VANCOUVER, BC, June 16, 2005 – The Catholic Civil Rights League today expressed disappointment with the decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal, which has upheld a BC Supreme Court ruling that the B.C. College of Teachers (BCCT) was justified in suspending Quesnel, BC teacher Christopher Kempling for writings critical of homosexuality. CCRL was an intervenor in the case through its membership in the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance (CRFA).
“It’s particularly troubling that the judgment says some of Mr. Kempling’s writings cross the line between reasoned debate and discriminatory rhetoric, without explaining how or why ” said CCRL President Phil Horgan. “That’s a very fine line in debates involving issues of politics and morality. For example, moral discourse engages notions of right and wrong. Moral discourse will challenge certain attitudes and behaviours, and will in some cases assign terms such as “sinful”, “harmful”, or “perverse” to such attitudes or behaviours. The court has failed to provide a useful delineation of how such discourse falls into the category of “discrimination”, from which it appears there is little ability to defend oneself. The net result will be a chilling effect on free speech.
“The judgment fails to distinguish between criticism directed at behaviour that still recognizes and respects the inherent dignity of the person. As an example, parents regularly discipline their children for improper behaviour. Parents nevertheless love their children. They detest the sin, while continuing to love and embrace the sinner. Chris Kempling’s writings on promiscuity or other aspects of the gay lifestyle have been found to be “discriminatory”, and not meriting constitutional protection.
It is unclear what implications this ruling will have on other professionals who may choose to speak out on moral or political issues. The court failed to address these concerns in upholding the BCCT’s ruling. (See CRFA’s Intervention Factum)
The ruling gives weight to the concerns many have expressed about Bill C-38, which would extend civil marriage to couples of the same sex. “It’s virtually impossible to allow this type of legislation and not expect serious problems in the area of conscience and religious rights. You cannot affirm homosexual ‘marriage’ without it creating a whole range of civil rights problems in the public discussion of such issues.”
While acknowledging that democracies have always justified certain restrictions on free speech, such as those directed at preventing violence or other harm, Mr. Horgan said there was insufficient proof of harm to justify the restriction in this case. “No one had ever claimed that students were harmed by Mr. Kempling’s off-hours activities, or proven that the school system generally had suffered harm, or was somehow a poisoned environment.”
The appeal court ruled that although Mr. Kempling’s rights were infringed by the disciplinary action, but that the infringement was justified by the required balancing of competing interests in such cases, and notably by the BCCT’s need to maintain a discrimination-free atmosphere in schools. (For a complete text of the decision, see text.)
The appeal court’s decision reads, in part, “The harm in evidence in this case is not that of discriminatory actions directed against particular individuals, but rather is that sustained by the school system as a whole. In his writings, Mr. Kempling made clear that his discriminatory beliefs would inform his actions as a teacher and counsellor. His writings therefore, in themselves, undermine access to a discrimination-free education environment. Evidence that particular students no longer felt welcome within the school system, or that homosexual students refused to go to Mr. Kempling for counselling, is not required to establish that harm has been caused.”
In the spring of 2001, Mr. Kempling was cited for professional misconduct arising out of an article and letters to the editor he wrote expressing his views on homosexuality which were published in a Quesnel newspaper between 1997 and 2000.
A year later, the citation was heard by a hearing panel of the Disciplinary Committee of the BCCT. The panel ruled that Mr. Kempling’s off-duty activities conflicted with one of public education’s core values, non-discrimination, and imposed a penalty of one month’s suspension of his teachers’ license; that notice of such suspension be given to various licensing authorities; and that his name and a summary of the case be published to the BCCT membership and the public. Subsequently, by majority, the Council of the BCCT adopted the Panel’s recommendation. Mr. Kempling appealed the decisions of the Panel and the decision of the Council to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which upheld the decision, and then to the BC Court of Appeal, which issued its ruling June 13.
See previous articles about how Mr. Kempling’s case affects freedom of religion and freedom of religion in Canada.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director,