Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 2004
Church teaching could be silenced
Bishops remain concerned over C-250's impact
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The Catholic bishops of Canada remain worried that a controversial bill to add "sexual orientation" to the list of groups protected by the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code could be used to silence Church teaching.
Currently, the only identifiable groups are those distinguished by colour, race, religion or ethnic origin.
"Participation in the current public debate on marriage has demonstrated there are individuals who believe that Catholic Church teaching on homosexual behaviour is hatred," said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in a letter to senators March 25.
"We remain concerned that this bill, as presently drafted, could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard."
The legislation could also be used "to preclude comment on homosexual behaviour by people who do not profess any particular religious faith," the letter stated.
Signed by Msgr. Mario Paquette, the CCCB's general secretary, the letter said, "Everyone has an overall moral framework or belief system. For some people, this is primarily based on religious convictions; for others, it is informed by philosophical principles, and for others it is based on what have come to be called secular values.
"There are people who do not belong to a particular religion who may consider sexual conduct between people of the same sex to be morally wrong."
The letter was sent the same day as the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs approved the bill, C-250, without amendment, handing it over to the full Senate for a vote expected within days. If it clears the Senate, all that is required for the legislation to become law is the formality of royal assent, given through the governor general's signature.
Church and family groups oppose the bill, introduced by New Democrat MP Svend Robinson, saying it will have a "chilling effect" on freedom of religion and could lead to parts of the Bible being labelled as hate literature.
Robinson, who is openly gay, has maintained that his bill won't affect freedom of religion and that the Supreme Court of Canada has laid out tough requirements for conviction, which include willful intent to promote hatred.
Last April, the episcopal conference told Justice Minister Martin Cauchon that it hopes "the legitimate concerns of persons who are homosexual can be protected in a way that does not infringe on the well-established guarantee of freedom of religion."
Before passing the bill and sending it on to the Senate last year, the House of Commons added an amendment stating, "No person shall be convicted of an offence . . . if, in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion based on a religious text."
The CCCB welcomed the amendment in its latest letter, but said the bill still does not go far enough and does not adequately address the concerns expressed in its letter of last year.
It also said there is "great potential" for a clash of competing charter rights and suggested senators "take the time to make sure that the guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not overridden."
One way of doing that is to add a section that "clearly exempts, from the hate propaganda provisions, the communicating of statements about the morality of sexual conduct," said the letter.
The CCCB letter closed by emphasizing that the Catholic Church teaches that every human being is created in the image of God and has inherent human dignity.
"Every human being is known and loved by God and entitled to have his or her life protected and respected. The promotion of hatred or violence of any kind is contrary to Church teaching."