During the debate about expanding hate crimes legislation to cover sexual orientation, one of the standard scare tactics employed by the Religious Right was to point to pastors in other nations who had been arrested for speaking out about homosexuality and warning that, if this legislation passed, the same thing would start happening here.
One of the incidents they regularly pointed to involved Canadian pastor Stephen Boissoin … in fact, Sen. Jim DeMint explicitly mentioned Boissoin in his speech on the Senate floor opposing the legislation:
Today in the United States, only actions are crimes. If we pass this conference report, opinions will become crimes. What is to stop us from following the lead of European countries and American college campuses, where certain speech is criminalized?
Can priests, pastors, and rabbis be sure their preaching will not be prosecuted if they say certain things are right and wrong? Again, in Canada, for instance, Pastor Stephen Boissoin was so prosecuted by Alberta’s Human Rights Commission for publishing letters critical of homosexuality.
Or will this provision serve as a warning to people not to speak out too loudly about their religious views, lest federal agents come knocking on their doors?
What about the unintended consequences, such as a pedophiles and sex-offenders claiming protected status under this provision as being “disabled”?
There is no such thing as a criminal thought, only criminal acts. Once we endorse the concept of thought-crime, where will we draw the line? And more importantly, who will draw that line?
I urge my colleagues to consider the implications of what we’re doing, just the raw cynicism of attaching this type of controversial legislation to the bill that funds the defense of our country. What type of legislative extortion will they consider of next? I have a choice to vote for hate crimes legislation that I feel would undermine the very justice system in our country or against the defense of my country. I don’t think we could be more cynical.
A Court of Queen’s Bench judge has ruled an anti-gay letter written by a former Alberta pastor in 2002 was not a hate crime and is allowed under freedom of speech.
Justice E.C. Wilson overturned a 2008 ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter by Stephen Boissoin that was published in the Red Deer Advocate broke provincial law.
At the time, the commission said it may even have played a role in the beating of a gay teenager two weeks after it was published.
The commission had ordered Boissoin to refrain from making disparaging remarks about homosexuals and to pay the complainant, former Red Deer high school teacher Darren Lund, $5,000 in damages.
Neither order can now be enforced, as Wilson declared them “unlawful or unconstitutional.”
The letter carried the headline “Homosexual agenda wicked” and suggested gays were as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps.
Boissoin had argued he was simply commenting on government policy by criticizing homosexuality being portrayed positively in the public school curriculum.
On Thursday, Boissoin said he was thrilled with the judge’s ruling, calling it a victory for “freedom of speech and religious expression in Canada.”
Of course, this won’t stop the Religious Right from continuing to cite this case as proof of their claims, just as they continue to cite the case involving two grandmothers arrested a few years back in Philadeplhia, as we explained in our Right Wing Watch In Focus on the issue:
One story Religious Right leaders like to tell revolves around the arrest of some Repent America protestors at a Philadelphia gay pride rally. This incident has become the stuff of mythology on the right, in part due to ads produced by Repent America in 2007 featuring a couple of grandmothers who were supposedly arrested for sharing the Gospel. The way they tell it, it’s understandable that it would concern people. So it’s worth finding out what really happened.
The kernel of truth under the pile of propaganda is that a group of Repent America activists were in fact arrested while protesting Philadelphia’s OutFest, and a local prosecutor did charge them with violations of several laws, including the state’s hate crimes law. But none of those charges were for “sharing the gospel.” Repent America – and the religious and political leaders who tell the same story – don’t mention that the police in fact were careful to protect their right to protest. The court found that among other things the protesters “blocked access to vendors, and disobeyed direct orders from the police, who were trying to preserve order and keep the peace.”
The First Amendment allows equality advocates to rally, and allows those with a different point of view to protest. But it doesn’t mean that the protesters have the right to disrupt the rally or drown out its speakers. It is universally recognized that public safety officials can place reasonable “time, place, or manner” restrictions on people exercising their First Amendment rights in order to preserve public order and prevent one group from trampling another’s rights. The court, which noted that Repent America did not get a permit for its protest, found that the police applied the law reasonably when the bullhorn-wielding Repent America protesters refused a request to move to another location and instead sat down in the street.
It’s also important to note that the court ruled that the prosecutor’s decision to file charges under the hate crimes law was a misapplication of the law – and charges against the protesters were dismissed. The court affirmed that the hate crimes law did not apply to the protesters’ speech or even to their disruptive behavior and refusal to obey police requests. That’s not exactly the impression you’ll get from listening to Religious Right leaders. It’s also important to note that federal courts rejected Repent America’s claims that the city and Outfest organizers had violated their First Amendment rights.