A federal court has thrown out laws banning protestors from causing "annoyance" to people taking part in the Roman Catholic church's youth festival in Australia. Critics say the laws were too severe and unnecessary. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Australia's federal court was asked to rule on special regulations that banned behavior that caused annoyance or inconvenience to participants of World Youth Day. Those found guilty could have been fined up to $5,300.
The new laws were brought in recently by the New South Wales state leader Morris Iemma, in an attempt to limit protests against the pope's visit during the festival. The state government passed them without discussion or debate.
Members of the NoToPope Coalition, which opposes the pontiff's stance on birth control and homosexuality, say the legislation was unconstitutional and took their complaints to the federal court.
Three judges ruled that the regulations limited freedom of speech and were invalid under Australia's constitution. The state government will not appeal the decision.
The court said the laws were designed to encourage public safety but decided they could be misused to infringe on human rights.
Pip Hinman from the NoToPope Coalition says that similar laws imposed for last year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Sydney were unnecessary. Hinman thinks the so-called annoyance regulations should never have been introduced.
"Civil rights advocates, you know, people from across the political spectrum think that this Iemma government has gone way too far again, hasn't learned from APEC and just simply [is] out of touch with reality and showing up a huge arrogance," said Hinman. "So, I think on the basis of what they've just done a lot of people will come to the protest."
Protestors are planning a large anti-pope rally in Sydney on Saturday, when they'll attempt to hand condoms to World Youth Day pilgrims.
Pope Benedict is in Sydney for the international Roman Catholic festival, which officials say has attracted more than 200 thousand pilgrims from around the world.
The event began officially Tuesday. Benedict begins his participation on Thursday, when he tours Sydney Harbor and delivers a major speech. The festival culminates with a papal Mass at Sydney's Randwick race course on Sunday.