Writing in Online Opinion today, one of the ACL's National Conference speakers Vishal Mangalwadi, writes about liberating the media from law's bondage. Click here to read the online opinion piece, or see a copy below.

Liberating the media from law's bondage

By Vishal Mangalwadi

Yes – Aussie Journalist Andrew Bolt, may have genuinely offended Pat Eatock and Larissa Behrendt by writing that they were among the people who were misusing affirmative action programs (see story.)

Yes – Melbourne's Federal Court Judge, Honourable Mordecai Bromberg, may have done his duty to protect individuals from the abuse of media power when he ruled that Bolt was guilty of breaching section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Yet, there can be no doubt that his ruling will intimidate the media from investigating matters of public importance.

What is more important - freedom of speech or minorities' sensitivities? Can there be freedom to investigate without the liberty to err? Won't personal rights destroy community, without grace to bear with one another?

Such are the questions posed by this case brought by nine Australians of Aboriginal descent.

I remember when the BBC's Christopher Hitchens published his derogatory attack on Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

An ex-radical feminist from California, Professor Mary Poplin, was there with Mother Teresa on a personal spiritual quest and expressed concern to the Mother about his argument that her mission to the poor should not be given any more money.

Mother Teresa replied, "Oh, the book. Yes, well I haven't read it at all, but I know it. Some sisters have read it. Ask them. It matters not, he is forgiven." (Finding Calcutta, IVP Books, 2008, see pp.114-117)

Poplin informed Mother Teresa that her forgiveness had enraged Hitchens: he condemned her forgiveness by publishing that he neither asked for nor needed it.

The professor's inability to understand forgiveness puzzled 'the Mother.' She explained: "Oh, it is not I that forgives, it is God. God forgives. God has forgiven."

The Mother's incomprehensible response did not bring peace to Poplin's heart, disturbed by the arrogance that media power can infuse in a critic. University education had equipped neither Poplin nor Hitchens to understand the spiritual universe in which the Mother lived.

So she sought understanding from the other Sisters of Charity. They had read the book and comprehended the attack's gravity. They narrated to Poplin the Mother's initial response to the attack, "Jesus suffered so much. We must share in his sufferings." That inspired some Sisters to use Hitchens' critique as an opportunity to learn.

The Professor was amazed: What on earth could someone learn from such a venomous attack on oneself?

One Sister replied, "Holiness." The other added, "Yes, it is to help us become more holy."

I know that Hitchens' ideological malice had confused Poplin's heart; yet, the amazing grace displayed by the Sisters of Charity liberated Hitchens to pursue his journalism. It also helped Poplin understand the Gospel: "The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus."

The writer here, John, was an ordinary Jew – a fisherman. He lived under what the West is just beginning to experience: Without grace, the law becomes a burden too big to bear.

Some opponents of Justice Bromberg's verdict are suggesting that Australia should have American style "First Amendment" to foster free speech.

It doesn't occur to anyone that Australia may benefit much more by studying America's First Great Awakening. That mass 'spiritual awakening' began when Jonathan Edwards experienced what Mary Poplin did.

Edwards came face to face with true spirituality and was blown away by the fact that some human beings could respond to unjust insults and persecution with "joy inexpressible and full of glory."

Edwards read about these different kinds of marginalized people in Apostle Peter's testimony [1 Peter 1: 6-8.]

"In this you greatly rejoice, though . . . you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith [character], . . . more precious than gold . . . though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . . Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory... " [New KJV]

So, Andrew Bolt's discussion of a public issue offended personal sensibilities of Eatock and Behrendt, but was it possible for them to ask: What can we, Aboriginal Australians, learn from Bolt? Is the pain of offence best remedied by law or by grace? Could the verdict promote even greater wrongs?

The judge's ruling, in line with secular culture, doesn't promote such contemplation.

Those who still have the humility to learn from the makers of modern Australia would know that the founders believed that Australia needed more than laws to become a great nation.

In 1901, after the Constitution was ratified, Alfred Deakin, a father of Australia's Constitution and its second Prime Minister, offered the following public prayer:

"We pray that it may be the means of creating and fostering throughout all Australia a Christ-like Citizenship."

Even John Fairfax the editor and proprietor of the Sydney Morning Herald built his media empire because of his belief in the Bible. In 1825 he prayed, "That if I ever lived and died without Christ I should be miserable to all eternity."

Indeed, a culture that abandons Christ's grace and truth condemns itself – including its media, economy, family and eventually the streets – to be ruled by chaos or controlled by authoritarian law.

Let's contemplate that now Australia…

Dr Mangalwadi is visiting Australia between the 8 – 16 October 2011 to do a series of lectures on his new book The Book that Made your World published by Thomas Nelson.

Dr Vishal Mangalwadi is an international lecturer, social reformer, political columnist, and author of 14 books.