CANBERRA -- A prominent refugee supporter has vowed to not be silenced after his Central Coast church was stormed and congregation traumatised on Sunday by a far-right nationalist group in mock Muslim attire.
NSW Police is investigating the incident in which 8 to 10 people burst into the Gosford Anglican Church about 9.30am, halfway through the sermon by Father Rod Bower, mocking the call to Islamic prayer and chanting "wake up Aussies" and anti-Islam slogans.
Father Rod has described the intruders as members of a "right wing hate group" and their actions as a "racist stunt."
The Party for Freedom, which supports the anti-immigration policies of Pauline Hanson, have posted photos and videos of the raid on social media.
Calling the dress up raid "Operation Rod," the participants ridicule critics and boast about the incident saying they were protesting against "Fatherless Rod" and his congregation for supporting Islam and multiculturalism.
Father Bower, who is renowned for displaying prominent pro-asylum seeker messages on a noticeboard out the front of the church and offering sanctuary to refugees, has been offering pastoral care to churchgoers following the raid.
"They were shocked," He told the ABC it was a "gross violation" of their sacred space.
"I worked out who is was fairly quickly, but the congregation didn't and they were certainly shocked and some of the congregation were quiet traumatised by it and we had to work very hard yesterday pastorally to care for people."
Zed Seselja tells @SkyNewsAust that the mock Muslim raid on the Gosford Anglican Church yesterday was stupid.— Karen Barlow (@KJBar) August 15, 2016
Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Zed Seselja, has told Huffington Post Australia that the Party of Freedom protestors "have made themselves look pretty silly."
"I don't think they have furthered their cause, whatever that cause may be, "Senator Seselja told HuffPost AU.
"(The protest) is not 100 per cent clear to me. Although I see some of the elements of it."
"I think it is unacceptable. Whether it is a mosque, whether it is a church, whether it is a temple, people should not be invading people's sacred space," the minister said.
Security at the church is now being reviewed.
You'd hope Pauline Hanson would be quick to condemn this kind of activity. pic.twitter.com/21uqfzeKcq— Tom McIlroy (@TomMcIlroy) August 14, 2016
The raid on the church comes amid a renewed push to repeal or water down sections of Australian racial discrimination act.
Father Bower said he upholds the protestors' right to say what they want, but this was "pretty grubby stuff" which should not be said in a church.
"To bring that hate into that space is a deep violation,"Father Bower said.
Zed Seselja agrees, telling HuffPost AU that people should be able to worship freely.
"We do have freedom of speech in this country and they should feel free to engage in legitimate debate," the Minister told HuffPost AU.
"No religion is free from criticism. Certainly not my religion and certainly not anyone else's religion."
"But, I would just urge, like with all things, we do things that are respectful to our fellow Australians and we respect people's beliefs even we disagree with them."
What is 18c?
Section 18C of Australia's racial discrimination act (RDA) makes it illegal to commit an act that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of their race or ethnicity.
In his first task as Australia's first law officer, Attorney-General George Brandis proposed early in 2014 to remove a section that made it illegal to "hurt the feelings of others."
Then Prime Minister Tony Abbott outraged free speech advocates, including conservative commentator Andrew Bolt and the Institute of Public Affairs by insisting the proposal was "off the table - it is gone. It's disappeared."
Now on the backbench, Tony Abbott has reignited debate about his leadership ambitions by indicating his government should have pursued less ambitious reforms to the RDA.
Libertarian crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm has lodged a formal Human Rights Commission complaint under race hate laws after being described by Fairfax's chief political correspondent as a "boorish, supercilious, know-all, angry white male."
Father Bower has vowed to continue his support for refugees.
"It was simply because we support the Muslim community. We try and build bridges to enable a functional multicultural society."
"It galvanises our commitment is to continue to build bridges and not walls."
The Party for Freedom has been contacted for comment.