Certain passages of the Bible can be construed as hate literature if placed in a particular context, according to a Canadian provincial court.

The Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan upheld a 2001 ruling by the province’s human rights tribunal that fined a man for submitting a newspaper ad that included citations of four Bible verses that address homosexuality.

Ad placed by Christian corrections officer in Saskatoon, Canada, newspaper

A columnist noted in the Edmonton Journal last week that the Dec. 11 ruling generated virtually no news stories and “not a single editorial.”

Imagine “the hand-wringing if ever a federal court labeled the Quran hate literature and forced a devout Muslim to pay a fine for printing some of his book’s more astringent passages in an ad in a daily newspaper,” wrote Lorne Gunter in the Edmonton, Alberta, daily.

Under Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code, Hugh Owens of Regina, Saskatchewan, was found guilty along with the newspaper, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, of inciting hatred and was forced to pay damages of 1,500 Canadian dollars to each of the three homosexual men who filed the complaint.

The rights code allows for expression of honestly held beliefs, but the commission ruled that the code can place “reasonable restriction” on Owens’ religious expression, because the ad exposed the complainants “to hatred, ridicule, and their dignity was affronted on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

The ad’s theme was that the Bible says no to homosexual behavior. It listed the references to four Bible passages, Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 on the left side. An equal sign was placed between the verse references and a drawing of two males holding hands overlaid with the universal nullification symbol – a red circle with a diagonal bar.

Owens, an evangelical Christian and corrections officer, said his ad was “a Christian response” to Homosexual Pride Week.

“I put the biblical references, but not the actual verses, so the ad would become interactive,” he told the National Catholic Register after the 2001 ruling. “I figured somebody would have to look them up in the Bible first, or if they didn’t have a Bible, they’d have to find one.”

Leviticus 20:13, says, according to the New International Version, “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

“Owens denies that, as a Christian, he wants homosexuals put to death, as some inferred from the biblical passages,” the Catholic paper said. He believes, however, that “eternal salvation is at stake,” both for those engaging in homosexual acts and for himself, if he fails to inform them about “what God says about their behavior.”

Exposure to hatred

Justice J. Barclay wrote in his opinion that the human-rights panel “was correct in concluding that the advertisement can objectively be seen as exposing homosexuals to hatred or ridicule.”

“When the use of the circle and slash is combined with the passages of the Bible, it exposes homosexuals to detestation, vilification and disgrace,” Barclay said. “In other words, the biblical passage which suggests that if a man lies with a man they must be put to death exposes homosexuals to hatred.”

In the 2001 ruling, Saskatchewan Human Rights Board of Inquiry commissioner Valerie Watson emphasized that the panel was not banning parts of the Bible. She wrote that the offense was the combination of the symbol and the biblical references. Owens, in fact, published an ad in 2001, without complaint, that quoted the full text of the passages he cited in the offending 1997 ad.

But the Canadian Civil Liberties Association sides with Christian groups that criticize the panel for stifling free speech. Opponents of the ruling say it illustrates the dangers of a bill currently in Parliament, C-250, that would add “sexual orientation” as a protected category in Canada’s genocide and hate crimes legislation.

That legislation would make criminals of people like Owens and others who have been charged under provincial human rights panels, they argue.

Two years ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission penalized printer Scott Brockie $5,000 for refusing to print letterhead for a homosexual advocacy group. Brockie argued that his Christian beliefs compelled him to reject the group’s request.

In 1998, an Ontario man was convicted of hate crimes for an incident in which he distributed pamphlets about Islam outside a high school. In one of the pamphlets, defendant Mark Harding listed atrocities committed in the name of Islam in foreign lands to back his assertion that Canadians should be wary of local Muslims.

Janet Epp Buckingham, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, says cases like this are worrisome precedents that an expanded hate law could build upon, reported the Hamilton, Ontario, Spectator newspaper.

“Mark Harding really went overboard,” Epp Buckingham said. “He said some quite nasty things about Muslims – that they are really violent overseas and that Muslims in Canada are the same and people need to be careful of them.

“But the court almost ignored the religious exemption,” she said. “Harding himself said he wasn’t trying to incite violence against Muslims. But the court said he did promote violence and hatred against Muslims and therefore the exemption doesn’t apply, that it was not a good faith expression of religion.”

She said that, at the very least, Bill C-250 could place a significant chill over the Christian community and, at worst, it could cause undue restrictions on religious expression.


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