Freedom of Canadians to religiously discriminate
A Canadian civil rights ruling dealing
with anti-gay hate verses in the Bible
Does this ad constitute hate literature?
We substituted white spaces for the chapter and verse designations
original ad. We have no desire to be prosecuted by a Human Rights Commission
somewhere in Canada.
You can view the original ad, in uncensored form,
online at another web site.
"...the Biblical passage which suggest that if a man lies with a
man they must be put to death exposes homosexuals to hatred." Justice
J. Barclay, referring to Leviticus 20:13. 3
"Mr Barclay...You're a'goin' to Hell. Period!!!!!!!!!!" [Justice
Barclay is a judge at the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench.] "Christian Wright" 4
The anti-gay ad:
On 1997-JUN-30, Hugh Owens of Regina, SK, Canada placed the above ad in the Star Phoenix,
a newspaper in Saskatoon SK. 5 It is a copy of a bumper
sticker that he was selling to the general public. Owens, 50, an Evangelical
Christian, and a corrections officer, 4 later said that the ad was
"a [conservative] Christian response" to Gay Pride Week. During an interview with the
National Catholic Register, he said:
put the biblical references, but not the actual verses, so the ad would become
interactive. I figured somebody would have to look them up in the Bible first,
or if they didn't have a Bible, they'd have to find one."
"Owens denies that, as a Christian, he wants homosexuals put to
death, as some inferred from the biblical passages. He believes, however, that
'eternal salvation is at stake,' both for those engaging in homosexual acts and
for himself, if he fails to inform them about 'what [he believes that] God says
about their behavior'." 6
(Two of the verses that the
ad cites are in
the Book of Leviticus. One calls for the extermination of anyone performing certain same-sex
sexual acts. Religious conservatives and liberals tend to hold diverse views
about which acts are included.)
Three gay men, Jeff Dodds, Gens Hellquist, and Jason Roy felt that the ad belittled them, and
subjected them to public hatred. They lodged a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human
Rights Board of Inquiry. The case was heard from 1999-AUG-23 to AUG-30.
On 2001-JUN-15, the board ruled that the ad exposed gay men to
hatred in violation of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Mr. Owens and the newspaper
were both ordered to pay each of the three claimants $1,500 in Canadian funds
(on the order of $1,500 U.S. at the time).
In 2006-APR-13, Saskatchewan's highest court overturned the ruling.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
Section 14 of the Code, as it read at that
"14(1) No person shall publish or display, or
cause or permit to be published or displayed, on any lands or premises or
in a newspaper, through a television or radio broadcasting station or any
other broadcasting device, or in any printed matter or publication or by
means of any other medium that he owns, controls, distributes or sells,
any representation, including without restricting the generality of the
foregoing, any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, article, statement or other
(a) tending or likely to tend to
deprive, abridge or otherwise restrict the enjoyment by any person or
class of persons of any right to which he is or they are entitled under
(b) which exposes, or tends to expose, to hatred, ridicules, belittles or
otherwise affronts the dignity of any person, any class of persons or a
group of persons; because of his or their race, creed, religion, colour,
sex, sexual orientation, family status, marital status, disability, age,
nationality, ancestry, place of origin or receipt of public assistance.
14(2) Nothing in subsection (1) restricts the right to freedom of speech
under the law upon any subject." 7
The wording of the Code seems puzzling:
||Section 14(1) lists many forms of speech which are restricted in
Saskatchewan under the
||Section 14(2) says that nothing in subsection (1) restricts freedom of
We haven't the foggiest notion how to harmonize these two subsections. But
then, none of us are lawyers.
About Leviticus 20:13:
According to the Bible, Moses wrote the Pentateuch -- the first five books of
the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). This includes the book of Leviticus. The
five books record a total of 613 laws given by God to govern the behavior of the ancient Hebrews. This verse is one
of those laws. In most English translations of the Bible, it calls for the
state execution of all sexually-active gay males. In the NIV translation, which
Owens mentions in his ad:
"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done
what is detestable. they must be put to death; their blood will be on their own
There is a wide range of opinion about the meaning and validity of this
||Most Bible translations make it clear that the passage refers only to
sexual activity by gays. Two exceptions are the Living Bible and New Living
Translation which appear to have mistranslated the original Hebrew.
They expanded the verse, without justification, to include same-sex behavior by lesbians
as well as male gays:|
Living Bible: "The penalty for homosexuality acts is death to both
parties. They have brought it upon themselves."
