Right-wing protestors dressed in mock Muslim outfits and chanting anti-Islamic slogans have stormed a church service on Australia’s east coast.
The protestors interrupted a service held at Gosford Anglican Church on the Central Coast of New South Wales state.
A group of about 10 people entered the church and pretended to pray while playing Muslim prayers over a loudspeaker. Local police are investigating what the church described as a “racist stunt”.
The Party for Freedom posted photos and video of the incident on social media, claiming it was a demonstration against the church’s support for Islamic leaders and multiculturalism. The organisation has ties to Senator Pauline Hanson’s anti-immigration One Nation party, which has won four seats in Australia’s Senate. “We want to share Islam with you, this is the future,” one of the protesters said in the footage. “This is cultural diversity, mate. The rich tapestry of Islam that we’d like to share with Father Rod, and the congregation, and the social justice agenda we hear all the time.”
More than 24 hours after the altercation, One Nation released a statement saying that it did not have any official affiliation with the Party For Freedom.
Father Rod Bower said the incident at his church terrorised the congregation. “They were shocked,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I worked out who it was fairly quickly. Some of the congregation was quite traumatised.”
The church is known for spreading pro-immigration messages on its billboard and in services. The far-right nationalist group warned the congregation not to promote Islam. “[The protest] was simply because we support the Muslim community, we try and build bridges,” Fr Bower said. “To come into sacred space, to violate that space as Christians were celebrating the ultimate act of love … to bring hate into that space is a deep violation. It just galvanises our conviction.”
Party for Freedom founder Nick Folkes said the group had about 450 members and has ambitions to register as a political party. The group was previously refused permission to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2005 race riots in the Sydney beachside suburb of Cronulla.