What do you Say? What can you Say?
By Don Hutchinson
What does the Supreme Court decision in the Whatcott case mean
for religious communication?
Several years ago, there was an urban legend circulating that a pastor was convicted and imprisoned by a human rights commission for
his comments on “sin” in a sermon recorded without authorization by a visitor.
One version said this happened in Windsor, another said Lethbridge.
While human rights commissions
don’t have the power to convict anyone of
a crime or imprison anyone, the damage
was done. Most Canadians are not familiar with human rights tribunals or how to
search the law to see if such a story is true.
No doubt there were sermon writers who
avoided potentially controversial issues
as a result. Pastors don’t unnecessarily
jeopardize their availability to shepherd
There were also real human rights
complaints in many
provinces about Christians preaching, teaching or writing about
marriage as consisting
of one woman and one
man, with sexual behaviour outside that relationship considered “
sinful.” Some Christians
expressed these ideas
about sex and marriage
in contemporary, everyday language. Others
used wording that echoed the 1611 King
Few people were able to track the
broader picture – that most of these complaints went nowhere. A few progressed,
largely due to poorly reasoned human
rights tribunal decisions, but most were
later overturned by the real courts.
The urban legends added to the real
– but mostly unsuccessful – complaints.
Together they heightened general con-
cerns, unjustly inflicted fear and induced
a “chill” effect on free (religiously in-
The court found
the Bible itself
accused of being
harmful or hateful,
except in the rarest
don HuTcHInSon is vice-president and
general legal counsel with The Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada and director of the
EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life.