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Thursday, June 23rd, 2011 12:22 am

Australian blogger Mike Stuchbery, a vocal critic of ACCESS Ministries‘ school chaplaincy program, has been gagged by the evangelical religious group.

On the 15th of June Mr. Stuchbery posted an article about a graphic novel, Man Hunters published by ACCESS Publishing International, a division of ACCESS Ministries. The original article included several images from the graphic novel and a link to a PDF of the complete article.

On the 17th of June Mr. Stuchbery received a letter from Moores Legal stating that the post of the graphic novel and any part of it was a breach of copyright. The letter demanded the removal of the graphic novel PDF, the deletion of any copies of same, the removal of any images from the PDF and the deletion of the entire article which included this content. The letter, which Mr. Stuchbery posted, included a deadline of 5:00pm on June 22nd.

Mr. Stuchbery complied with the request to remove the PDF and all of the images, except for a single panel. The other panels were replaced with transcripts of the dialogue. He cited the “fair use” (actually it is “fair dealing”) provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 for the purpose of the critique which comprises the remainder of his article.

In spite of this compliance, Mr. Stuchbery’s posting access to his site was disabled by before the deadline set by Moores Legal. This indicates that the purpose of this action is not simply to protect the material published by ACCESS Ministries, but to silence one of their critics. If it were purely concerned with the copyright issue then the deadline would have been honoured, as would the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright Act 1968. Instead moves were made to report Mr. Stuchbery’s site for copyright infringement to his hosting provider before that, the result being suspension of updates well before the deadline. According to Mr. Stuchbery he discovered the suspension more than nine hours prior to the deadline.

This type of use of copyright law by organisations, especially religious organisations, to stifle dissent is nothing new. The Church of Scientology is well practiced at using precisely this tactic to silence their critics and have done so to great effect for many years. Now ACCESS Ministries are taking their turn at using copyright law to censor their opposition. This case is a little different from many of the Scientology ones in one crucial respect; the criticism of ACCESS Ministries and their teaching material does not relate purely to their internal policies and behaviour, as much of the Scientology criticism does, it relates to material used by ACCESS Ministries chaplains in a government funded program for secular schools. As such, criticism of the policy and of any content used in the delivery of that policy should be protected by the implied right to free political speech. This relates to both the High Court rulings regarding freedom of political speech inferred from the Australian Constitution and various international treaties which Australia has ratified, most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

With this action ACCESS Ministries have proven their complete disregard for the civil rights of those who do not agree with them. They have shown their willingness to resort to any means available to silence any and all opposition and criticism.

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.