The Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled yesterday that a Saskatchewan Christian who distributed anti-gay pamphlets "violated the province's human rights rules." However, the ruling encouraged Canadian evangelicals because it also narrowed the definition of hate speech, striking down some sweeping, unconstitutional language.
"The court struck out terms used in the hate speech provision ... that concerned something more akin to hurt feelings," said Don Hutchinson, vice president and general legal counsel with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which intervened in the case. He continued:
"The decision touched on different aspects of freedom of religion and concluded that the Bible could not be considered as hate speech. The court is clear that Bible passages, biblical beliefs and the principles derived from those beliefs can be legally and reasonably advanced in in public discourse. Essentially, the court affirmed the biblical principal of telling ‘the truth in love,' while cautioning as to where the line is drawn that would result in telling the truth in a hateful fashion."
The court ruled against William Whatcott, a Christian activist who argued that his anti-gay pamphlets did not violate the Saskatchewan province's human rights code. Although the court found otherwise–two of the four pamphlets in question did attempt to incite hatred, judges said–the overall ruling is a victory for those who felt the existing hate speech ban was too wide.
The court upheld the ban itself but struck down key provisions, including the ban on publications that "ridicule, belittle or otherwise affront dignity of persons." According to the CTV News, "The Supreme Court said such offences do not meet the definition of inciting hatred, and are unconstitutional because they 'unjustifiably infringe freedom of expression.'"
The National Post reports that Whatcott plans to continue proselytizing, in spite of the ruling.
CT has previously reported on hate crimes, including hate speech, and weighed in on groups that 'abuse the megaphone' in an editorial last summer. CT also has reported on attempts to pass hate crimes legislation, as well as on trials against anti-gay preachers. In 2010, following several highly publicized suicides, CT also reported on whether or not it is enough to say that bullying gays is wrong.