In ending a decade-long battle, a high court in Canada has ruled in favor of a local pastor in dismissing an appeal that sought to overturn a lower court decision upholding his right to oppose homosexuality.
Pastor Stephen Boissoin had written a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in 2002, expressing his Biblical beliefs about the homosexual lifestyle. After reading the letter as published in the Advocate, Dr. Darren Lund, a professor at the University of Calgary, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, accusing Boissoin of violating Canada’s hate crimes law, which prohibits “hate propaganda.”
In May 2008, the Commission ruled against the pastor, and ordered him to cease and desist from further expressing any views regarding the homosexual lifestyle. He was also ordered to pay Dr. Lund the sum of $5,000, and to compose a written apology to the professor, although Lund was not the subject of Boissoin’s writings, nor did the two know each other.
In December 2009, the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta reversed the order, stating that Boissoin’s letter to the editor did not constitute hate speech.
“In my view, the panel erred in its finding that the impugned letter was hateful and contemptuous of homosexuals,” wrote Justice Earl C. Wilson on behalf of the court. “Had the Panel been alive to all [the] evidence, she could not have come to the conclusions that she did.”
However, the ruling was then appealed to Alberta’s highest court in an attempt to force the pastor to face punishment for his writings.
Last week, the Alberta Court of Appeals upheld the opinion of the Court of Queen’s Bench, stating that Boissoin has a right to express his beliefs on matters such as homosexuality as long as they are focused on a behavior and not a specific person.
“I acknowledge that drawing the distinction between expressions of opinion, and statements of another kind, may sometimes be difficult to draw, and may depend upon the context of the statement,” wrote the panel, which consisted of Justices Carole Conrad, Clifton O’Brien and Brian O’Ferrall.
“Matters of morality, including the perceived morality of certain types of sexual behavior, are topics for discussion in the public forum. Frequently, expression on these topics arises from deep seated religious conviction, and is not always temperate,” the court continued. “Boissoin and others have the freedom to think, whether stemming from their religious convictions or not, that homosexuality is sinful and morally wrong. In my view, it follows that they have the right to express that thought to others.”
However, the court, while noting that Boissoin is entitled to the right to speak his mind, stated that he may not treat homosexuals unequally in society.
“This is not a license to engage in discriminatory practices or to advocate them,” it said.
The judges then provided commentary of Canada’s current hate crimes law, which it found to be unclear as to what actually constitutes a violation of the statute.
“Of particular concern in the area of human rights law is that a lack of clarity will cast a chill on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and religion,” they wrote. “This lack of clarity has resulted in this protracted litigation, to the detriment and expense of all parties.”
“The goals of protecting the freedoms of expression and religion, on the one hand, and protecting vulnerable minorities from discrimination, on the other, are matters of primary concern to the citizens of this Province,” the ruling continued. “In my view, the citizens of this Province are entitled to certainty when it comes to exercise of their fundamental rights. … In my view, it would serve the interests of the citizens of this Province if the Legislature would direct its attention to this objective.”
Following the ruling, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which had been representing Boissoin, released a statement.
“Christians and other people of faith should not be fined or jailed for expressing their political or religious beliefs. There is no place for thought control in a free and democratic society,” said allied attorney Gerald Chipeur. “The court rightly found that this type of religious speech is not ‘hate speech.’”
ADF Global Executive Director Benjamin Bull stated that the ruling helps to set a precedent for other Christians in the country.
“Because the Alberta Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s decision, it will be extremely difficult for religious or political debate to be found in breach of Alberta’s human rights laws,” he explained.
The case, called Boissoin v. Lund, is now closed.