The Canadian Religion Right

A court case in Alberta, Canada is going to decide whether Reverend Stephen Boissoin‘s letter, which was published in a newspaper, can qualify as hate speech.

The controversy stems from a letter Boissoin, then a youth pastor in Red Deer, wrote that was published in the Red Deer Advocate in June 2002. “From kindergarten class on, our children, your grandchildren are being strategically targeted, psychologically abused and brainwashed by homosexual and pro-homosexual educators,” he wrote. “Your children are being warped into believing that same-sex families are acceptable; that kissing men is appropriate.”

Boissoin went on to attack gay activists as “spreading their psychological disease,” saying they were “just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.”

University of Calgary professor Darren Lund (who is straight) filed a complaint that Boissoin’s letter promoted “hatred against gays.”

“Freedom of speech is a precious thing that we need to preserve,” Darren Lund said yesterday outside an Alberta Human Rights Commission hearing.

“But there are very clear limits on that freedom and when expressing yourself takes away the rights and safety of others, that’s where the limits need to be drawn.”

Shortly after Boissoin’s letter appeared in the paper, a gay male teen was beaten up in what seemed to be a hate crime. There was no direct connection made to Boissoin’s letter, but Lund said “the report was an example of the effect that such rhetoric might have in the community.”

The sides in this case might not be what you’d expect. Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), while “vehemently” opposed to Boissoin’s letter, support his freedom of speech. Queerty says that “a Lund victory would only further alienate religious fundamentalists. Further, it would give them plenty of ammunition for their anti-gay crusades.” They have a point.

The Calgary Herald says that “the Alberta government has intervener status in the hearing and will be backing Lund.”

Boissoin did try to file a $400,000 defamation suit against Lund between the published letter and today. That suit was unsuccessful.

Here’s one surprise you wouldn’t see in America:

Janelle Dodd, who worked at the youth centre with Boissoin, said his letter caused a split in the community. Soon thereafter, the centre began losing funding and shut down several months later.

Good for those Christians who don’t support this sort of prejudice.

(Why don’t we ever see more Christians standing up to fundie pastors in America? If they do, why do they never get media coverage?)

Without knowing Canadian law, Boissoin does seem to have to upper hand in this case. It’s horrible that his mind can’t see past hetero unions, but he has a right to voice his opinion. Even if it’s not based on any fact at all. Everyone else has a right to reject his warped mind and take their money elsewhere.

Incidentally, Boissoin is being defended in court by the US-based Christian Right group, the Alliance Defense Fund.

(Thanks to Dysentery for the story!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, Canada, Alberta, homophobe, pastor, Stephen Boissoin, Red Deer Advocate, homosexual, gay, lesbian, University of Calgary, Darren Lund, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, EGALE, Queerty, Calgary Herald, Janelle Dodd, Christian, Alliance Defense Fund[/tags]

  • miller

    The words you highlighted bring to mind certain parallels with some atheist rhetoric. What we see here is probably similar to what most people think when they hear that atheists think a religious upbringing is child abuse, or that religion is a harmful meme (like a psychological disease). And calling religion a delusion amounts to comparing the religious to mentally disordered people.

    Is what he said wrong because it is hateful, or because it is baseless?

  • Gadren

    I feel that this guy does have the right to say his idiotic homophobic rants (after all, what would FSTDT be without such ravings?)…

    But Canada? Now where am I supposed to flee to?

  • Polly

    I shudder at the thought that one day politically incorrect opinions could land someone (me) in jail…or worse.
    Should pastors in the pulpit be thrown in jail for preaching what their holy books tell them to? NO. However, I would draw the line at direct instigation. But spouting your opinion about whether you agree with something or not, or even that you find it reprehensible, is not the same thing as provoking others to violent action.

    This is one reason why I oppose special hate crimes laws. The intent is to sift out the motivation for a crime from deep within the dark recesses of a perpetrator’s mind and then punish them for those bad thoughts. It’s the first step toward regulating people’s thoughts: punish their actions differently (more severely) because we don’t like the specific ideas behind them. The law has no business making those kinds of distinctions.

  • Logos

    He does have a right to say what is on his mind.In fact I wish more Christians would be this open, and let people see them for who they are.

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    I think it should only be a crime if you could connect the beating to the letter as direct instigation. Anything less, and vague statements of opinion become unprotected speech, and that’s a sorry state of affairs.

    Of course, I also don’t like laws again Holocaust denial and such. Hate speech laws seem to fall in a similar category.

