Many in the media rallied around the right for Bill Whatcott to speak freely even if they disagreed vehemently with his message, part of what the National Post’s Chris Selley called “the pleasantly broad consensus that the law shouldn’t be limiting Canadians’ right to free speech, however abhorrent.” With friends and allies like Selley …
But Selley was not unique. Just as columnists and editorialists defended Whatcott’s free speech rights, they condemned his “hate speech” and “anti-gay” activities. Writing in the Post’s Full Comment blog, Selley called Whatcott an “anti-gay nutbar.”
An editorial in the Ottawa Citizen (which was reprinted in the Regina Leader Post) said that, “there is a right to freedom of speech in this country. There is no right to not be offended, and there never should be.” And the editorial further noted, “The right to freedom of speech is meaningless if it only applies to inoffensive statements, politely expressed.”
However, many of these writers favoured extending free speech rights to the likes of Whatcott in order to shine a light on his supposed bigotry. His views, the Citizen asserted, were “offensive, disgusting and wrong.” Yet, the Citizen said, there was no “need to drive such arguments underground,” but rather to “bring them to light.”
The Toronto Star took the same tact in an editorial entitled “Free speech must prevail.” Conceding Whatcott was guilty of hate, they defended his right to spew it: “Odious as Whatcott’s views are, he has a Charter right to express them.” And, the paper added, “the rest of society has a right to tell him he’s despicable.” The liberal Toronto paper, the country’s largest English-language daily, said “current, loosely drafted human rights laws needlessly undermine Charter rights, have a profoundly chilling effect on freedom of expression and subvert the marketplace of ideas.” It is a well-established tradition in liberalism to respect the marketplace of ideas, but only so far as to dismiss those on the other side.
The National Post republished an article by Florida State University philosophy professor Michael Ruse that originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Ruse said he hoped “Canada shows that it is sufficiently self-confident to let the foul bigots say what they want while the rest of the world goes about its business.”
The thinking seems to be that Whatcott’s views on homosexual behaviour – and by extension, Christian sexual morality – is so clearly reprehensible that there is no need to legally prohibit it.
Many in the media were quick to condemn Whatcott, but does he deserve it? Also writing for the Post, Jonathan Kay, a managing editor at the paper who has been critical of the religious right before, noted that the Christian Truth Activists (of which Whatcott was a member) believe, in their words, “that Sodomites and lesbians can be redeemed if they repent and ask Jesus Christ to come into their lives as Lord and Saviour. The Church of Jesus Christ is blessed with many ex-Sodomites and other types of sex addicts who have been able to break free of their sexual bondage.” Kay does not find that language hateful and says that the critical nature of those words demonstrates that Christian moral teaching regarding homosexuality “is not at all equivalent to, say, a neo-Nazi’s hatred of Jews,” for example.
Not only is not equivalent, it is not comparable. Whatcott and his lawyer Tom Schuck rightly insist that the Christian activist speaks out not due to any animus toward homosexuals but out of Christian love. It is because of his Christian love for homosexual that he wants him to eschew a lifestyle that can be physically dangerous and psychologically harmful to the homosexual himself, but more importantly to Whatcott, damages the homosexual’s soul and endangers his chance to enter heaven. That doesn’t sound like hate to me.
Because the mainstream media does not take religion seriously, they cannot understand from where Whatcott’s criticism of the gay lifestyle comes. That’s their shortcoming, not Whatcott’s.