Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Anti-gay proselytizer takes aim at Canada’s hate laws in landmark case - The Globe and Mail

Oddly, this is a court case that snuck past me:

Anti-gay proselytizer takes aim at Canada’s hate laws in landmark case - The Globe and Mail:


Over the years I have tried to make a number of points. It might bear in mind that we repeat them because this decision could "go either way" and because free speech and freedom of religion are poorly understood, at least as these rights apply to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

First, the right to free speech is not and never has been the right to say whatever one pleases. Those people who defend this chap's campaign against gays should recognize this. One cannot, for instance, use free speech in a way that endanger's another's life ("fire" in a crowded building) or promotes a criminal activity (say, to organize a band robbery). There is not and never has been in either Canada or any other country to my knowledge and unrestricted right to free speech. When asked to create a hierarchy of values, Canadians and other peoples have always said that a person's safety trumps the right to free speech. If we have to choose (we don't want to and we recognize that 99% of the time we don't have to), we have to pick life of speech. One person's right to talk cannot come before another person's right to live.

Second, free speech does not absolve one of responsibility. There are a lot of people who say that people should take responsibility for their actions. I'm one of those people, but they then exempt speech. Speech is an action. If you take an action that causes harm to someone else, you are criminally responsible. To be sure, responsibility is mediated. If your speech causes someone to harm someone else, that person doing the harm is also responsible and must take responsibility for their actions. But, speech is not and should not be a category of actions outside of others. In fact, I find the whole "there should be no repercussions to speech" argument juvenile in this regard. How so?

Well, because the whole effort to hide hatred behind free speech is an effort to avoid taking responsibility, of saying "no harm should come to me because of what I did; I should not have to take responsibility for my actions." This is the kind of thing our kids say when we catch them breaking a household rule: "Its not my fault." My view is this: if you (that is, someone out there) doesn't want to take responsibility for your actions ... that's fine because that is your choice. Your course of action is clear: don't do anything; that way you won't have to take responsibility for it. But, don't try turn the constitutional protection of free speech into a shield that allows you to hide from your own actions.

Third, freedom of religion is not threatened by anti-hate legislation. In fact, religious institutions (I'll say churches just because they are the largest religious bodies in Canada) should be in the forefront of opposition to this guy. This guy's message -- a message of hate -- is not a Christian message. Freedom of religions can and has been threatened in Canada's past. But, this is not a threat. This is about an effort to further marginalize an already marginalized social group smuggled in under the guise of religion. The two are separate things and majority religions groups often have a hard time with this very basic point: the fact that you cannot force society to do what you want them to do (on the basis of your religious views) does not mean that you are threatened. It means others have choices. So, I fully recognize that a lot of Christians have problems with gay people, but the fact that you cannot turn back the clock and force people who are not members of your congregation to adopt anti-gay views is not a threat to your church, your ability to worship, your ability to hold Sunday school, or to gather for corporate prayer or fellowship.

We heard all of this with regard to gay marriage, didn't we? It was a threat to freedom of religion. What churches were closed because of it? What Sunday schools stopped? What prayer service eliminated? What Bibles burned?

What we have here, then, is an fundamental misunderstand and another juvenile one. Children think like this: I have been harmed because I didn't get my way. Imagine a child demanding to watch a certain television that their parent thinks is not good for them (I suspect we have all been through this). The child -- using their own language -- argues that their basic rights have been harmed and that they have suffered a horrible injustice. Have they? They have not been prevented from watching TV or from reading or playing with friends or going on facebook, etc. We need to separate out these rights: the right to freedom of religion is not the right to impose your religious views on society.

Finally, a quick point that I made above: the churches should never support this guy. I hope they aren't. I have not looked it up but to support hatred is to support something that is not Christian.

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