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    Hemant,
    I, as an atheist, think one reason moderate Christians get less media coverage is because they’re less interesting/ sensational.

    My local paper probably runs at least several community articles on nice things done by Christians (usually a church charity activity or whatnot) for every article that might make you cringe and see religion as the culprit (often editorials). As with any complex, heterogenous group (like atheists too), the most strident, vocal, or obnoxious members often get the most media attention.

  • Maria

    My local paper probably runs at least several community articles on nice things done by Christians (usually a church charity activity or whatnot) for every article that might make you cringe and see religion as the culprit (often editorials). As with any complex, heterogenous group (like atheists too), the most strident, vocal, or obnoxious members often get the most media attention.

    Well said!

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    Gadren, you can still flee to Canada. Just avoid Alberta. Despite having one of the richest beds of dinosaur fossils in the world, you’ll find a surprising number of fundies there.

  • Logos

    King Aaedvark, Why is that?

  • Dysentery

    I can tell you why. Because Alberta is redneck country. But still, as long as you stay in the cities, it’s not bad (hey, I live here!). For an interesting breakdown on belief in evolution vs creationism in Canada, check out this poll (I’m sure you can inference other conclusions from this):

    http://www.decima.com/en/pdf/news_releases/070706E.pdf

    I like the summary at the end:

    According to Decima CEO Bruce Anderson “These results reflect an essential Canadian tendency: we are pretty secular,
    but pretty hesitant to embrace atheism. Our views on the role of science and spirituality lack consensus but these are not
    polarizing issues for the most part. It’s more as though for many, these feelings are unresolved, we believe in a higher
    being, we know what we don’t know, are comfortable not knowing, and choose not to press our views upon one another.”

  • http://www.christianheretic.com The Christian Heretic

    King Aaedvark, Why is that?

    It’s because Alberta has oil, and oil seems to bring out the fundamentalism in people no matter what country you’re in. :)

    As far as the OP goes, as a very liberal Canadian (and as a human being who likes to believe he has a bit of decency) I am completely appalled by what Boissoin wrote, but I also believe in freedom of speech so I don’t support our hate speech laws and think they should be struck down.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike C

    The words you highlighted bring to mind certain parallels with some atheist rhetoric.

    I was just thinking the same thing.

    For the record, I think this pastor should have the right to say whatever he wants, though personally I find his opinions repugnant.

    (Why don’t we ever see more Christians standing up to fundie pastors in America? If they do, why do they never get media coverage?)

    I don’t know what it’s like in Canada, but here in the US the liberal/fundamentalist split between Christians happened so long ago that you wouldn’t find many liberals or moderates funding a guy like this in the first place. So if an American fundie pastor said this stuff most of his supporters would probably already agree w/him in the first place.

    For a reverse kind of story, you should watch the Sundance Channel documentaries about Jay Bakker, the son of Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker. He’s founded churches for the alternative sub-culture folks in Atlanta & NYC, and recently lost most of his funding when he announced that he no longer thought that homosexuality was a sin.

  • A.R.

    Hi. Just went through your archives and wondered why if everyone’s views are different, words like good are being used. Good to an atheist may not mean the same thing as good to a religious person. I’ve met people who think good means people who don’t kill others or steal, and others who believe it has to with charitable acts. Where’s the mysterious boundary line? Who ultimately makes the decision? If the answer is whatever we want it to be then societies(in any part of the world) can be allowed to embrace any current crimes as part of “being good”. Wouldn’t we then as a race be going backwards in our own growth?

  • Polly

    If we follow the Xian idea of good we can:

    enslave Africans or liberate them

    deal with neighboring coutries or try to exterminate them and take their land

    always tell the truth or lie to foreign kings (King David, Abraham, the midwives in Egypt)

    tolerate other religions or set up inquisitions and torture their adherents

    respect freedom of religion or spread theocracy

    learn from science or force scientists to recant their findings under penalty of death or excommunication

    the Sabbath is forever and breaking it is a capital crime or it’s made for man not man for it

    Kosher laws are forever or it doesn’t matter what you eat, it just goes in and out

    charge our fellow citizens interest or usury is a sin

    hating those who don’t follow jehova, hoping their children are dashed against stones or loving your enemies

    marrying your half-sister is OK, and among relatives is a good place to look for a bride for your son or incest is a sin

    I could go on but you get the idea. Xians really do follow a standard of right and wrong that is largely a function of their own culture and time-period. Xian morals are hardly written in stone.
    If I am mistaken and you are not a xian or Jewish, then we can talk about your particular holy book.

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