New Living Translation: "The penalty for homosexual acts is death
to both parties. They have committed a detestable act, and are guilty of a capital
With the exception of Christian Reconstructionists
and a few Christian hate groups, very few Christians favor the mass stoning to death of of gays
Many religious liberals believe that Leviticus
20:13 refers only to male homosexual ritual activities in ancient Pagan temples.
does not apply to consensual sex between two men today.
||Many Jews believe that the Mosaic Code applies only to Jews.|
||During the human rights inquiry into the ad, two novel interpretations
were expressed about the verse from Leviticus 20. We have been unable to
find material in texts or elsewhere on the Internet which support these
Cecilia Forsyth, president of the Saskatchewan Chapter of REAL
Women of Canada denied that the passage in Leviticus calls for the
death penalty. She said that: "the Bible passage refers to God's
penalty, not that of man." 8 All Jewish and
Christian articles, books and reports that we have studied interpret this verse as one
of the laws in the Mosaic Code, to be implemented by the ancient Hebrews
as part of their civil legislation.
The Rev. Grant Hawkes, pastor of the gay-positive Metropolitan
Community Church of Toronto stated that many biblical scholars
believe that the passages referred to in the ad condemn abusive "pedophilia,"
not homosexuality. This statement is true for the
passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9. But the other
verses cited appear to target behaviors between adults only.
The Human Rights Commission's board of inquiry:
Valerie Watson, a one-person board of inquiry was commissioned by the
Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to collect information on the case.
Witnesses for the complainants included:
Madiha Didi Khayatt, a sociological expert on human sexuality from
York University, who argued that to discriminate against homosexuals
in their sexual activity is a form of prejudice.
Rev. Grant Hawkes, of the gay-positive Metropolitan Community
Church of Toronto, stated that "it is inaccurate that the
The Rev. Canon Colin Clay, Anglican chaplain of the University of
Saskatchewan, said that Owen's ad published biblical texts out
of context, and thus created an environment in which people would be hurt.
He said the Bible is really all about love.
Rabbi Steve Kaplan of the Saskatoon Jewish Centre, believes
that the Bible condemns homosexuality. He said: "The Bible is the
Bible, is the Bible; it cannot be changed."
Paul Donlevy, vicar general for the Roman Catholic Diocese of
Saskatoon testified that the church understands sexual orientation may not
be chosen, but nevertheless "every person is called to holiness . . .
and homosexuals are called to the same sexual morality as any other
unmarried people." Afterwards, he said: "All I said was a variation
on hate the sin but love the sinner....I certainly hope this decision is
appealed. It?s a great concern that simply referring to biblical
scriptures can be called hate speech. Soon we?ll be so politically
correct, we won?t be able to preach." He was criticized both by the
complainants and later by a conservative lobby group, who called him "a
lackey of the Human Rights Commission." 9
||Leaders from a Lutheran denomination supported the
newspaper, insisting that human rights laws must not restrict their
followers' free expression of religious beliefs, either in church or in a
Watson found that the icon composed of stick figures of two males
holding hands with a red circle and slash was not enough to communicate hatred.
But she considered the addition of the biblical references to be dangerous.
She found that:
"There is no question that Mr. Owens believed that he was publicly
expressing his honestly held religious beliefs." 10
The advertisement violated section 14(1) of the
Code by exposing homosexuals "to hatred, ridicule...their dignity was
affronted on the basis of their sexual orientation." 6
||The ad was not protected by section 14(2) of the
Code which guarantees freedom of speech.
Section 14(1) does not violate section 2(b) of
the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution -- because the restriction placed on
freedom of expression constituted a reasonable limit under section 1 of
the Charter. Thus, the human rights code in the province can place
a "reasonable restriction" on Owen's religious expression.
Watson stressed that the ruling did not ban parts of the Bible. She wrote that
the offense was the combination of the symbol with the biblical references.
Owens, in fact, had published another ad in 2001, without complaint, that quoted
the full text of these same four passages.
Some comments cited in the media during mid-2001:
Gens Hellquist, one of the gay complainants said that the ad: "...says
someone is using their interpretation of the Bible to direct hatred
towards me." Later, after the tribunal's ruling, he said that he
was "certainly pleased [with the decision of the tribunal]. There are
standards for what's fair comment regarding Jews and racial minorities,
and now the commission has set standards on fair comment regarding
homosexuals. [The appeal to religious freedom is] a common ploy with the
right wing, [but religious freedom is] not a real issue here, [since] not
everyone interprets those verses the same way. People are free to
interpret the Bible any way they want in their own lives, but (they cannot
use) that interpretation to create a climate of hate and intolerance.
Owens? agenda is really scary. He didn?t say it in so many words, but he
really believes that judges (following Leviticus) should put gays to
Joanne Laucius reporter at the Ottawa Citizen wrote: "The decision
has raised questions about freedom of speech, and whether some quotations
from the Bible can promote hatred."
