TORONTO, Ont. April 18, 2006 The Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) has applauded the recent decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, which unanimously overturned a 2002 decision and a previous human rights commission ruling that an advertisement criticizing homosexual conduct and citing Bible passages was hate literature.
As part of the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance (CRFA), the League intervened before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal in the case of Hugh Owens v. Human Rights Commission (Sask). The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code expressly prohibits the publication of statements which “expose or tend to expose to hatred, or which ridicule, belittle or otherwise affront the dignity of any person or class of persons.
Mr. Owens had an advertisement published in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in 1997 of two stick men holding hands with the universal symbol of a red circle with a diagonal bar superimposed over top. References to four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 were included. The case had been interpreted by some as promoting the “Bible as Hate Speech or Hate Literature” based upon the decision of the lower court, which left it unclear whether Biblical texts alone can violate the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
In a unanimous decision handed down last week, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the lower court decision and stated that the Bible passages in and of themselves, and as presented in this case, do not violate the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
“Were pleased to see a decision on freedom of religion and freedom of expression based on an objective analysis rather than on a subjective assessment of the complaint of a purported victim or victims, said League President Phil Horgan. By discussing such elements as context and the place of sacred texts in public debates on morality, the judgment provides some needed clarification on freedom of religion and freedom of expression in human rights legislation.
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Justice Richards, in delivering the decision, stated that although the advertisement was “bluntly presented and doubtless upsetting to many, the essential message conveyed … is not one which involves the ardent emotions and strong sense of detestation, calumny and vilification required.”
Justice Richards also made it clear that the Bible, or any other sacred text, cannot serve as a licence for acting unlawfully against gays and lesbians and that each case must be decided on its individual merit in terms of context, timing and intent.
This decision confirms that passages contained in the Bible cannot and should not in themselves be deemed hate literature,” said Mr. Horgan. Instead, it discusses the need to see the passages in the context of a broader public debate, and an assessment of the Bible as a whole. The court recognized, albeit grudgingly, that a core element of Christian morality is the distinction between criticizing ones behaviour while recognizing the inherent dignity of the human person, popularly referred to as hating the sin but loving the sinner. The decision should stand for the ability to address arguments about morality, and especially sexual morality, based on sacred texts, as part of a robust public debate.
Mr. Owens appeared on his own behalf. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also intervened in this case in support of freedom of speech. The League wishes to thank the participation of the other members of the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance, the Christian Legal Fellowship and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the hard work of counsel, Tom Schuck. The League is also grateful to its members across Canada for their continued prayers and support.
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.