Bill Whatcott will go before the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the laws that that allow human rights commissions to limit freedom of speech and religious expression.

Whatcott case could determine fate of religious freedom and free expression

By 
  • July 7, 2011

OTTAWA - Bill Whatcott will be before the Supreme Court of Canada in October hoping to strike down the laws that allow human rights commissions to limit freedom of speech and religious expression.

Twenty-two groups, including the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL), the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship, have intervened in a case that could set the tone for religious freedom for the foreseeable future.

Lawyer Tom Schuck has been representing Whatcott over the past 10 years pro bono, since Whatcott ran afoul of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for four bluntly worded pamphlets criticizing homosexual activism and sexual behaviour.

“I think the law should be struck down because I don’t think bureaucrats should be able to pick and choose who they prosecute,” said Schuck, who practises law in Weyburn, Sask., and is a member of the CCRL.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal 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 tribunal's order. But the rights commission appealed, leading to the October Supreme Court hearing. Schuck then made a motion to strike down the law.

Though Schuck agrees that what Whatcott says is “inflammatory” and his sermons contain “a little more fire and brimstone” than most, 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 rights commission realized when it appealed the Whatcott decision he would raise the issue of its jurisdiction to charge people.  

“They could lose the whole thing,” he said, and that has meant that a “whole batch” of groups have also intervened.

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 rights commissions have been “aggressively pursuing,” and “anyone who disagrees they want to persecute by characterizing their words as hate,” Schuck said. He pointed to diversity programs in schools and other policies where this agenda is being aggressively pursued.

It is one thing to say that sexual orientation is protected, Schuck said, but 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.

Schuck agreed Whatcott might not be the preferred poster boy for freedom of religion. But he has come to admire his courage and persistence, even when facing job losses and jail for his views.

The Catholic Civil Rights League has made it clear to the Supreme Court that it will not be defending the merits of Whatcott’s views or “the language he chose to express those views.” But in its application to the court, the league said it had “particular concern” for the way “unpopular opinions” have been labelled “hate speech.”

“The burden of human rights commissions’ intervention in the marketplace of ideas is, in the CCRL’s assessment, felt particularly by religious communities, since allegations of ‘hate speech’ often involve opinions based on religious beliefs,” the application said.

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