A Canadian administrative judge’s demand for a $5,000 penalty and a written apology from a man who criticized homosexuality in a letter to his local newspaper has been overturned on appeal, but experts on such “hate speech” disputes say the case is not a complete victory for free speech.
The judgment was announced this week by the Alliance Defense Fund in the case of Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition, which had been determined by the Alberta, Canada, Human Rights Commission to have violated a “hate speech” law.
Alberta had adopted the law with promises that it never would be applied solely to speech but would be reserved for actions that accompany “hate speech,” according to Ben Bull, chief counsel for the ADF. He cited the case’s application in the United States because of the new – and similar – “hate speech” law signed by President Obama only weeks ago.
Boissoin wrote the letter to the “Red Deer Advocate” in central Alberta criticizing those who “in any way support[s] the homosexual machine that has been mercilessly gaining ground in our society since the 1960s.”
“You have caused far too much damage. My banner has now been raised and war has been declared so as to defend the precious sanctity of our innocent children and youth, that you so eagerly toil, day and night, to consume,” the letter continued.
“Our children are being victimized by repugnant and premeditated strategies, aimed at desensitizing and eventually recruiting our young into their camps. Think about it, children as young as five and six years of age are being subjected to psychologically and physiologically damaging pro-homosexual literature and guidance in the public-school system. … Your teenagers are being instructed on how to perform so-called safe same-gender oral and anal sex. … Come on people, wake up!”
A University of Calgary professor, Darren Lund, reported Boissoin to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, accusing him of breaking the national human-rights law. The commission ruled in Lund’s favor, ordering the $5,000 payment and written apology from Boissoin, as well as instructions to Boissoin not to express his beliefs further.
On appeal, Justice E.C. Wilson said the commission didn’t acknowledge the actual law, which states, “Nothing in this section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject.” Wilson said the commission went too far, basing its decision on assumptions and granting relief to Lund that it did not have the authority to provide.
“The remedies … are without legal foundation or beyond the authority granted,” Wilson wrote, citing the commission’s orders that Boissoin “cease and desist” his statements, issue the apology and pay Lund.
Bull told WND the reversal is important in that homosexual activists will not be able to cite it as a precedent for damages when someone expresses an opinion opposing homosexuality, but the case is not a complete victory.
“Stephen Boissoin was in litigation for four years,” he said. “If anyone is tempted to write a letter to the editor, that right is now chilled.
“Homosexuals got exactly what they wanted. In the marketplace of ideas, one side has now been censored,” he said.
“This [situation] is exactly what homosexual activists have in mind,” he said.
Gerald Chipeur, an ADF-allied attorney who argued the case before the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta this fall, said, “There is no place for thought control in a free and democratic society.”
He continued, “The tools of censorship should not be available to prohibit freedom of expression in Canada. There is no circumstance in a free society where limitations on political or religious debate can be justified.”
The appeals-court ruling did not strike down the “hate speech” law, but it sets limits for its use. The Alberta ruling means “hate speech” laws cannot be used to silence religious expression or public debate simply because someone takes offense. Such a provision would, in fact, violate the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, the ADF said.
The accuser in such a case “must demonstrate that the speech contributed to actual harm,” ADF said.
Bull said the case’s direct application in the U.S. is limited, but, “You have to understand American courts have been importing harmful foreign precedents for many years.
“If this case had gone the wrong way, homosexual advocates would have been citing this case for support of their position that hate-speech laws need to be used to shut up opponents of homosexual behavior,” he said.
“I think that this was a classic activist administrative judge who basically did blatantly what is happening every day in the U.S.,” he said.
“Our First Amendment and the Canadian Charter of Rights were designed to protect unwanted speech,” Bull said. “Speech everyone wants to hear doesn’t need protection. It’s the only reason the First Amendment was written, to protect unwanted or hurtful expressions.
“That’s what separates us from the totalitarian societies behind the old Iron Curtain,” he said.
“This is a lesson in how homosexual advocates will use and misuse any law that restricts expression. As Obama would say, ‘This is a teaching moment.’”
Obama signed the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act” in October after Democrats strategically attached it to a “must-pass” $680 billion defense appropriations bill.
The law cracks down on any acts that could be linked to criticism of homosexuality or even the “perception” of homosexuality. As Congress debated it, there were assurances it would not be used to crack down on speech.
Days after Obama signed it, in response, pastors and other Christian leaders gathered to read from the Bible at a rally organized with the help of Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Coalition.
Former Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt of PrayInJesusName.org read from Romans: “And they that commit such things are worthy of death.”
“The government has to invade my thoughts to decide what my motive was in quoting the Bible,” Klingenschmitt explained. “I can be prosecuted if the government thinks my motive was wrong.”
Obama boasted of the “hate crimes” bill when he signed it into law.
“After more than a decade, we’ve passed inclusive hate-crimes legislation to help protect our citizens from violence based on what they look like, who they love, how they pray or who they are,” he said.
The rally took place in front of the offices of Attorney General Eric Holder, who supported the bill although he explained it does not protect all people equally. He is charged with enforcing the law.
Some of the rally was captured by Christian Broadcasting Network on video:
“If this law is used to silence me or any of these preachers for speaking the truth, then we will be forced to conscientiously defy it,” Rick Scarborough, president of Vision America, declared. “That is my calling as a Christian and my right as an American citizen.”
Janet Porter of Faith2Action called it a “sad day for America.”
“While a small minority of homosexual activists are celebrating, thousands of pastors, priests and rabbis are lamenting their loss of First Amendment freedoms. I for one refuse to bow before this unjust and unconstitutional law, and I intend to continue to preach the whole counsel of God as revealed in the Scriptures,’” she wrote.
“But this law doesn’t just affect pastors; it will criminalize the beliefs of millions of ordinary people who may now be afraid to speak even their pro-marriage positions lest it spark a federal ‘hate crime’ investigation,” Porter wrote.
Cass noted in the U.K., a senior citizen was accused of “hate crimes” for writing a letter objecting to a pro-homosexual festival:
“This is the way it gets implemented in all the other countries,” Cass said. “Christians are singled out for prosecution, with threats, imprisonment and fines simply for refusing to stop doing what Christ commands: proclaiming the truth.”
“[These cases] are a good precursor of where this goes,” he warned.
The bill signed by Obama was opposed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which called it a “menace” to civil liberties. The commission argued the law allows federal authorities to bring charges against individuals even if they’ve already been cleared in a state court.