been mocked by the city’s gay community. “So Catholics can protest a gay parade, but we can’t protest Catholics,” declared one angry radio listener.
Doctors are also angry that the new police powers could stymie the safe sex message of using condoms. “We intend to hand out condoms to young people on World Youth Day. These draconian laws are a public health risk. Governments of this country agree condoms save likes,” wrote two doctors in The Australian newspaper.
One T-shirt seller has started a World Youth Day design competition which has produced several protest T-shirts, such as “$5,500 A small price to pay to annoy Catholics” and “WYDO8. We close 300 roads so 300,000 can close their minds.”
What do you think of this? Has Syndey gone too far in protecting the Pope?