No, not by the mullahs; not by Ashcroft; rather, by the Parliament. of Victoria, the Australian state that's home of Melbourne and a quarter of all Australians. The Victoria Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001 provides that "A person must not, on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or class of persons engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons."
There's a defense for people who, among other things, are "reasonably and in good faith" engaging in "genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific" commentary, or otherwise acting "in the public interest." But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal held two months ago that this defense is available only to those who speak "reasonabl[y]" and who "honestly and conscientiously endeavour to have regard to and minimise the harm [the speech] . . . will . . . inflict," as opposed to "us[ing the freedom of speech] as a cover to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people."
Among other things, speech that isn't "a fair representation of [another group's] religious beliefs" is punishable, as is speech that fails to "distinguish between moderate and extremist" members of a religion. Likewise, the tribunal seemed particularly troubled by speech that "mock[s] what [members of a religious group believe," or "repeatly invoke[s] laughter from the audience when describing apparent [religious] beliefs." (Naturally, the decision and the statute give little guidance as to what exactly you can say in order that your comments be found "reasonable" and "fair.") The decision (Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire Ministries Inc) held some Christian speakers liable for harshly criticizing and mocking Islam — among other things, saying "that the Qur'an promotes violence, killing and looting," "that it treats women badly," "that Allah is not merciful and a thief's hand is cut off for stealing," and more. But of course, if the law is applied evenhandedly, it would equally apply to atheists criticizing religious people generally (think "religion is the opium of the masses" but with some more elaboration), or at least members of a particular religion. It would apply to people criticizing Catholicism for its supposed oppression of women or historical crimes. It would apply to people mocking beliefs like those of Catch the Fire Ministries, or harshly criticizing the Falwells and the Robertsons.
This is an awful position for a democracy to take. Religions are ideologies, and need to be subject to criticism like any other ideology — especially when the religions are motive forces for important political and moral movements. Some of this criticism will involve mockery, laughter, and severe ridicule; and ridiculing religious ideologies will naturally implicitly or explicitly ridicule people who hold those views, especially when the speaker gives examples of folly that the ideology supposedly causes. Yet if you take religion seriously, as a set of ideas that, if true, should affect people's lives, you have to accept the possibility that some religious ideas are false and harmful, and deserve harsh criticism and not just bland ecumenical toleration.
I would prefer that such criticisms be fair, polite, and measured; but it's impossible for the law to punish only the rude and excessive form without also punishing and deterring important content. John Stuart Mill dealt with all this a century and a half ago, and his position is as sound today as it was then.
In any event, this is just another reminder to be cautious about proposals to create a new "hate speech" exception in U.S. constitutional law, by replacing the supposed excessive rigidity of modern First Amendment law with a more balanced and nuanced approach. Seems to me that our rigidity on this score is far superior to Euro-Canado-Australian flexibility.
UPDATE: My original post erroneously said that the law was enacted by the Australian Parliament; it turns out that it is a state law, which covers only the state of Victoria. Thanks to readers Jarrod Weir and Peter Laverick for correcting me.