They know the Migration Act chapter and verse, but members of the Refugee Review Tribunal may need to brush up on their Bible studies if a recent case is anything to go by.
The tribunal questioned the religious credentials of a Chinese man applying for a protection visa after he was allegedly persecuted in his homeland for his Catholic beliefs. His cousin vouched for their Catholic upbringing and regular attendance at a Sydney church but the tribunal, unimpressed by the cousin’s biblical knowledge, found neither was a true believer and refused to grant the visa.
The cousin’s explanation of how Jesus was born – that “they stayed in a stable and that night Maria gave birth to Jesus Christ and an angel and a shepherd were around” – was, according to the tribunal, “very vague for someone who claims to have been a practising Catholic since birth and who attends church every Sunday”.
As for the story he nominated as his favourite biblical tale, the tribunal declared it was “not familiar with this as a genuine story from the Bible”.
In the cousin’s version, when Jesus was 12 he disappeared on a visit to his home town. His parents found him in the church, where people “said he spoke very well”.
Based on this supposedly inauthentic Bible story offered by his “vague and evasive” cousin, the tribunal found the would-be refugee lacked a true belief in Catholicism.
It was the tribunal, however, whose knowledge of the Bible proved a little rusty, with a federal magistrate who reviewed the case, Kenneth Raphael, describing it as a “very reasonable paraphrase” of Luke 2:41-47.
The passage in Luke describes 12-year-old Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem after spending Passover there with his parents.
He was found in the temple courts, questioning the teachers, and everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and answers.
The Chinese national, who cannot be named, sought a review of the decision in the Federal Magistrates Court, arguing the tribunal had “exceeded its jurisdiction by taking upon itself the role of arbiter of minimum religious knowledge to be a Catholic”.
The tribunal “set itself up as an arbiter of religious knowledge”, Mr Raphael said. In fact, the cousin’s story was not vague or inaccurate but “a very reasonable paraphrase”. He ordered the case back to the tribunal for determination.