This Is An Annoyance-Free Zone (but tacky souvenirs welcome)

It’s probably too much to hope the Parliament of New South Wales is hanging its head after a righteous scolding by the Federal Court of Australia[1]. After all, the government was bold enough to outlaw “annoying” the Catholic throngs descending on Sydney for a five-day Pope-a-Rama. Attempting to shame the Catholic Church is likewise futile; given its irony-free staging of the world’s biggest adolescent/clergy mixer, we must presume it innocent of that emotion.

But let’s try anyway.

Previously, on “World Youth Day. . .”

The Vatican picked Sydney for its latest “pilgrimage of faith, where young people from diverse backgrounds meet and experience the love of God.” Events from July 15-20, 2008, will include spiritual favorites: multiple catechisms, on-site confession, the requisite snuff Passion Play; as well as more mundane diversions: “original high energy Christian praise” (read: Christian Rock on a lawn), coffee klatches, and the procession of the Popemobile. Like any responsible government preparing for an influx of thousands, the NSW Parliament enacted regulations to keep things tidy — ordinary matters such as street closures, police presence, and the like.

But in its zeal to have the Best World Youth Day Ever, Parliament also enacted the extraordinary:

7 Control of conduct within World Youth Day declared areas

(1) An authorised person may direct a person within a World Youth
Day declared area to cease engaging in conduct that:
(a) is a risk to the safety of the person or others, or
(b) causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a
World Youth Day event. . .

Reasonable people dedicated to the (sacred?) principle of free speech were shocked. Would they be arrested for noting that the Pope’s hat didn’t match his shoes? Would a whispered warning during mass — “Psst! Father – your purse is on fire!” — land one in the clink? And while we’re on fashion, could the police charge Amber Pike and Rachel Evans with criminal inconvenience for wearing T-shirts that forced the faithful to confront the Catholic Church’s vile obstruction of birth control and safe sex measures? After all, at least one of the faithful would surely find “The Pope is Wrong. Put on a Condom,” vexing.

And now, the exciting conclusion. . . .

As the NoToPope Coalition, Pike and Evans challenged provisions of the regulations that barred “caus[ing] annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event,”[2] and that barred the sale or distribution (this is key) of items and merchandise. The Court agreed that annoying people, however annoying that might be, was protected speech. But it said the city could regulate the sale and distribution of articles and merchandise throughout the event. Apparently, Pike and Evans were concerned they wouldn’t be allowed to distribute stickers, badges, leaflets, and condoms with slogans including:

  • • I know condoms save lives – Is that annoying?
  • • I am not a Catholic! – Is that annoying?
  • • I know Gays are great – Is that annoying?
  • • I had premarital sex! Is that annoying?
  • • I don’t believe Mary was a virgin! Is that annoying?
  • • I don’t believe the Pope is infallible! Is that annoying?
  • • I have a condom on me! Is that annoying?
  • • I am gay! Is that annoying?

Who could blame Pike and Evans for finding it unlikely that their items would pass muster? The WYD Regulation of 2008 required vendors to submit an application, a fee, and a sample of the items to the state seven days before distributing or selling “prescribed articles.”[3] So they challenged that provision of the law. And the court rejected that challenge.

But wait — there’s a shock twist ending!

The Court ruled that the state could limit the distribution (not just the sale) of “prescribed articles,” during WYD, but Pike and Evans needn’t worry, because the stuff they wanted to give out didn’t constitute stuff the state would prohibit. Not to be accused of parsimonious reasoning, the court teased out the subtle differences among various dry goods:

In our view none of the classes of prescribed articles would include condoms . . .Similarly, symbolic coat-hangers such as the applicants propose to distribute do not fall within any of the classes prescribed. We are also of the opinion that leaflets and flyers which the applicants intend to distribute do not fall within any class of prescribed article. The applicants submitted that they might be regarded as “stationery” and therefore come within category (h). We do not accept this submission. Paper on which the leaflets and flyers are printed may have been “stationery”, but once printed it does not fall within that category. The position is more complex in relation to stickers and button badges [?], both of which are specifically mentioned as examples of “giftware”. Interestingly, the term “giftware” is not defined in either the Oxford English Dictionary or the Macquarie Dictionary. . .

Enough of that.

And what do we find on the approved list of merchandise and “prescribed articles” for sale during World Youth Day? A mercantile burlesque:

Shoppers will be able to buy World Youth Day (WYD) souvenirs such as special WYD rosary beads, Pope Benedict XVI baseball caps, rugby jerseys and even teaspoons featuring a photograph of the pontiff. Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell opened one of at least four merchandise stores to be erected in Sydney for the six-day WYDay event.[4]

No one familiar with the aesthetics of the Catholic Church would be surprised, of course. The Pope has ever been Catholicism’s Liberace, bearing gold scepters and precious accessories in the worlds’ most expensive drag pageant. But one would think the New South Wales clergy might throw a scrap to those questioning this mash-up of the sacred and the profane (not to mention tawdry). No:

“There’s nothing immoral with a little commercialism,” Cardinal Pell told reporters. “Our way of life is built on commercialism, on trade, on industry, on finance and people have got a right to make a living out of doing a good thing, which is spreading Christ’s message in a modern way.”

God — deliver us from your merchandisers.


(1)The Federal Court of Australia’s judgment in Evans v. State of New South Wales

(2) The World Youth Day Regulation of 2008

(3) The NSW government’s application to sell or distribute merchandise.

(4). “There’s nothing immoral with a little commercialism,” Cardinal Pell told reporters

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