Early in the previous century, G.K. Chesterton observed that it is the mark of the modern that “the normative is everywhere and always being subordinated to the non-normative.” In our own age of proliferating “rights,” it is a further mark of the modern that the universal is everywhere and always subordinated to the particular. Until relatively recently, the natural rights upon which all free and just societies were founded had, by definition, to apply to the universality of mankind and were consequently few in number and expressible with quaint succinctness: the right to life and the security of one’s person; to private property; to free association; to freedom of speech, religion and the press.
By comparison, today’s innumerable “rights” exhibit the exquisite complexity of the tax code. Specifically favoured groups (as opposed to those currently in bad odour) now enjoy the right not to be offended; mothers (but not fathers) possess the right to abort their children; women, the right to “equal pay,” for not necessarily equal performance; gays and lesbians, the right to marry; “historically disadvantaged” minorities, the right to lower admissions standards.
Of course, universal and particular rights are mutually annihilating; the latter merely cancel out the former. The supposed right of anti-smoking zealots to clean air, having made it illegal to light up one’s Meerschaum in one’s own place of business, home or car, blithely sweeps aside the right to enjoy otherwise licit activities within the perimeter of one’s private domain. The mother’s gender-specific “right” to an abortion vitiates the universal human right of the baby to life and the security of its person. The general right of freedom of the press is fatally vulnerable to the neoteric right of a specific group (such as Muslims) not to be offended.
When, in separate cases, Canada’s human rights commissioners enforced the deliberately provocative whim of a homosexual couple to celebrate their “wedding” in a Knights of Columbus hall, or a homosexual advocacy group to have their propaganda published by the printing house of an evangelical Christian, they managed in one stroke of the pen to abolish at least three universal human endowments: freedom of association, freedom of religion and the right to private property.
The abrogation of these basic liberties is another example of modern man’s moral and political progress. Since the dark days of Hammurabi, Moses and Solon, it has been axiomatic that rights must be limited in number, but universal in scope, lest they undermine the foundational juridical principle of impartiality. Simply put, any right that could be conferred upon specific groups and concomitantly withheld from others was counted not a right but a wrong, not a vehicle of blind and impersonal justice, but of a system rigged for the selective advantage of the few. Today, we have advanced beyond such old-fashioned scruples; we all belong now to that progressive school of ethics whose scholars are Orwell’s pigs (all animals have rights, but some have more rights than others).
The December ruling by an Alberta judge to overturn the 2007 conviction of Stephen Boissoin by the Alberta Human Rights Commission is a reassuring, though tentative step backward into the historical darkness. (The complainant is now appealing the December ruling.)
For those who haven’t been following the evolving farce of Canada’s human rights tribunals, the facts of the case are as follows. Seven years ago, Boissoin, a Christian youth pastor, sent a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in which he accused the gay rights movement of “wickedness” and “immorality.” A couple of weeks after the letter’s publication, a teenager claimed to have been assaulted because of his “sexual orientation” and further alleged that the pastor’s hateful words had created the “homophobic” atmosphere in which the attack took place. This was more than another of Alberta’s vigilant citizen-censors could bear. Darren Lund, a University of Calgary professor, filed a complaint with the Alberta HRC, which found Boissoin guilty of hate speech promoting discrimination against an identifiable group, fined him $5,000 and prohibited him from ventilating his views on homosexuality in public ever again.
On their face, the charges ought to have been thrown out peremptorily. If calling sexual behaviour – let alone sexual behaviour that was until a few years ago universally condemned as deviant – “wicked” or “immoral” is hate speech, then practically every work of social or moral commentary in history, including the recent criticism of Tiger Woods, is hate speech. And, as Justice Earl Wilson noted in his reversal, there was no evidence of any link between Boissoin’s letter and the assault on the gay youth; indeed, there was no credible evidence that an assault had ever taken place. But then, as we have recently learned, in Canada’s “human rights” tribunals the accused have no rights. Neither are they protected by the presumption of innocence nor by the normal rules of evidence, whereas the complainants’ victimological sensibilities are almost invariably shared by the magistracy.
For exposing this judicial travesty, we should be grateful to Wilson. But we should hardly imagine that Canada’s human rights laws are any less porcine or that the kultursmog that gave birth to them has been finally blown away by the winds of justice and liberty.
Anyone so inclined to optimism should read what the National Post, one of the most persistent and vociferous critics of Canada’s human rights juggernaut, has written about Boissoin’s vindication. While abstractly celebrating the Alberta ruling as a victory for freedom of speech, the Post’s editors felt concomitantly obligated to repudiate Boissoin’s opinions as ““disturbing, even vile.” I recall that adjective being conjured up by the ACLU whenever it wished to distance itself from the noxious views of some of its most notorious clients. Vile? For the National Post, Boissoin’s objections to homosexual agitprop apparently consign him to the same rancid company as the ACLU’s neo-Nazis and grand wizards of the Ku Klux Klan.
In his ruling, Wilson was no less anxious to blame the victim and sympathize with his persecutors. He conceded that “fatal errors” had been made in the Alberta HRC’s 2007 decision against Boissoin. But, instead of abjectly apologizing to him for the injustice and anguish he was made to suffer, and ordering the commission to repay his beggaring legal costs, the judge chose to add insult to injury. Note the pusillanimous syntax of his ruling. Yes, Boissoin’s criticism of the homosexual movement was “offensive, bewildering, puerile, nonsensical, and insulting,” but (unfortunately) it didn’t quite rise to the level of hate speech, nor was it likely to foster discrimination against an identifiable group. What’s a judge to do but hold his nose when he is obliged to exonerate on a legal technicality?
Wilson’s own unambiguously insulting characterization of Boissoin’s views is instructive of the reality that, on the human rights farm, there are always some animals whom it is perfectly respectable to offend. Boissoin’s opinion that homosexual practices are pernicious has been the uncontroversial judgement of civilized societies for thousands of years (including the ancient Greeks, by the way, who regarded them as peculiar and detestable Spartan aberrations).
Today, while a majority of the secular population still can’t find it in their hearts to accept anal intercourse, sexual recruitment of young boys, the gymnastics of the bathhouse or the pornographic displays of Pride Day as normative and wholesome, resistance to the homosexual agenda has been conveniently dismissed as “Christian.” And, while a Canadian judge would never dare call buggery, bathhouse promiscuity or Pride-parade exhibitionism “offensive, bewildering and puerile” – though I can’t think of more apposite descriptors, myself – he need hardly hesitate, apparently, before pronouncing these words against an ancient doctrine of Canada’s founding faith.
These days, “hate speech” is defined as any speech that a particular group hates to hear about itself. If I were a Christian, I would find Wilson’s contemptuous denigration of my religion’s moral and cultural traditions highly offensive, if not likely to foster discrimination against the identifiable group to which I belong. What else are Wilson’s remarks meant to do but stigmatize Christians and anyone else who shares Boissoin’s disapproval of homosexuality, when he depicts them as intellectually backward (“puerile”) and incapable of moral reasoning (“nonsensical”)? As a Christian, I would possess, that is, a most compelling case for launching a human rights complaint against him.
Harley Price has taught courses in religion, philosophy, literature and history at the University of Toronto, U of T’s School of Continuing Studies and Tyndale University College. He blogs at Priceton.org where a version of this article originally appeared.