Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1 Jan 2008/Tim WimborneSydney 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.

Sydney meeting of NoToPope coalit, 24 June 2008/Tim Wimborne“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.”