PM's message to controversial sect

Canberra, Australia - John Howard has sent a video greeting to the controversial fundamentalist Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries, in which he reflects on Australia's Christian heritage and values.

Catch the Fire Ministries advocates the destruction of mosques, casinos and bottle shops. Its leader, Danny Nalliah, faces a fresh legal hearing on a charges of racial vilification against Muslims.

The Prime Minister's recorded message was filmed for a prayer meeting to be held in Melbourne on Australia Day, which Pastor Nalliah predicts will attract up to 5000 Christians.

The group refused to disclose the detailed contents of Mr Howard's message yesterday, but said it was "personally directed" to Catch The Fire Ministries.

Pastor Nalliah and his fellow evangelical preacher Daniel Scot claimed vindication late last year when an appeals court set aside orders forcing them to apologise to Muslims for racial vilification.

But the matter was ordered back to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which in 2005 ordered the church to correct and apologise for comments about Muslims.

Despite the controversy engulfing Pastor Nalliah, former Victorian Liberal leader Robert Doyle met and prayed with him early last year.

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello provided a letter of support for the preacher during his legal wrangle over racial vilification and gave a speech to the church a few years ago. Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile, former deputy prime minister John Anderson and former governor-general Peter Hollingworth have also made speeches to them.

Pastor Nalliah said the Australia Day event would pray for the drought to break and for the nation to be safe from terrorism.

As a Family First Victorian Senate candidate in the 2004 federal election, a pamphlet written by Pastor Nalliah was condemned by Nationals Senate candidate Barnaby Joyce as evidence the church was part of "the lunatic right".

"Spot Satan's strongholds in the areas you are living (brothels, gambling places, bottle shops, mosques, temples — Freemasons/Buddhist/Hindu etc, witchcraft," the leaflet said.

"If you are ready to pray against it, do so. If not, bring it to your church and ask your intercessors, through the pastor, to pull these strongholds down."