FR. RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
When did the Bible become 'hate speech'?
Father Raymond J. de Souza,
National Post, Thursday, June 12, 2008
Four years ago, I wrote an article entitled "Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism" for the religious journal First Things, surveying the erosion of Canadian religious liberty under various regulatory bodies, professional associations and human rights tribunals. I wrote then that "there are no restrictions on freedom of worship in Canada today." That's no longer true.
As Ezra Levant details below, the Stephen Boissoin case is an egregious assault on religious liberty, press freedom and freedom of speech. And for those of us who previously underestimated the threat to religious liberty, it serves as a rude correction.
The judgment of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) against the Reverend Stephen Boissoin, a Protestant youth pastor, is a direct violation of his religious liberty. Whatever his "guilt" --and who is not guilty before the human rights commission? -- the judgment requires him to write an apology abjuring his views on homosexuality, and prohibits him and the Concerned Christian Coalition from making "disparaging" remarks about homosexuals.
It is not specified what the AHRCC might consider "disparaging," but simply reading in public -- as in a sermon -- the Biblical admonitions against homosexual acts is not precluded. Indeed, the scope of the AHRCC order is so wide that it effectively says that Rev. Boissoin may not speak publicly on homosexuality ever again, unless he changes his opinion.
Given that the "offence" was a letter to the editor published in the Red Deer Advocate, the judgment by implication would apply the same restrictions to the newspaper itself. The offence was "causing to be published" the letter, which "was likely to expose homosexuals to contempt or hatred because of their sexual orientation." In order for something to be published in a newspaper, both a writer and an editor/publisher are required. Had the complainant in this case named the Red Deer Advocate in his charge, there is every logical reason to expect that the AHRCC would have slapped a perpetual ban on the newspaper publishing any "disparaging" stories on homosexuality.
Rev. Boissoin is not the only Alberta clergyman hauled before the AHRCC. In 2005, Frederick Henry, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary, was brought before the commission for writing a pastoral letter against same-sex marriage to his own flock. Before the AHRCC had a chance to find him guilty, Bishop Henry clarified his remarks and the complaint was withdrawn. It is now clear that had it gone ahead, the AHRCC would have ordered the bishop of Calgary not to speak about same-sex marriage ever again.
There have been numerous other cases too, including ones against the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Insight magazine. We can expect more after this most recent AHRCC ruling.
Until a real court throws all of this out, the ruling against Rev. Boissoin stands. And it is no sure thing that the courts will not accommodate themselves to restrictions on religious liberty, even as they did on free speech when the "hate" speech prohibitions enforced by human rights commissions were first tested at the Supreme Court in 1990. If the courts uphold what the AHRCC did to Rev. Boissoin, religious liberty will be mortally wounded in Canada.
Rev. Boissoin, as one would nobly expect of a clergyman and citizen of free country, has said he will neither write the apology nor pay the "damages" assessed. Unless the courts overturn the AHRCC decision, he will eventually be found in contempt and imprisoned--a prisoner for religious liberty and press freedom.
About 18 months ago, a journalist friend writing a book surveying trends in world Catholicism called to inquire about whether, apropos of my totalitarianism article, I thought it likely that priests in Canada would, in my lifetime, have to go to prison for preaching their faith. I said then what I believed to be true: No. After the Boissoin ruling, that is manifestly not the correct answer.
The Charter of Rights enumerates freedom of religion as its first freedom. Freedom of the press is its second. As a priest first and a journalist second, I should be comforted. Yet I am not. Those freedoms are at risk in Canada, an attack not only on pastors and journalists, but on citizens of a free country. The enemies of liberty got Rev. Boissoin. They tried to get Bishop Henry. They are going after Ezra Levant. Everyone with a pulpit or a column should ask: When will they come after me?