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The Australian Christian Lobby is funding the defence of a woman who was arrested for protesting outside a Melbourne abortion clinic through a new organisation called the Human Rights Law Alliance. Mother of 13 Kathy Clubb was arrested in August under new Victorian laws that make it a crime to protest within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

The Human Rights Law Alliance, which was founded by the Australian Christian Lobby, has taken on Clubb’s case as part of its mission to “fight to ensure that Australian law guarantees all Australians the right to believe and live out their faith”.

Former chief of staff at the ACL and managing director of the newly launched Human Rights Law Alliance Martyn Iles told Crikey that Clubb’s case was one of several the alliance’s lawyers were working on.

Clubb wrote on her Facebook page on August 4 that she had been arrested for:

“… offering help to aborting mothers outside the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne and for seeking to draw the attention of the public and politicians to the issue of abortion and to the totalitarian restrictions being placed on a targeted group of Australians — members of the pro-life movement, especially the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants by the ‘Safe Access Zone’ law.”

She also said she wanted to take the case to the High Court and challenge the Safe Access Zone laws on a constitutional basis. The Victorian government passed Safe Access Laws last year, and they came into effect in May. The maximum penalty for protesting in the zone is 12 months’ jail or an $18,200 fine.

Iles said the alliance would help people like Clubb, who couldn’t afford to fund her defence on her own.

The HRLA, funded by private donors and with seed funding from the Australian Christian Lobby, is currently attempting to raise $120,000 through crowdfunding on the ACL website. It will be a not-for-profit, charitable body and does not have a team of lawyers on staff. “It’s an alliance network, we have allies that are lawyers and barristers to essentially do pro bono or very cheap work, and having put their hand up, they are in a pool of people who have different areas of expertise,” Iles said.

“It’s tight knit, but they are not directly employed.”

Iles says “quite a few” people have offered to help the HRLA, and at the moment it had about five lawyers are working on between 12 and 15 cases.

“Theoretically any case that has an direct or indirect link to freedom of conscience, religion and belief is eligible. Those are words are taken from international human rights covenants.”

Iles says the alliance has had two cases of “doctor’s conscience” in front of the Medical Board of Australia, and other workplace cases (where someone feels they have been adversely affected in the workplace because of their religious beliefs) have been settled out of court.

“We’ve got a university free speech case, where somebody has expressed a religious view at university and has been adversely treated by the university. That is being resolved internally at the university.”

The alliance wants to have fighting fund in place should marriage equality be legalised, in order to prosecute cases by small business owners who do not want to provide services to gay couples. Iles says that if marriage equality were legalised after a plebiscite, the alliance would not challenge same-sex marraige itself, but he believes there would be other legal areas in which the freedoms it seeks to protect could be under threat.

So far the alliance has stuck to assisting in existing cases, but it could move to “proactive litigation” — beginning cases itself — in the future.

Peter Fray

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