Militant's case may define religious freedom

July 18, 2011

OTTAWA — Bill Whatcott is the kind of man who would carry a "Repent" sign to a gay pride parade and preach about the evils of sodomy for the length of the parade.

Whatcott's lawyer Tom Schuck said Whatcott not only did that — the scene is captured in the new documentary Freedom of Whatcott produced by the Moon Brothers — but also his client arrived ahead of the parade to the rallying point and grabbed the microphone.

There he continued his harangue until he realized he might be putting himself in physical danger and slipped away.

The scene in the Moon Brothers' documentary, which portrays both sides of the debate about this controversial figure, is quite funny, Schuck said. Representing Whatcott over the past 10 years pro bono has been "tremendous fun" even though he recognizes how politically incorrect he is.

"For me it's been a real privilege to defend him," said Schuck, who began representing Whatcott when he ran afoul of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) for four bluntly-worded pamphlets criticizing homosexual activism and sexual behaviour.

Schuck will defend Whatcott before the Supreme Court of Canada in October in a case that he hopes will strike down the laws that allow human rights commissions to limit freedom of speech and religious expression.


"I think the law should be struck down because I don't think bureaucrats should be able to pick and choose whom they prosecute," said Schuck, who practises law in Weyburn, Sask.

Twenty-two groups, including the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Christian Legal Fellowship have intervened in what could be the religious freedom case of the generation.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal (SHRT) had ordered Whatcott to pay $17,500 to be divided among four complainants for their loss of dignity and hurt feelings.

It prohibited Whatcott from distributing the pamphlets or any like them.

Whatcott appealed the decision and lost the first time, but last February the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal set aside the SHRT order. But the SHRC appealed, leading to the October Supreme Court hearing.

Though Schuck agrees that what Whatcott says is "inflammatory," many Christians do not realize forces in the gay community want to silence all Christian criticism of homosexual conduct.

"Supposedly we can still say what we like in churches, but that will only last for so long," he warned.

Schuck said he did not think the SHRC realized when they appealed the Whatcott decision he would raise the issue of their jurisdiction to charge people. "They could lose the whole thing," he said. That has meant that a "whole batch" of groups have also intervened to keep the law.

At stake will be the right for Christians and Catholics who believe what the Church teaches about human sexuality to speak publicly about their beliefs.

"We hope to show the court that we don't have a state religion which is the belief of gay people that same-sex conduct is entirely normal and everyone must accept it," he said.

That is the belief human rights commissions have been "aggressively pursuing," he said. "Anyone who disagrees they want to persecute by characterizing their words as hate."

It is one thing to say that sexual orientation is protected, Schuck said, it is another to say homosexual conduct is protected.


"No one has defined what is reasonable same-sex conduct," he said, noting there are "all kinds of dysfunctional things that happen in the gay community."

The court will have to make up its mind that if it is going to defend conduct, it must define what conduct it defends, he said.

"Certainly heterosexual sexual conduct does not have constitutional protection," said Schuck, noting Christians are free to criticize fornication and adultery.