Mr. Owens noted that Canadian law does not follow the Bible's
instructions. Referring to the passage in Leviticus, he said: "This is
based on God's law. We don't have God's law entrenched in our Criminal
Code. Adultery is punishable by death according to God's law. But we don't
Roger Hutchinson, professor of ethics at the University of
Toronto's United Church theological college, said the Bible is a
multi-faceted set of stories that are open to interpretation. He said: "You
can read in the Bible that you should sell everything you own or you won't
get into heaven. You don't find people condemning homosexuality selling
everything they own."
Lyle Sinkewicz, publisher of the Star Phoenix newspaper said he
sees the case as a freedom of speech issue. He said: "What we have here
are two conflicting rights, both protected under the [Canadian] Charter of
Rights' and Freedoms."
John Robson of Southam News wrote: "The long-overdue collision
between Canada's 'hate speech' laws and religion is finally happening. I
think God could be in trouble. For holy books are generally full of what
God likes and, pardon the term, hates. Shall we consign them to the flames
in the name of tolerance? So it seems." 2
Conservative gay activist John McKellar, president of Homosexuals
Opposed to Pride Extremism (HOPE), called the ruling a "five-star
bloodbath," both for Canadian families and for Canadian homosexuals.
He thinks that gays who seek equal rights are now "pots calling kettles
black." He views them as suppressing what they see as religious
intolerance, while their own intolerance will eventually rebound on them.
McKellar said: "The major media are all nonstop advertisements for the
gay lifestyle, so how far are they prepared to go in denying free speech
to Christians, Muslims, and Jews?...."No major world religion has ever
accepted homosexual behavior. And if [gay] activists had any sense of
history, they?d realize their own lifestyle is a symptom of an
overurbanized, relativized culture heading into decadence." 9
Ian Hunter, professor emeritus at the University of Western Ontario
Law School wrote: "Owens would have been safe had he not made
references to the Bible. In human rights circles, the Bible is
increasingly regarded as an insidious form of hate literature?. Freedom of
speech, press and religion all yield to a complainant's hurt feelings."
The first appeal:
The decision by the Saskatchewan human rights tribunal was appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench.
Justice J. Barclay upheld the ruling. 12 On
2002-DEC-11, apparently referring to the required death penalty in Leviticus 20
for sexually active gays, he wrote: "The use of the circle and the slash
combined with the passages of the Bible herein make the meaning of the
advertisement unmistakable. It is clear that the advertisement is intended to
make the group depicted appear to be inferior or not wanted at best. When
combined with the Biblical quotations, the advertisement may result in a much
stronger meaning. It is obvious that certain of the Biblical quotations suggest
more dire consequences and there can be no question that the advertisement can
objectively be seen as exposing homosexuals to hatred or ridicule."
"The appellant in his testing believes that homosexuals, by being who they
are, are committing a sin for which they should be put to death. Furthermore,
the passages from the Bible, which are cited in the bumper sticker and in the
advertisement, constitute the appellant's authority for this belief. This belief
motivates the message in the bumper sticker and the advertisement. The most
favourable interpretation that could be given to the bumper stickers is that
because the Bible sanctions the execution of homosexuals, we should be allowed
to at least prohibit their activities. However, the Board observed there is a
more sinister interpretation."
He wrote that the human-rights panel "was correct in concluding
that the advertisement can objectively be seen as exposing homosexuals to hatred
or ridicule....When the use of the circle and slash is combined with the
passages of the Bible, it exposes homosexuals to detestation, vilification and
disgrace. In other words, the Biblical passage which suggest that if a man lies
with a man they must be put to death exposes homosexuals to hatred."
The second appeal:
The case was taken to Saskatchewan's Court of Appeal -- the province's highest court. It ruled on 2006-APR-13
that the ad did not violate the human rights code. Justice Bob Richards wrote
the decision for the majority, saying that the ad was: "bluntly presented and
doubtlessly upsetting to many." 13
However, it did not violate the code. Richards also stated that Owens had the
constitutional right to express publicly what the court determined were his
sincerely held religious beliefs -- most notable of which appears to be that
sexually active gays should be arrested and executed, according to Leviticus
Response to the Appeal Court ruling:
We noticed that Focus on the Family Canada discussed the resolution of this
case as a "victory for religious freedom." They cite four responses:
Hugh Owens told the Regina Leader-Post:
"This decision says sharing the gospel message concerning this particular
sexual behavior or any other behavior is protected and not a violation of
the [Saskatchewan] Human Rights Code."
