Freedom of expression (or “free speech” as our Amer- ican neighbours call it) is one of our most basic freedoms. It is closely related to freedom of religion.
We should steward it wisely.
As Christians, our words – an expression of our faith
– are to be governed not by what the law permits, but
by what the gospel requires, for it sets a
much higher standard. It is true the law is
a teacher; it sets out what we as a society
have determined to be impermissible. It
Are our freedoms being challenged?
Considering where our freedoms bump
into the freedoms of others is to be expected. This is how law is formed in a
free and democratic society, how the line
between what is legal and illegal is determined. It requires us to be vigilant and
willing to engage in public dialogue about
what is permissible and impermissible, where lines should
be drawn and boundaries established.
We must also practise what we preach. Is it possible to
preach the gospel without being intolerant or promoting
hatred? Evangelists have been doing it since before we had
a Criminal Code. Thousands of clergy preach the gospel in
Canada each week without threat of criminal charges. This
does not mean that none experience angst when preaching about matters such as sexual morality that can trigger
strong opinions, particularly in a legal context when complaints under human rights codes can trigger significant
and costly legal processes – win or lose.
This fall the thorny issue of what constitutes “hate
Hate Speech versus
Speaking in Love
christian principles can help as canad-
ian lawmakers consider the definition
of hate speech
even the judges
of the Supreme
court of canada
about what legally
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speech” will again be debated in the Supreme Court of
Canada and, no doubt, on the air waves and around water
coolers. In debates about hate speech, opinions vary about
what actually constitutes a legitimate restriction on expression. The Criminal Code is clear that communication
whose goal is to incite violence or promote hatred against
others crosses the line, as it should. But what else is encompassed by the term “hate”?
The uncertainty can both restrict written and verbal
expression out of fear of crossing the line, and also prompt
accusations of hate speech when hate was not spoken.
Even the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada have dis-
agreed about what legally constitutes hate speech. Some
have expressed the concern that hate speech provisions
may well silence people who need not be silenced, and not
convict those who should be convicted.
The point of asking about how hate is
legally defined is not to enable people to
get as close to the line as possible without
crossing it. This too is not the thrust of the
gospel. In Scripture we find principles and
stories that can guide us, and we can also
trust the instruction of the Spirit. Rather
than exploring specific utterances and
using these to draw a line, it is more fruit-
ful and consistent with Scripture to ex-
plore the principles that guide our speech.
One clear and basic Christian principle
is that all are created in the image of God, are equal in
value before God and loved by God. When we treat people
contrary to this basic principle – as objects or as a means
to an end rather than as image bearers – we rob them
of their humanity. Diminishing the value of another, in
spoken or printed word, or deed, may or may not meet
the legal test of promoting contempt – but it is something
we should avoid.
Our actions, words and deeds – and those of others –
deserve scrutiny in light of Scripture. In so doing we are
called to speak the truth in love. While we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us. Despite what we do, we are loved with
an everlasting love. This is how Christ treats us, and this is
how we are to treat others as disciples of Jesus.
Above all, we are reminded that in all we do we are
to bridle our tongue – to speak the truth in love and with
wisdom. May we steward our freedoms well as this too is
a mark of the gospel. Ft
bruCe J. CLemen Ger is president of the evangelical
Fellowship of canada. read more of his columns