Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
Freedom Denied?

It is sometimes claimed that ministers of religion will be put in the position of being compelled to perform same sex marriages in their places of worship and thus violate their right to freedom of Conscience and Religion. The claim is sometimes widened in scope by extending it to include private Marriage Commissioners and provincial employees who perform marriages as part of their duties. Some of these people, although not ministers of religion, may have strong religious convictions and not want to perform same sex marriages.

A related issue involves business dealings, including the rental of facilities, by churches or organisations having a very close relationship with churches or owned by devoutly religious people who wish to adhere to their church’s dogma. Consequently, these groups often want to restrict their business dealings to those of whom they approve. Those of whom they disapprove, of course, charge that this is discrimination and violates their rights under the Charter.

A third issue is related to doctrinal matters. It may be couched in the form of questions.

Free speech limits
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms make it clear that restrictions on free speech may only be imposed if they can be justified in a free and democratic society. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Bill of Rights and the Criminal Code of Canada are all relevant in this context and identify what limits have been placed on our freedom of expression and what constitutes forbidden hate speech and actions.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the right of:-

This is in addition to the right to the:-

Both of these rights are relevant in this context, making it clear that those Canadians who believe homosexual behaviour to be morally wrong for any reason, may say so in speech or text, and may write and publish journals, books and pamphlets which say that. Ministers of religion may preach against such behaviour, that is clear.

The other side of the coin is that an individual who is homosexual has the right to be treated as:-

and also has the right to:-

In addition to the same right to:-

In other words, homosexuals may also express opinions critical of the religious viewpoints of those who oppose their behaviour, and are perfectly at liberty to publicise their opinions in speech and text in the same fashion as their opponents.

People on both sides to this question, however, are bound by the restrictions to their Charter Rights as given in the first Article, which makes it clear that rights are subject to:-

Unfortunately, there are those who think that because they are prominent in a spiritual community and are speaking from a pulpit, that they may make recommendations that would otherwise be illegal. They may not. If they are speaking in public, or to a public official, or in an assembly to which the public is invited, even if only by inference, then they are subject to the criminal code. Ask yourself whether a minister giving a sermon in a church would be allowed to recommend that Jews be put in concentration camps. If you say that they would not, then that restriction should apply to any other group. Anti-semetism is a clear example of hate, and those espousing it would be charged with an offence, such as inciting hatred, or something similar. The fact that it is hate preached in a church should make no difference.

Explaining doctrine
Does this mean that churches may not explain their doctrines? Of course it does not. Many churches believe that homosexuality and similar behaviour is a sin. They have the perfect right to say so, but there is a distinct difference between saying that god actively condemns certain behaviour and recommending that people involved in that behaviour be fired from their jobs or beaten up and thrown in jail because of it. The first is free speech in a religious context, the last two are examples of hate and are criminal offences.

When it becomes hate
Parliament has enacted legislation limiting the right to freedom of speech and making it a criminal offence to hatemonger. The restrictions are found in the Criminal Code. In addition, the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids communication of messages based on hatred or contempt using any form of telecommunications. That includes both the telephone and the internet. Note that point: it is not just hate speech which is outlawed, any speech which causes an identifiable group to be subjected to contempt is also outlawed.

The Criminal Code specifically outlaws genocide or recommendations for genocide. It must be understood that genocide does not just encompass ethnic or ethno-religious groups. It involves any identifiable segment of society. That includes homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, transvestites, doctors who perform abortions, ladies who have them, people who distribute religious magazines door to door, the homeless, alcoholics, drug addicts and any other group you could describe. Whether others approve or disapprove of these people, whether religions condemn their lifestyles, whether you, I or anyone else like it or not, nobody may recommend or take action that would have the effect of forcibly eliminating these groups of people from society. To do that would be an act of attempted or actual genocide. That is what the law means.

What, then, are the limits? How do we determine what is permitted and what is hate? It really is not as difficult as it might seem. Common sense is all that is required. Yes, I know someone will push the envelope, and say they were exercising free speech rights not expressing hate, but the common sense based, ordinary person knows the difference.

In general, if comments about a group are respectful of the right of that group to exist then there is no hate involved, even where comments are made discussing and criticising their behaviour. Where references to the same group are made in a contemptuous manner or there are calls for some kind of negative action to be taken which would restrict the right of the group to exist and do whatever they do, it is probably hate speech. Contemptuous, insulting epithets are almost always a form of hate speech, unless the context in which they are made validates the use of the terms. In fact, some epithets are so powerful in effect that their use may be misinterpreted in spite of the context. In such cases the terms are best avoided and a softer substitute used. What are often referred to as the “N” word, used to refer to black or brown skinned people, or the “C” word, used in reference to women, would be the most obvious examples.

Generalisations about racial, national, religious, or other groups can easily become expressions of hate if care is not taken to express an opinion in a respectful manner. Sometimes, often in comments on internet sites by anonymous writers, terms and descriptions are used which come close to hate speech. I sometimes respond to those by calling attention to their hateful and insulting nature, and tell the writer that the comments are a sign of bigotry. Often these kinds of comments are presumed to be allowed because they are anonymous or a pseudonym is used. That is not the case.

Anonymity on the internet is a fallacy, and people who post objectionable, hateful comments can very often be traced through the records made by internet routers or the internet service providers who host the web site on which the comments were made. That this can be done is shown by methods used to successfully trace pedophiles who download and collect pornographic pictures of underage children. Many have been identified and charged in various countries, including Canada. In my opinion, hatemongers should be treated the same way.


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