Our distinguished WALTA President and Sheridan law professor, Dr Augusto Zimmermann, has recently participated at a very important conference in Warsaw, Poland. Held on 27-28 September, ‘Freedom, Religion, and Sovereignty: Modern Phenomena and Future Challenges’ was an international scientific conference organised by the Polish-based ‘Institute of Justice’ and co-financed by the ‘Justice Fund’ whose administrator is Poland’s Minister of Justice.
Sponsored by the Polish government, this significant event gathered some of the finest legal minds on the topics of religious freedom and freedom of speech. Legal academics presenting papers at this international scientific conference included, inter alia, Prof Teresa S. Collett (University of St Thomas School of Law), Prof Franciszek Longchamps de Bérier (Jagiellonian University), Prof Iain Benson (University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney), Prof Hedvig Bernitz (Stockholm University), Francesco Manfredi (University LUM Jean Monnet), Dr Jonathan Price (Oxford University), Prof Paul Coyer (Institute of World Politics, USA), Prof Raquel Lázaro (University of Navarra), and Prof David Magalhães (University of Coimbra).
The conference was attended by distinguished members of the Polish legal profession, including members of the Polish Supreme Court. It was divided into seven sessions, respectively: ‘Freedom, Religion and Sovereignty: Modern Phenomena’, ‘Crossroads of Freedoms’, ‘New Insights’, ‘Law, History, and Sovereignty’, Religion and Freedom’, ‘Freedom of Speech and Challenges to Religious Liberty’ and ‘Religious Freedom Index’. There was also the launch of several important books (both in Polish and English) in the areas of freedom of speech and religious freedom, including G. Blicharz (ed.), Freedom of Conscience: A Comparative Law Perspective (Warsaw: IWS, 2019), G. Blicharz (ed.) Freedom of Religion: A Comparative Law Perspective (Warsaw: IWS, 2019), and G. Blicharz (ed.), Freedom of Speech: A Comparative Law Perspective (Warsaw: IWA, 2019).
This last book – Freedom of Speech: A Comparative Analysis – contains a chapter by Dr Zimmermann entitled ‘The State of Freedom of Speech in Australia: Universities, the Media and Society in General’. The book offers a collection of analyses of contemporary legal orders in the field of freedom of the arts and sciences, as well as a critical analysis of so-called ‘hate speech’ and its deleterious impact on freedom of speech in Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. According to Professor Christopher Wolf of the University of Dallas School of Law, ‘it provides a great deal of information on these topics, in a single volume, which presents a considerable value to anyone who wants to study the subject’.
In his comments about Freedom of Speech: A Comparative Analysis, Professor Franciszek Longchamps de Bérier of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, stated: ‘The book is disturbing. It encourages to pose serious questions, in particular about the phenomenon of persecution for expressing traditional views, which ceased to be accepted by certain political and intellectual elites. It presents the context which allows us to realize how difficult it is to address such issues… The analyses of the law in [these] countries warn us how fragile the protection of freedom of expression is’.
Dr Zimmermann’s talk during the conference addressed an important topic in Australia: the ongoing erosion of freedom of speech by means of ill-conceived anti-discrimination laws, and the rising tide of anti-Christian sentiment in this country. He has witnessed in Australia an aggressive form of anti-Christian secularism, which views Christian values and beliefs with arrogant intolerance and dismissiveness. Although this is clearly a violation of an implied constitutional freedom, Dr Zimmermann reminds us that there is clearly an ongoing push to remove Christian political communication from the Australian public square.
Also discussed by Dr Zimmermann in his successful presentation is the ongoing push by mainstream Islamic groups, academics and politicians to introduce a form of “Sharia law by stealth” in Australia. These controversial groups and individuals, according to him, seek to expand the scope of anti-discrimination laws to religion, while simultaneously imposing significant restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Dr Zimmermann’s paper was very well received, as it can be gathered by the long applause received after his presentation. He was delighted to be a speaker and greatly appreciated the high calibre of the presentations. He considers this international scientific conference one of the most successful academic events of this nature that he has ever attended, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of his academic career.
We congratulate our distinguished President on his successful participation in another important international conference.