Legal restrictions imposed for Pope Benedict's visit to Sydney this week, which could see protesters arrested for "annoying" Catholic pilgrims, are unconstitutional, the Australian Federal Court has ruled.
Under the laws, protesters could potentially be arrested and fined $5,000 for wearing anti-Pope messages or for handing out condoms in protest at Church doctrine on sex and reproduction.
Civil liberties campaigners have said the laws stifle freedom of speech and are open to abuse by police who have been mounting an Olympic-style security operation for the papal visit.
The Catholic authorities say that they had not asked for the regulations specifically, though they are keen to ensure the security of the visit.
But other Catholics have protested vigorously against the restrictions.
Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan wrote last week that hat the NSW Government's controversial World Youth Day Amendment Regulation is "a dreadful interference with civil liberties, and contrary to the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching on human rights".
Meeting on Tuesday 15 July 2008, the Federal Court in Sydney has now ruled that the law relating to "annoying and inconveniencing" pilgrims went beyond the intention of the local state parliament.
"We now have a lot more confidence to take to the streets to condem Pope Benedict's policies against condom use, against contraception, against homosexuality," said Rachel Evans from the "No Pope" group which challenged the laws.
"We are glad the court has ruled that we do have the freedom of expression to communicate our political views on Saturday."
Evans said "No Pope" protesters welcomed young Catholics in Sydney, but wished to have open argument and free speech for all, including critics of the Pope's message.
Observers and reporters say that the anti-protest laws have acted as a lightning conductor for a variety of protest groups which plan to rally on Saturday as hundreds of thousands of pilgrims march to a papal vigil.
The court ruling came as hundreds of thousands of young Catholics gathered for the opening mass of World Youth Day, the Church's largest youth festival aimed at revitalising the Church.
Read Catholic lawyer Frank Brennan's comment and criticism on the rules here: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=7930