Prime Minister John Howard has defended his decision to record a goodwill message for an Australia Day prayer event organised by a controversial group involved in an anti-Islamic court case.
The prime minister will appear in a DVD message for Catch the Fire Ministries, which is sponsoring a multi-denominational gathering in Melbourne on January 26.
Critics say Mr Howard should not be affiliated with the group while it is facing court proceedings for alleged racial vilification of Muslims.
In the DVD Mr Howard says Christianity has been an enormous force for good and he congratulates Catch the Fire Ministries for organising the event, to be held next Friday.
“Today is, of course, Australia Day,” Mr Howard says on the DVD.
“It’s a time when we celebrate the freedom and privileges we enjoy as citizens of a great, prosperous and peaceful nation so blessed with an abundance of natural beauty.
“It’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to shared values and our abiding loyalty to our nation, Australia.
“Christianity has been an enormous force for good and has done more than anything else to shape the lives, not only of millions of Australians, but the character of our nation.
“I congratulate Catch the Fire Ministries for bringing Christians from many denominations together for this celebration and I wish you all a very happy Australia Day.”
A spokesman said Mr Howard did not regret providing the message.
“The Prime Minister provides messages for a wide array of groups,” the spokesman said.
“The Prime Minister does not regret providing the message.
“The contents of the message are entirely unexceptionable.”
Catch the Fire’s Pastor Danny Nalliah, who is organising the event, was one of two Catch the Fire ministers charged under Victoria’s vilification laws in 2002 for allegedly saying Muslims are demons.
An appeal court last month overturned an order that the church apologise to Muslims for vilifying them, but it sent the case back to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to be decided again.
While the case has still to be resolved, Pastor Nalliah told ABC radio today: “There is nowhere (on) record that we ever said Muslims are demons.
“I would never say that.
“And secondly we never said all Muslims are violent.”
Member of the prime minister’s Muslim Community Reference Group and former president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Yasser Soliman, said Mr Howard should have thought twice about making the DVD.
“Of course the prime minister is free to address anyone he chooses,” Mr Soliman said.
“But what he says is extremely influential and what he fails to say is also influential.
“I would hope that he would clearly condemn hate speeches in all their forms irrespective of who the perpetrators are.
“It could be perceived that he might have a different standard for some sectors of the community than he has for other sectors in the Australian community, and that would be sending a very dangerous message here and overseas.”