By Chris Kempling
(April 9, 2008) – On the first day of the counselling psychology class, the instructor asked us to share what was the most important fact about ourselves. Jim (not his real name) identified himself as gay. I identified myself as a Christian. I decided to befriend him and we went through the two-year program together. I even stayed overnight at his house when we had a weekend seminar in his town.
Fast forward to the present. I encouraged my high school-aged son, a social leader, to befriend gay classmates, protect them if they were bullied and invite them over if he wished. He did (and was harassed for doing so). After graduation, his friend “Andy” moved away, but stayed overnight at our house on two occasions when back in town visiting.
I mention these anecdotes, because some people are convinced that I am “homophobic.” They believe this because I publicly express opinions consistent with socially conservative views of sexual behaviour. I have been suspended, without pay, twice from my job as a school teacher — once for one month, and once for three months. It was hard on my family. Yet I maintain that people can hold, and express such views but still treat those who practise different values with decency. I do, and so does my son.
The British Columbia College of Teachers won a court decision against me in 2006 for “conduct unbecoming a member.” The reason: Between 1997 and 2000, I wrote several letters to newspapers, outlining research data related to homosexual behaviour, and what position major world religions take on the matter. There was a vigorous exchange of views on the editorial pages of my local newspaper, the Quesnel Cariboo Observer. I had thought that was the place where people are free to debate the issues of the day.
The College of Teachers, and my employer, the Quesnel School District, believe that my published opinions had the potential to “poison the atmosphere” in my school. I provided letters from five school administrators which said that my letters had no impact whatsoever on the school atmosphere, but they were ignored.
The college’s lawyer stated categorically that “everything you have written, in its entirety, is derogatory and discriminatory.” I continue to find that a bewildering statement, because I was quoting peer-reviewed research data, including research done by investigators who are homosexual themselves. Furthermore, I have never had a human rights complaint laid against me.
In fact, all sides agreed that there was no negative impact in my school. No parent, student or homosexual person complained to the college or my employer about my letters. I never raised the issue in my classroom or with students with whom I worked. I have even received two letters of commendation from my principals for my work with sexual minority students. Nevertheless, the courts ruled that no “evidence of harm” is required to discipline a member. Having wrong opinions is sufficient reason to deny a worker his paycheque for four months.
One would think that the B.C. Civil Liberties Association might be concerned about this attack on free speech. On the contrary, they were granted leave to intervene against me on the side of the College of Teachers.
On Jan. 28 of this year, the college issued a new citation of “conduct unbecoming,” with 12 new offenses for items written between 2003 and 2005. Once again, no evidence of “harm” was alleged, and in fact, there isn’t even a complainant.
My offenses include signing two letters to the editor as “the local representative of the Christian Heritage Party.” This is true. I did run as a candidate in the last federal election for the CHP, and came in fifth out of eight candidates. I wrote the letters in question, after the national leader of the CHP asked me to be the candidate. In my role as CHP spokesperson for my riding, I outlined the party’s position on the nationally debated issue of same-sex marriage. If a teacher can be sanctioned for letting the public know what his party’s position is on matters of national debate, does this not make Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedom meaningless?
Chief Justice Beverley Mc-Lachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada, writing in the Figueroa decision stated: “Section 3 should be understood with reference to the right of each citizen to play a meaningful role in the electoral process …Full political debate ensures an open society benefiting from diverse opinions … Marginal or regional parties tend to raise issues not adopted by national parties.”
The possibility that a political candidate may be sanctioned for representing his political party is alarming to say the least. I think citizens of a free democracy need to be able to join and speak for the party of their choice, notwithstanding their occupation.
I have also been censured for writing an essay on the philosophical differences between social liberals and social conservatives, and for discussing the therapy services of my private Christian counselling practice, in a CBC radio interview.
Frankly, I find it disconcerting that my professional body wishes to sanction me for my political involvement, for conduct in a completely different profession servicing my own faith community and for opinions published in other provinces or countries. This action has potentially alarming consequences, not only for Canadian teachers, but for all regulated professions (social workers, psychologists, nurses, etc.), for whom such cases end up establishing legal precedents.
I refuse to be marginalized as a second-class citizen, simply because I publicly state social conservative opinions or represent a “fringe” political party. And I don’t think publicly espousing the Christian worldview should be prohibited for public school teachers. If I don’t have free speech, or freedom of political association, then no Canadian does.
© The National Post, April 9, 2008. Reprinted with permission.
The League has supported Dr. Kempling from the beginning of his case with the BCCT. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.