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Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter
"The biblical passages cited in Mr. Owens's ad were Romans 1:26, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and I Corinthians 6:9.  Have I committed an offence pointing that out?  Have I committed an offence if I say the above passages take a dim view of what is called the gay lifestyle?" Ian Hunter


Worshipping the god Equality

Globe and Mail

IAN HUNTER

Thursday, July 5, 2001

Hugh Owens committed an offence. So did the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.  Each has been fined $4,500.  Failure to pay could put Mr. Owens in jail.  His offence was to defy the secular orthodoxy of human rights, and he compounded guilt by trying to persuade others to his point of view.  The newspaper offended by publishing it.

Mr. Owens would have been safe had he not made references to the Bible.  In human-rights circles, the Bible is increasingly regarded as an insidious form of hate literature.

In June of 1997, Mr. Owens submitted, and the Star-Phoenix published, an advertisement with a drawing of two stick figures holding hands surrounded by a circle with a slash through it the universal "no" symbol, as in No Smoking, No Trucks etc.  Three men filed complaints with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.  The commission appointed a one-woman board of inquiry, Saskatoon lawyer Valerie Watson, and she recently convicted Mr. Owens and the newspaper.

Ms. Watson held that, while the symbol alone "may not itself communicate hate, when combined with the passages from the Bible, the board finds the advertisement would expose or tend to expose homosexuals to hatred or ridicule."

The biblical passages cited in Mr. Owens's ad were Romans 1:26, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and I Corinthians 6:9.  Have I committed an offence pointing that out?  Have I committed an offence if I say the above passages take a dim view of what is called the gay lifestyle?

No doubt others, such as Rev. Brent Hawkes of Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church who testified before Ms. Watson, might find some theological alchemy to transmute black to white so that Alice in Wonderland triumphs again.  But it strikes me that the Old and New Testament authors knew precisely what conduct they intended to condemn and that they condemned it unequivocally.  Given Ms. Watson's decision, I wonder whether a minister or priest who preaches that from the pulpit has committed a hate crime?

Ms. Watson is categorical in saying that a sincere belief in the truth of one's view is no defence.  "There is no question that Mr. Owens believed that he was publicly expressing his honestly held religious beliefs," she wrote.  But that doesn't matter.  He has given offence and that is enough.  Freedom of speech, press and religion all yield to a complainant's hurt feelings.

I do not suggest that Ms. Watson was wrong on the law. Just the opposite.  She got the law right, and the law no longer protects what Section 2 of the Charter calls "fundamental freedoms" in the face of hurt feelings.

In the bad old days, we believed that freedom of speech existed not to protect that speech with which we all agreed (such speech requires no protection), but for the speech we find hateful and abhorrent.  But in newspeak-Canada, we empower human-rights tribunals to cancel free speech whenever some victims group finds it "offensive."  We wave the Charter's protection of free speech in the world's eyes, and we allow tribunals to negate its effects, a perfect liberal ploy for having your cake while devouring it.

Even though it took Ms. Watson three years to render her 17-page decision (about two months a page by my reckoning), I consider her timing impeccable.

Two weeks before her jurisprudential contribution, the Supreme Court of Canada favoured us with its view of religious freedom.  The court held, in effect, that education students at Trinity Western University were free to believe whatever they want to on campus including widely held views against homosexuality so long as they never express their views off campus, particularly in the public schools in which they are being trained to teach.

When the Supreme Court released its TWU decision, some evangelical Christians tossed their caps in the air and fell about giving thanks to God and the court for such a wise decision, such a great "victory."  Well, the Owens decision is just the first of much evidence to come on the shape of that victory.

It will be interesting to see how ministers accommodate sermons to human-rights commission scrutiny.  Churches are, after all, public places (albeit few people attend); woe betide the minister whose words cause offence.

For most mainstream Protestant denominations, of course, this will not matter.  They long ago abandoned the scandal of the gospel in favour of a feel-good gospel of inclusivity.  They are not threatened.  Ms. Watson will have no difficulty finding a pew in the denominations that, like her, worship at the altar of the great god Equality.  But smaller, evangelical denominations, and some Catholic priests, have reason to worry.
Ian Hunter is professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario law school.

Originally at www.freedomsite.org/pipermail/fs_announce/2001/000610.html



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