In late 2013, the Supreme Court of Queensland refused an
application instigated by a parishioner of a Methodist Church in
Queensland, who sought orders to allow him to freely pass into the
Church to distribute flyers he had made. The facts of the case are
Mr Gallagher, who had been a member of the congregation of a
Methodist Church in Queensland, became increasingly upset at the
theology proffered by his church.
Mr Gallagher created "warning pamphlets" and during
Sunday service, placed them in the pigeon holes (located inside the
Church) of some of the members.
One of the respondents (who included the pastor and members of
the Board of that Church) asked Mr Gallagher to leave, but he
refused and only left after the police were called.
The following day, the respondents sent a letter to Mr
Gallagher stating that the Board was unable to allow him to enter
onto the Church property without express permission.
Mr Gallagher complied with their letter but felt that the
respondents' actions were unjust and contrary to his
entitlement to freedom of speech. He commenced action against the
Church in the Supreme Court of Queensland.
The Court's judgement was concise and uncontroversial. The
Court held that:
It was up to the Church's discretion to allow or refuse any
person licence onto their property. Mr Gallagher had no
"right" to be on Church property, but simply had implied
permission of the Church to be there. This permission was revoked
by the letter sent to him by the Church.
While Mr Gallagher is entitled to express his views, this does
not equate to a right to enter someone else's property and
distribute pamphlets there. The Court held that this was not a
"freedom of speech" issue, but a question of whether Mr
Gallagher can enter someone else's property and distribute
pamphlets without the owner's permission. The answer is no, he
cannot do that.
The Court held that there was not a serious question to be tried
and hence dismissed Mr Gallagher's application.
Take Home Lesson
This case is a timely reminder that an organisation (whether it
be a religious organisation or not) that opens its doors to the
public is not, by implication, granting guests any legal interest
to the property. Guests who are invited onto private property must
leave if the owner of the property (or authorised agents of the
owner) declares that such guests are not to remain on the
The Church in this case took the prudent and sensible step to
formally notify Mr Gallagher in writing that he was not to return
to the Church unless he complied with the conditions of the letter.
While it was not strictly necessary, it helped to demonstrate the
Church's intentions to bar Mr Gallagher from returning to the
Church's property without supervision.
From a risk management perspective, it would be prudent for
organisations that allow members of the public to enter their
premises to have policies enacted to guide staff in dealing with
situations where a guest refuses to leave the premises or where
they cause nuisance to others.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
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Because of the high costs, royal commissions should only be convened to address issues of substantial public importance.
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