Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 20, 2003
Consider the homosexual dilemma
Hate propaganda lable threatens religious freedom
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon.
In some circles, homosexuality is treated as a harmless variation, a vehicle of true love, even permitting stable and permanent relationships and any reminder of traditional Christian teaching on the morality of homosexual activity is met with groans and grimaces.
The pressure is on to give a moral pass to sinful behaviour.
Furthermore, a society that has made the smoking of tobacco a near capital offence attempts to sever any relation of HIV and AIDS to homosexuality. After all, the maladies fall indifferently on the just and unjust, on homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, don't they? Prophylactics are offered as the solution. A campaign is set up like that against cancer or smoking. Except that smoking is condemned because of its recognized bad effects, but in this instance, an effect is condemned with no mention of its cause. The campaign itself is good, but the silence about the cause is almost deafening.
Any reference to the wrongness of homosexual behaviour is likely to invite the charge of homophobia, turning the accusation on the supposed accuser. But, of course, the natural moral law is not the property of anyone, and invoking it need not be an accusation.
Bill C-250, now before the Senate of Canada, expands the definition of "identifiable group" in the hate propaganda section of the Criminal Code to include sexual orientation. Currently, the identifiable groups are those distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.
The offences under the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code include advocating or promoting genocide (section 318), and inciting or willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group (319).
The Catholic Church considers hatred to be a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in article 2303: "Deliberate hatred is contrary to charity. Hatred of the neighbour is a sin when one deliberately wishes him evil. Hatred of the neighbour is a grave sin when one deliberately desires him grave harm."
The Church also teaches that every human being is created in the image of God, is known and loved by God and has inherent human dignity. Therefore, each human being, without exception, is entitled to have his or her life protected and human dignity respected.
It is well known that the Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that sexual behaviour between people of the same sex is morally wrong and in no circumstances can be approved. At the same time, Church teaching also requires unequivocally that persons who are homosexual "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every unjust sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided"(Catechism, n. 2358).
Nevertheless, many religious leaders of different denominations are concerned about Bill C-250. Our concern is not about the objectives of prohibiting the incitement or willful promotion of hatred or the advocacy of genocide. What is troubling is the possibility that someone who finds the expression of the Christian's beliefs on the sexual conduct of homosexual persons too blunt or too harsh will invoke the Criminal Code to silence the teaching.
In the background are cases such as the December 2002 Saskatchewan case of Hugh Owens. In the Owens case a bumper sticker in an advertisement displayed references to four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 on the left side of the sticker. An equal sign (=) was in the middle of the sticker, with a symbol on the right side of the sticker. The symbol on the right side consisted of two men holding hands with the universal symbol of a red circle with a diagonal bar superimposed over the top.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and the Saskatchewan Court of Queen 's Bench found that this advertisement violated the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code because it exposed homosexuals to hatred. It should be noted that the Owens case was dealing with human rights legislation not the Criminal Code, that human rights legislation in Canada is interpreted more liberally and that the standard of proof is less than under the Criminal Code.
Nevertheless, given the challenges to religious freedom in the last few years and the recent history of judicial activism in Canada, the higher threshold in criminal cases is not much of a consolation. Nor is the fact that proceedings may not be commenced under these sections without the consent of attorney general, except in cases where the willful promotion of hatred may lead to a breach of peace.
What exactly constitutes a breach of peace?
The leading case in the current provisions of the Code on hate propaganda is the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the James Keegstra case of 1990.
The court said that the word "promotes" indicates active support or instigation for hatred and defined what was meant by "hatred." The term "hatred" connotes emotion of an intense and extreme nature that is clearly associated with vilification and detestation. It is an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that these individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill treatment on the basis of group affiliation.
When the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops raised concerns about Bill C-250 with the minister of justice, he acknowledged that hatred was clearly not the teaching of the Catholic Church. Indeed, he went on to point out that the law foresees a specific defence in the context of a religious opinion expressed in good faith. This defence is intended to ensure unequivocal religious freedom.
Am I reassured? Somewhat, but I also remember assurances from a former justice minister that a Liberal government would never change the definition of marriage either.
Church teaching also requires unequivocally that persons who are homosexual "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
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