There has been a shift in recent years. Now, religious freedom seems to be more often viewed as the freedom of believers to attack, denigrate or oppress others with hateful speech or hateful actions. Three examples are:
On a positive note, religiously motivated actions involving criminal acts -- common assault, aggravated assault, attempted murder, etc. appear to be stable in numbers, at least in the U.S.
Example 1: The Hugh Owens case:
One often quoted case involving freedom of religious hate speech in Canada surfaced during mid 1997. Hugh Owens, an evangelical Christian and corrections officer in Saskatchewan had taken out an anti-gay, religiously based advertisement in a local newspaper, the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. 1 Below is part of a page of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper that replicates the advertisement:
The Hugh Owens case was not directly related to the hate propaganda section of the criminal code, Section 319. Even though hate speech targeting persons based on "sexual orientation" is part of section 319, he was immune from prosecution under the criminal code because 319 contains an exemption for hate speech that is closely tied to a religious belief. (Newspaper advertisement are regarded as a form of speech). The charge against him was actually laid under a provincial human rights code.
His ad consisted of:
Three local gays, Gens Hellquist, Jason Roy, and Jeff Dodds found the reference in Leviticus 20:13 to be particularly offensive because, in the common English translations of the Bible, the verse calls for a slow, painful, lingering execution for homosexuals.
They filed complaints with the provincial Human Rights Commission, naming both Hugh Owens and Sterling Newspapers Company -- the operator of The StarPhoenix -- as respondents..
The Commission found that: "... a Biblical passage in Leviticus 'exposes homosexuals to hatred'," when it was used in conjunction with the prohibition symbol. 2 Owens was ordered to pay $1,500 to each of the three respondents, and to not display the bumper sticker version of the ad.
Owens unsuccessfully appealed the decision to the Court of Queen's Bench.
He finally appealed that court's decision to The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan. 3
The higher court concluded that the guarantee of freedom of religion in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is very broad. It is only when "extreme feelings and strong emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification" are involved that freedom of religious speech can be limited. They concluded that referring to a same-sex relationships as requiring a biblically mandated slow painful lingering death by stoning, followed by an eternity being tortured in Hell does not meet that standard -- particularly in view of so many interpretations of these four verses that have the messages of the verses unrelated to loving, committed same-sex relationships.
Owens' appeal was allowed; the Court of Appeal's decision was overturned. More details on this case.
Example 2: This essay:This essay contains an image of the advertisement ruled to be hate literature because it combined an offensive symbol with a list of biblical verses. The essay also contains a quotation from a Bible verse that could be considered as inciting hatred against gays -- at least those gays who sometimes engage in anal intercourse. Other essays cite other religious hatred on a wide variety of topics, from interpretations of other clobber passages in the Bible to citing calls for genocide against Neopagans.
However, the author is probably immune from prosecution, for two reasons:
Example 3: The David Popescu case:On 2009-AUG-07, David Popescu, 61, of Sudbury, ON is a fundamentalist Christian and an independent candidate for Parliament. He was convicted of promoting hatred when he told a group of high school students in Greater Sudbury that homosexuals should be executed. He later repeated the comments when interviewed on a Toronto radio station, saying:
His reference to execution appears to involve Leviticus 20:13.
Popescu justified his comment in court, again arguing that he was only repeating what was in the Bible.
Ontario Court Justice Guy Mahaffy ruled that he was:
Popescu was found guilty and given an 18 month suspended sentence.
In Canada, Section 319 of the Criminal Code states that a person cannot be convicted of uttering public hate speech if, "in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject." Popescu seems to have been convicted under Section 318 because the judge did not believe that Popescu was expressing his homophobic views in good faith, or did not base them on his religious beliefs.
He might have been charged under Section 318 which covers advocacy of genocide against persons on the basis of sexual orientation. If found guilty, he could have been given a five year sentence.
Of course, an 18 month suspended sentence and a five year suspended sentence amount to the same thing.
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