In a decision that foreshadows the possible fate of Fr. Alphonse de Valk, Canada’s leading pro-life voice among Catholic clergy, the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal has forbidden evangelical pastor Stephen Boisson from expressing his moral opposition to homosexuality. The tribunal also ordered Boisson to pay $5,000 “damages for pain and suffering” and apologize to the “human rights” activist who filed the complaint.
The complaint stems from Canada’s debate leading up to state legislation recognizing so-called same-sex marriage. In 2002, the pastor wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper in which he denounced the homosexual agenda as “wicked” and stated that: “Children as young as five and six years of age are being subjected to psychologically and physiologically damaging pro-homosexual literature and guidance in the public school system; all under the fraudulent guise of equal rights.”
The activist subsequently filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission — a quasi-judicial body that investigates alleged discrimination within the Canadian province. The government tribunal published its decision [http://albertahumanrights.ab.ca/Lund_Darren_Remedy053008.pdf] on May 30.
While agreeing that Boisson’s letter was not a criminal act, the government tribunal nevertheless ordered the Christian pastor to “cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.” Moreover, the tribunal’s decision “prohibited [Boisson] from making disparaging remarks in the future” about the activist who filed the complaint and witnesses who supported the complaint. Many of Canada’s religious leaders and civil libertarians have expressed concern that the government’s human rights tribunals are interpreting any criticism of homosexual activism as ‘disparaging’.
The tribunal also ordered Boisson to provide the complainant with a written apology for his letter to the editor. This last requirement threatens civil liberties in Canada, said Ezra Levant, a Jewish-Canadian author and lawyer. Levant, himself the target of an Alberta Human Rights Commission investigation, is facing the possibility the state may order him to apologize as well.
“Ed Stelmach’s ‘conservative’ government now believes that if it can’t convince a Christian pastor that he’s wrong, it will just order him to condemn himself?” Levant wrote on his blog. “Other than tribunals in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China, where is this Orwellian ‘order’ considered to be justice?”
“This is like a Third World jail-house confession — where accused criminals are forced to sign false statements of guilt,” Levant wrote. “We don’t even ‘order’ murderers to apologize to their victims’ families. Because we know that a forced apology is meaningless. But not if your point is to degrade Christian pastors.”
In essence, the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal is ordering to the minister to renounce his Christian faith, since his opposition to homosexuality is based upon the Judeo-Christian Bible. The case against Pastor Boisson has been watched closely by practicing Catholics in the country, especially as news spreads about the current Canadian Human Rights Commission investigation into Fr. de Valk reported on in this space last Wednesday. The Basilian priest and publisher of Catholic Insight magazine stands accused of promoting “extreme hatred and contempt” against homosexuals for having publicly defended the Church’s traditional definition of marriage. Some of the allegedly hateful statements are quotations from the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr. de Valk told Catholic Exchange.
Although Catholic moral teaching is generally more nuanced in its criticism of homosexuality, evangelicals and fundamentalist Protestants often appear to be used as test cases for the government commissions before targeting Catholics. Thus many Catholics fear the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will attempt to use the Boisson case to muzzle Fr. de Valk from expressing the Church’s traditional moral teaching, delivering a further blow to religious liberty and freedom of conscience in Canada.