OTTAWA, July 12, 2005 The Catholic Civil Rights League today urged the Senate to amend Bill C-38 to ensure greater protection for freedom of religion and freedom of expression in its application, in part by delaying proclamation of the Bill to allow provincial legislatures time to pass appropriate legislation.
Appearing before the Senates Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, League President Phil Horgan noted that the League would have preferred that Bill C-38, which extends civil marriage to same sex couples, be withdrawn before it reached this point. However, the Senate still has the constitutional ability to amend this law, and the League urged Senators do so.
Bill C-38 had its first reading as a document with three sections, noted Mr. Horgan. It now has 14, plus three amendments. This shows that MPs have already recognized that freedom of religion and expression, and the charitable status of religious groups, needed more protection than C-38 originally offered. Provincial legislatures need time to adapt before this change is made.
For example, even though amendments have been made to Bill C-38 that would protect the expression of religious beliefs about marriage, many organizations involved with the marriage debate are not religions and hence may not be protected, especially at the provincial level. The concerns of the League have been brought into sharp focus as it is being investigated under hate crimes legislation because a complaint was laid based on its participation in a DefendMarriage brochure.
The document does not contain a single word against homosexuals or even against homosexual conduct. It simply asserts the time-honoured belief that marriage is a divinely ordained institution dedicated primarily to the rearing of children. It also urges those who read it to inform their MPs if they agree with this position. If this is hate literature, then the educational and advocacy materials of all major religions could soon be subject to prosecution, Mr. Horgan said in his presentation.
Some would say this is an isolated case that is unlikely to succeed, but we think it should be seen in the context of similar cases, primarily in areas of provincial jurisdiction, said Mr. Horgan, citing the experiences of Christopher Kempling, a BC teacher suspended without pay for writing letters to the editor critical of homosexual conduct; the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal challenge to Bishop Henry for pastoral letters he wrote in defense of traditional marriage; and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal challenge to the Knights of Columbus in Port Coquitlam, BC for canceling a hall rental to a lesbian couple.
Such challenges will undoubtedly become more numerous and more difficult to defend under Bill C-38. We have every reason to fear that the application of these issues going forward will create litigation, anxiety, cost and expense for religious and other organizations to defend those cherished freedoms of conscience and religion going forward.
The League urged Senators to amend C-38 to provide clear protection for the peaceable expression of beliefs in support of traditional marriage, and to require provinces to enact protective legislation to address such concerns as solemnization, education and property use that fall under their jurisdiction. In particular, the League urged that proclamation of the Bill be delayed to allow provinces to amend their statutes, just as C-38 was amended.
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, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org.