In Canada where I live we have some of the most stringent anti-hate legislation on the books. It is forbidden to do or say anything that promotes hatred against anyone for reasons of race, creed, colour, or sexuality. This is further supported by The Charter of Rights and Freedoms which guarantees equality for all under the law. Any action that deliberately goes against the spirit of the Charter or advocates activities contrary to its nature can be subject to prosecution.
This includes speeches that advocate lesser status, or access to fewer services, for any members of society who have not lost their rights due to criminal behaviour. Even then there are provisions for people incarcerated ensuring that they continue to participate in society to some extent.
While the majority of Canadians accepted these provisions without a qualm there has been a vocal minority persistently complaining that these laws are an infringement of both free speech and the right to religious freedom. Some of these can dismissed as the usual neo-nazi nut cases who are finally being rounded up for holocaust denial and other racist drivel.
Conservative Christians are opposed to this legislation on the grounds that it infringes on their freedom to preach their beliefs. They want private religious schools exempted from the legislation so that teachers may be free to get up in class and speak out against homosexuality. According to them the bible says it is a sin. This gives them the authority to preach against both the granting of rights to and homosexuals themselves in their classrooms.
This became even more of an issue when the Superior Courts in province after province ruled that denying homosexuals the right to marriage was a contravening of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Technically speaking, therefore, anyone speaking out against gay marriage in overtly inflammatory language ran the risk of contravening our hate crime laws.
In fact a Bishop in Alberta is currently under investigation by that province’s Human Rights board for comments he published in an open letter to his parishioners arguing against same sex unions. In the letter he advocated the Federal government make use of it’s coercive powers to reduce the rights of gays and lesbians, even to go so far as make homosexuality illegal again.
As a writer with particularly strong opinions the issue of censorship is never without relevance. Obviously I want to be free to say what ever I choose to say whenever I choose to say it. If you don’t like what I’m saying your free to disagree with me, or not read my writings.
But before I wrap myself in the flag of defender of free speech no matter what the cost, I wonder if those who are advocating for the right to condemn homosexuality as a matter of principal, free speech and freedom of religion, would do the same? Judging by their recent behaviour it’s hardly likely.
Over the last ten years we have seen more of an increase in attempts to influence what the public sees and reads in a democratic society then in any other period in contemporary history. The embedding of reporters allows for greater control by authorities of what news and information reachs the public ear. Then there are the “public” interest groups who pressure T.V. and movie producers to change their content by threatening boycotts of sponsor’s products
One only need look at the fallout from “nipplegate” to see how effective these pressure tactics have become. The F.C.C. reported thousands of phoned complaints which resulted in an investigation and a heavy fine for the offending network. Even though it was an accident that they were in no way responsible for, and the incident was over and done with in a nano second, the “public outcry” was too great to be ignored.
Lacking the means to produce the amount of T.V. and movies that are created in America that is not such an issue here. Instead we are faced with individual boards of education being forced to remove books from their curriculum and libraries.
But invariably those who deem themselves the guardians of morality and are most desirous to censor what we see and read are the same people crying fowl when the government chooses apply those rules to them. Their cries of infringement of freedom of speech and freedom of religion ring pretty hollow considering their own actions. Unfortunately for them they are asking for the freedom to do what the courts and the government of this country has defined as hateful.
Getting up in front of a classroom full of students and preaching that one segment of the population, for what ever reason, is less deserving of rights and freedoms can not be justified for any reason. To claim that denying you the right to do so is an infringement of your freedom of speech is like saying that not being able to steal someone’s car is an infringement on your right to mobility.
Censorship is real issue in today’s society. But do not let that confuse the issue when it comes to people demanding the right to speak against a specific group of people. Hatred and intolerance are learned behaviours. Preventing people from teaching it in schools and churches is not censorship or infringing on religious freedom, it’s taking steps to make a better more tolerant world.