A decision in a case regarded as a bellwether in the developing standoff between the right to free speech and so-called “hate crimes” laws that punish “thoughts” or “perceptions” has arrived – and it affirms the right of free speech.
The decision comes from the highest appeals court in Alberta. The court week dismissed an appeal of a lower court decision that ruled Pastor Stephen Boissoin was not liable to pay a $5,000 penalty and issue an apology for a letter he wrote to the editor of a local newspaper.
WND previously reported Alberta adopted a “hate speech” law with promises the measure would be reserved for actions that accompany “hate speech.”
Boissoin’s letter to the Red Deer Advocate newspaper criticized those who “in any way support the homosexual machine that has been mercilessly gaining ground in our society since the 1960s.”
“Our children are being victimized by repugnant and premeditated strategies, aimed at desensitizing and eventually recruiting our young into their camps,” Boisson wrote. “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!”
His comments “offended” some, and he was brought to trial before a human rights council, which ordered him to make the apology and pay $5,000 to a professor who brought the complaint.
Now, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the decision from the Alberta court likely signals an ultimate victory in the 12-year legal fight.
“Christians and other people of faith should not be fined or jailed for expressing their political or religious beliefs. There is no place for thought control in a free and democratic society,” said Gerald Chipeur, one of more than 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, who served as counsel in the suit. “The tools of censorship should not be available to prohibit freedom of religious expression in Canada. The court rightly found that this type of religious speech is not ‘hate speech.’”
The court decision noted that while Boissoin wrote the letter, it was the decision of the local newspaper to publish it, and that was done after the newspaper determined that “it decided that it was an honestly held expression of opinion by Boissoin on an issue of public debate. The purpose of its publication, therefore, was to further public debate. The newspaper was independent of Boissoin, and its decision to publish signals that it was considered to be a matter of public interest. … Whether offensive of not, the letter was perceived to stimulate and add to an ongoing public debate on matters of public interest, as distinct from hate propaganda which serves no useful function and has no redeeming qualities.”
The ruling said:
A certain amount of public debate concerning such an issue must be permitted, even if some of it is offensive, to make the general public aware that such type of thinking is present in the community and to allow for its rebuttal.
Matters of morality, including the perceived morality of certain types of sexual behavior, are topics for discussion in the public forum. … The target of the letter is not homosexuals, but rather all those that promote the teaching that homosexuality is normal and acceptable. Boissoin was calling upon those of like mind to that of his own to take a stand.
Boissoin and others have the freedom to think, whether stemming from their religious convictions or not, that homosexuality is sinful and morally wrong. In my view, it follows that they have the right to express that thought to others.
ADF reported the court determine the letter was “an expression of opinion” that “was not likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt within the meaning of the Alberta statute.”
“The court was also highly critical of Alberta’s ‘hate speech’ law: ‘Of particular concern in the area of human rights law is that a lack of clarity will cast a chill on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and religion…,’ the court wrote. ‘This lack of clarity has resulted in this protracted litigation, to the detriment and expense of all parties,’” according to ADF.
It was University of Calgary professor Darren Lund who complained about Boissoin to the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2002. Lund accused Boissoin of violating the Alberta law after the letters appeared in the Red Deer Advocate.
The commission originally ruled against Boissoin in 2008, requiring him to pay $5,000 to Lund and apologize.
But the ruling was overturned at the next court level. Because it was Lund who appealed the decision, the newest court opinion awarded Boissoin the costs of defending the appeal.
Chipeur, when Barack Obama adopted a “hate crimes” plan, warned there would be ramifications.
He said in Canada, there already is significant damage from the law.
“I had church pastors, church-school principals, board members coming to me for legal advice [when the case began],” he said. “They were saying, ‘What should we do about our statement of faith, our bylaws, our policies. Should we just completely repeal them so that we won’t have people offended?’”
Chipeur said his advice was for organizations to “tell the truth as you see it from the Bible,” and ADF’s job was to defend that right.
“Even though I gave them that advice, many pulled punches,” he said. “They reversed policies, they buried their statements of faith, ran for the hills. They tried to do everything they could.”
Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed damage has resulted from the adoption of the law.
“Homosexuals got exactly what they wanted. In the marketplace of ideas, one side has now been censored,” he said. “This is exactly what homosexual activists have in mind.”
The damage – the suppression of religious beliefs because of the intimidating effect of the lawsuit – continues today, Chipeur said at the time.
“I can tell you there was significant damage from the decision. People continue to be afraid. People aren’t going to feel safe overnight. That was the impact of the decision. Christians became afraid,” he said.
“They’re only human. They were frightened. They acted upon that fear, and started to reverse policies that had been in place forever,” he said.
On the issue of the law in the U.S., he predicted problems will develop.
“Your system is set up to encourage lawyers to do this, and you have so many more people, there is more opportunity for people to take offense,” he said.
“There are certain people in society who look to the government for everything, including to help them with their hurt feelings. The government was never made for that,” he said.
The ultimate impact of the Boissoin case will not be to strike the Canadian law but to set limits for its application, experts said.
Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act when he took office 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. There have been no significant court tests yet.
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.
“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 at the time. “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.
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.