TORONTO, Feb. 27, 2013 /CNW/ - In a statement released this afternoon,
the Moderator of The United Church of Canada, the Right Rev. Gary
Paterson, welcomed today's Supreme Court ruling that says there are
limits to freedom of religion when it comes to hate speech.
"Freedom of religion is not absolute," says Paterson. "It does not
include the right to engage in religiously motivated hate speech, and
it does not extend to conduct that harms or interferes with the rights
Today's court decision, explains Paterson, confirms the position taken
by the United Church when it appeared before the Supreme Court in
October 2011 as an intervener in the Saskatchewan Human Rights
Commission versus William Whatcott appeal.
That appeal originated with a human rights complaint that was filed in
Saskatchewan against William Whatcott, an activist who was found guilty
and fined for distributing anti-gay flyers that he said expressed his
religious beliefs about homosexuals. This ruling was later overturned
by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.
For over 30 years the United Church has publicly condemned
discrimination against gays and lesbians and has advocated for the
inclusion of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of
discrimination in human rights legislation.
The church's long history of commitment to gays and lesbians placed it
in a unique position to assist the Supreme Court by bringing different
philosophical, religious, social, and moral perspectives from those
being offered by other parties.
In its oral presentation to the court the church said, "The United
Church strongly supports the robust protection of freedom of religion
for all Canadians, including Mr. Whatcott. However, the United Church
recognizes the difference between the expression of a religious
view—even a controversial and unpopular view—and hate speech. A
prohibition on the latter does not prevent anyone from exercising their
freedom of religion."
The church argued "that all Canadians, including Mr. Whatcott, have the
right to hold whatever beliefs their conscience dictates, no matter how
abhorrent those beliefs may be to others. Likewise, all Canadians,
including Mr. Whatcott, have the right to engage in public debate and
to reasonably express their religious views, including views that are
critical of homosexuals and other identifiable groups—provided that the
words and expressions used are not so extreme, hateful, and
dehumanizing that they cross the line into hate speech."
The United Church also argued that hate speech causes real and lasting
harm to its victims and to Canadian society. That harm, said the
church, is not reduced or mitigated simply because of a claim that the
hate speech was motivated by religion. The harm is the same.
"Hate speech encourages derision, hostility, and abuse of already
vulnerable persons, causing them pain, indignity, and loss of
self-worth," says Paterson. "It encourages others to share in a hateful
and discriminatory point of view, which damages Canadian society and
threatens social stability."
SOURCE: United Church of Canada
For further information:
Media and Public Relations
The United Church of Canada
Tel: 416-231-7680 ext. 2016