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The New Inquisitors Take Sides


Human Rights Commissions are not the guardians of equity and the defenders of freedoms; they are side-takers and poke-noses, worming away at the very rights they were established to defend and exercising great power to change our laws on behalf of politically fashionable interest groups.

Originally published in the Edmonton Journal.


Lorne Gunter

 Author Notes

Regular columnist with The Edmonton Journal, and frequent contributor to the National Post, National Report, and other publications.

 Essay - 6/22/2001

I have come to revile human rights commissions.

They are not the guardians of equity and the defenders of freedoms; they are side-takers and poke-noses, worming away at the very rights they were established to defend and exercising great power to change our laws on behalf of politically fashionable interest groups.

Case in point: it is now all but forbidden to use passages from the Bible to argue against homosexuality in Saskatchewan.

A ruling last Friday by Valerie Watson, a one-woman board of inquiry established by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, levied fines of $4,500 each against Hugh Owens, a Saskatoon Christian, and The Star Phoenix newspaper for a 1997 ad Owens ran.

The ad listed four Biblical passages, but cited their chapter and verse numbers only; it did not quote them. Fundamental and orthodox Christians of several denominations frequently invoke the four (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:26 and I Corinthians 6:9), because the quotations condemn active homosexuality as sinful.

There is plenty of dispute even among conservative Christians over the significance of the passages. The ones from Leviticus also outlaw the eating of pork and shellfish, and the wearing of red by women, and yet few Christian leaders today believe these sins will land you in Hell.

Accompanying the four citations was a drawing of two stickmen holding hands, over which was superimposed the international symbol for ``forbidden'' or ``no entry,'' namely a circle with a line through it.

The red circle-and-slash itself, Watson decreed, ``may not ... communicate hate. However, when combined with the passages from the Bible, the Board (read Watson) finds ... the advertisement would expose or tend to expose homosexuals to hatred or ridicule.'' In other words, the ``forbidden'' symbol over a bad drawing is not hate speech, but add in that Bible, and the scale comes clanging down on the side of discrimination. The Bible makes the ad hate speech.

MLAs, with their immunity, likely can quote the Bible in debates about homosexuality held in the Saskatchewan legislature. But what about preachers in the pulpit? They have no such immunity. Nor do radio or television commentators, nor newspaper editorial boards. Nor, presumably, private citizens expressing their opinions at public forums.

The decision is typical of the politically correct twaddle that has become the stock in trade of human rights commissions. Watson ruled against religious freedom and freedom of expression because the ad made three gay complainants feel bad. Emotions trump centuries-old rights, and in the process the right of a segment of society not to encounter any views opposite their own batters the right of everyone, including gays, to have their beliefs and opinions protected.

This is not rights adjudication or an impartial weighing of the facts to determine what violates our core political and social values; this is choosing protected and unprotected beliefs. It is advancing the demands of political, judicial and social elites over the rights of everyone to believe what they wish, worship (or not) as they see fit and express the views they hold, polite or impolite.

Watson declared that Gens Hellquist, Jason Roy and Jeff Dodds had ``their dignity affronted'' by Owens' ad, and because ``the complainants suffered in respect of their feelings and self-respect'' they were ``entitled to compensation'' of $3,000 each from Owens and The Star Phoenix.

But since when are hurt feelings enough to stifle free speech? For about the last decade, commissions have deemed that it is no longer necessary for complainants to demonstrate actual, quantifiable harm -- the loss of a job, a lessening of their stature (as individuals, not as members of a group), eviction from one's home -- ``victims'' need only testify that they feel diminished, violated, unloved, second-class, and the commission will make the ``bad people`` stop, maybe even compel the bad people to cut them a cheque.

One of the complainants, Jeff Dodds, told the board ``that he was angry that it appeared that it was still acceptable in society to attack gay individuals in a public forum even in 1997.''

Yes, and he had better hope it remains acceptable for each of us to attack or oppose the individuals, ideas, opinions, creeds and even ``facts'' we find unacceptable, forever. Attitudes about what opinions are and aren't proper or polite swing like a pendulum. Inquisitions are based on the establishment deciding that some ideas are too horrid ever to be spoken, then setting out to rout them from our minds.

Human rights commissions are the new Inquisitions. They will accept testimony in secret. They frequently flout standard rules of evidence. They often just declare what is in the minds of defendents. And they are a menace to true freedom for everyone, including gays.

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