Ruth Ross, executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship said
in a press release:
"This is a clear victory for Christians who have in recent years been
marginalized in speaking out publicly on issues of morality and Christian
family values and beliefs. What this decision confirms is that passages
contained in the Holy Bible, the foundation of our faith, cannot and should
not in themselves be deemed hate literature."
Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada wrote:
"I, for one, do not believe it is particularly Christian to go around
condemning people and then claim that it is part of one?s religious beliefs.
Nevertheless, once an issue like this gets to court, and the courts start
dealing with religious freedom, Christians need to be there to ensure that
Christians do not lose the ability to distribute Scriptures or the ability
to speak publicly on sexual morality as a side casualty in the legal
An editorial in the Calgary Herald for 2006-APR-16 said that the ruling was
"long overdue.....It restrains a culture that, in protecting hurt
feelings, limits speech and much exceeds the mandate [the commission] was
given to fight discrimination in employment and housing."
Warning: this is one of those rare locations in this web site where I
remove my quasi-objective reporter hat and express my personal beliefs and
I feel that the decision by the Court of Appeal was correct. In a democracy,
there are no protections in place that protect you from being offended by ads in
the media. Everyone has considerable freedom of expression. Section 2 of the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guarantees
"...freedom of conscience and religion, [and] freedom of thought, belief,
opinion and expression, the press and other media of communication."
Meanwhile, Section 319 of the Criminal Code allows
a person to disseminate hate propaganda if:
"in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by
argument an opinion on a religious subject."
But there are limits. If you are a religious conservative who feels that the government should
arrest, try and execute an identified minority of Canadians according to
Leviticus 20:13a in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):
"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of
them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to
then you should not have the right to promote such genocide in the media. You
should also not have the right to advocate the genocide of either women, men or intersexuals, specific racial groups, language groups, the disabled, etc.
In the U.S., freedom of speech laws allow a person the right to advocate genocide.
But should they exercise
that right? I wonder about the effect that this ruling will have on the
religious opinions of Canadians -- particularly youths and young adults.
Canadian culture is going through a transition. Most young people now accept the
findings of human sexuality researchers and mental health therapists who have
determined that a homosexual orientation is simply one of three possible normal,
natural, unchosen, morally neutral, and fixed sexual identities -- the other two being heterosexuality
and bisexuality. When they see an ad linked to Leviticus 20:13a what will they
think? Will they reject a religion whose holy book advocates
death to those sexually active citizens who happen to have a homosexual
orientation? Will they be repulsed at a religion whose members advocate
genocide? I suspect that the answer is yes. Christianity will suffer
from the after-effects of attempts by religious conservatives to
advocate discrimination against sexual minorities.
It is fine to comment on the necessity for freedom of religious expression.
But when a group of conservative Christians devoutly believes that a
minority in society should be rounded up, tried and executed for expressing love
in the only way open to them, then I wonder whether the Christian religion will
suffer long-term damage if this belief is advertised in the media.
Bruce steps down and packs away his soap box, for now.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Canadian Human Rights Commission recognizes parts of
Bible as hate literature," Secular News Headlines, at:
"Bible: Decision raises questions about freedom of
speech," Ottawa Citizen, 2001-JUN-29, Front page, at:
The text of the ruling by Justice J. Barclay of the Court of
Queen's Bench in "Owens v. Saksatchewan (Human Rights
Commission) QB02511" is online at:
http://www.aloha.net/ and at:
"Christian Wright," "Vile Kanucks consider parts of the Bible, "HATE LITERATURE"! Well,
take-off you hellbound hooser..." Voy Forums, 2003-FEB-18, at:
"Anti-gay ad ruling sparks concern over freedom of religion:
Christian ordered to pay restitution for anti-gay ad," Christian Week
Online, 2001-JUL-24, at:
"Bible verses ruled 'hate' by Sask. court," FreedomSite, at:
"The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code," Government of
Saskatchewan, Canada, at:
http://www.qp.gov.sk.ca/ You need software to read these PDF files. It can be obtained free from:
Cecilia Forsyth, "Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission: A Legal
Fiasco," REAL Women of Canada, at:
"Belief and Conduct in Canada," Liberty Online, 2001-NOV/DEC,
Ian Hunter, "Worshipping the God Equality," The Globe and Mail,
Toronto, Canada, 2001-JUL-5 at:
"Anti-gay ad ruling sparks concern over freedom of religion,"
ChristianWeek, 2001-JUL-24, at:
"Bible verses regarded as hate literature,"
Sinarg.org, 2003-FEB-25, at:
The text of the ruling by Justice J. Barclay of the Court of
Queen's Bench in "Owens v. Saksatchewan (Human Rights
Commission) QB02511" is online at:
http://www.aloha.net/ and at:
Copyright © 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-MAY-20
Latest update: 2009-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson