Members of the crowd hold up an anti-racism banner during the second day of the first cricket test between Australia and South Africa in Perth December 17, 2005. Reuters/David Gray

The Grand Mufti of Australia is calling for the government to update the race hate speech laws in a bid for Muslims to be given the same protection as other ethnic groups. He said the section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Law should include Muslims too, adding that the law must be “strengthened.”

Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, who has served as the Grand Mufti since 2011, has received criticism over his call for Muslims to be given the same protection from conservative MPs. Liberal Senator James Paterson went on to say it would create a “national blasphemy law.”

Mohammed has called for an update to the Racial Discrimination Act, section 18C. He said in a submission to a Parliamentary inquiry last year that watering down the law could increase the risk of discrimination and hate speech against minority groups.

In his submission, he said, “The Grand Mufti is of the view that if the Act is amended as a means of strengthening freedom of speech, that such a freedom will not be afforded to all equally and fairly, but rather, such freedoms will be exercised by those with power and influence (and not within minority communities).” He added, “This will create a disharmonious environment for minority groups in Australia and have a negative impact on multiculturalism.”

According to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, it is unlawful to either insult or humiliate an individual based on their race, colour and/or national origin. Jewish and Sikh people have been included in the interpretation of “ethnic origin” in several jurisdictions, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission. However, Muslims have not been made part of it.

The Act protects Muslims if racial hatred against them is associated with their race, colour or national or ethnic ­origin. However, the same is not the case if the hate speech is “solely on the basis of their Muslim identity in an area outside their employment.”

As reported by The Australian, Paterson referred to Mohammed’s call for equal protection as “dangerous.” He said giving Muslims the same protections “would mean Australia has a nation­al blasphemy law because criticising someone’s religious belief­s in a way that offended them could breach the law. That would mean legitimate criticism of religion or religious beliefs could become unlawful in Australia.” He added, “Religion shouldn’t be off limits­ for public criticism and debate­, and widening this law would mean atheists, who often ridicule religious beliefs … would effect­ively be stopped from critic­ising ­religion.”