Religious Speech Does Not Equal ‘Hate Speech’: Court Affirms Pastor’s Right to Publicly Express Views

Expressing his religious views in a public forum plunged one Canadian pastor into a ten-year legal battle defending his right to freedom of expression against accusations of “hate speech.”

Pastor Stephen Boissoin wrote letters-to-the-editor of his local paper that expressed his Christian views on homosexual behavior. An offended University of Calgary professor, Dr. Darren Lund, reported the letters to the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2002, accusing Pastor Boissoin of violating Alberta’s “hate speech” law.

The Commission ruled against Pastor Boissoin in 2008 and, unbelievably, ordered him to cease any further public expression of his views on homosexual behavior, instructed him to issue a public apology, and fined him $5,000.  Now remember that this was a pastor expressing biblically-based views on homosexual behavior.

But thankfully that wasn’t the end of the story for Pastor Boissoin.  In what appears to be final victory for the pastor, Alberta’s highest court affirmed earlier this month the right of Pastor Boissoin to publicly express his religious views. The court determined that the letters “constituted an expression of opinion” that “was not likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt within the meaning of the Alberta statue.”

Significantly, the court also criticized Alberta’s “hate speech” law. “Of particular concern in the area of human rights law is the lack of clarity that will cast a chill on the exercise of the fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and religion….”

The court got it exactly right on this point.  Public expression should not be censored simply because the views expressed are unpopular. “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 Gerald Chipeur, an Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorney who served as counsel in the lawsuit.

This legal victory has great significance for religious expression. As American courts look more frequently to international jurisprudence for guidance, this victory for freedom of expression has important implications for preserving and promoting religious freedom in America.

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Editors note: While the original announcement of the case ten years ago received widespread attention, the final decision affirming religious freedom was almost buried in the Canadian media. Original references to this case came through American media sources.