The Christian Legal Fellowship is very concerned with the Kempling v. B.C. College of Teachers decision handed down June 12 by the British Columbia Court of Appeal.
The ruling upheld the British Columbia College of Teachers decision to temporarily suspend the teaching licence of Chris Kempling for writing allegedly discriminatory letters to the editor of a local publication. In 2001, Kempling defended the traditional Christian understanding of the social, physical and moral evils of homosexual behaviour in his local newspaper. He was subsequently cited for professional misconduct by the College of Teachers, after a panel determined that his writings were discriminatory against homosexuals. He was disciplined with a temporary suspension of his licence.
Kempling fought the ruling and took the case to the Supreme Court of B.C., which upheld the school board’s decision. The current ruling marks the second time Kempling has appealed the decision of that Supreme Court, citing violations of freedom of religion and expression clauses of the Charter of Rights.
Justice Lowry, writing on behalf of the court, asserted that Kempling’s letters to the editor of a local newspaper, articulating his religious beliefs on the homosexual lifestyle, were not deserving of Charter protection, because the court considered them discriminatory and damaging to the integrity of the public school system as a whole.
The Christian Legal Fellowship, along with other members of the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance, intervened on behalf of Kempling in his appeal for constitutional protection of his right to express deeply held religious beliefs that were being restrained by the Supreme Court of B.C. and the Disciplinary Committee of the B.C. College of Teachers. Kempling’s argument is that he is disadvantaged, in that he is precluded from contributing to public debate on an issue of importance to him because he is a teacher in the public school system.
Kevin Boonstra, co-counsel for the Alliance, responded to the court’s decision: “We are disappointed that Mr. Kempling did not succeed in his appeal and are concerned about the court’s conclusion that his statements do not deserve a high level of constitutional protection. The court drew a distinction between ‘reasoned debate’ and ‘discriminatory rhetoric.’ It will be very difficult for people to distinguish between these when speaking publicly about controversial topics on sexual morality and the result will be a chill on free debate and expression.”
Of paramount concern to the Christian Legal Fellowship is protection of the freedom of professionals to contribute to public debate on controversial religious issues. On appeal, the Alliance argued that there should be an analysis of the difference between critical speech and discriminatory speech, which was not done in this case.
Furthermore, the B.C. Court of Appeal’s analysis of “harm” in this situation was disappointing.
According to Ruth Ross, executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship, “In the absence of proof of harm to the school, a student or parent, the court concluded that the harm was to the integrity of the school system as a whole. This is a dangerous precedent to set.” Ross continued: “All professionals will be extremely cautious in speaking out on matters of public interest, especially if they wish to speak out on the unpopular or ‘politically incorrect’ side of an issue, for fear of being cited for ‘conduct unbecoming a professional.’”
The Alliance, which is comprised of the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and the Christian Teachers Association, is represented by co-counsel Kevin L. Boonstra of Abbotsford, B.C. and David M. Brown of Toronto.