If you think smoking is really, really bad, does that mean you hate smokers? Or if you believe that alcoholism is a serious health problem in Canada today, would your belief lead you to kill alcoholics, or to approve of someone else killing alcoholics? Of course not.
You can disagree with a particular activity, yet not wish death upon those who engage in it. This logic applies to moral questions as much as it does to matters of health. Most Canadians disapprove of adultery, yet nobody stands accused of hate because they support marital faithfulness.
Yet somehow, some people completely lose this logic when it comes to homosexuality. One example arose in June, in the wake of Omar Mateen killing 49 people at a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. The CBC’s Neil Macdonald claimed that “organized religion,” by disapproving of gay sex, is to blame for these cold-blooded murders. According to this journalist, religion must assume responsibility for “the pain and misery and death inflicted on gays for so many centuries in the name of god.” While Mateen professed allegiance to ISIS and to Islam, Macdonald said that “restricting the discussion to Islam is far too easy.” Judaism and Christianity must likewise also “reflect on helping shape a culture that … led to 50 funerals in Florida.” The three Abrahamic monotheistic faiths must change their teaching (that gay sex is sinful) to stop “oppressing” people. People of faith, said Macdonald, are abusing religious freedom in order to deny gays their “human rights” and “fundamental rights.” Macdonald also argues implicitly that religious people suffer from, and need to be cured of, a mental disorder: “homophobia.”
Many pundits and activists made similar claims in both Canada and the U.S.
The distinction between disapproving of a behaviour, and killing people who engage in that behaviour, is lost on Macdonald. And yet, each day, a new mountain of evidence for this distinction is built up by the billions of people across the globe who do, in fact, distinguish between people and their behaviour. Pretending that this distinction doesn’t exist when it comes to sexual morality is just plain silly, or perhaps a form of wilful blindness.
Another distinction lost on Macdonald is the difference between respecting the law (including laws that allow people to go to bars) and disobeying the law (by shooting people). Omar Mateen shot 49 people dead because he had absolutely no respect for Florida’s prohibition against murder. Shootings at bars (whether gay bars or straight bars) will continue as long as there are individuals like Omar Mateen who believe themselves entitled to play God and pass judgment on fellow humans by killing them. Even if Islam, Christianity, and Judaism changed their beliefs and teachings about human sexuality, every bar in the world would still be at the mercy of some guy who actually thinks he has the right to shoot people.
If Omar Mateen had killed 49 people at a different bar because they were disobeying Islam’s prohibition on alcohol, would Macdonald call upon Islam to change its beliefs about alcohol? Would Macdonald say that Islam’s prohibition on alcohol “caused” Omar Mateen to murder 49 people for drinking alcohol? Or would he agree that the problem is caused by a deranged criminal who respects neither human life nor the law?
Macdonald refers to “human rights” and “fundamental rights,” but fails to understand the pillars on which Canada’s laws and culture are based: freedom of conscience, religion, association, and expression; the freedom to own and enjoy private property; and principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.
Freedom of expression is the lifeblood of democracy, and an essential requirement for truth-seeking and for self-fulfilment. Freedom of conscience and religion protects people from the coercive power of a jealous and oppressive state which can’t stand a rival authority or competing allegiance. Freedom of association empowers people to form the groups, parties, clubs, and societies of their own choosing, thereby connecting otherwise isolated individuals into a thriving civil society. The exercise of these freedoms, for example by printing posters or by building churches, typically requires property, which should not be arbitrarily seized by the state. The supremacy of God and the rule of law mean, among many other things, that you can’t shoot people at a bar, or anywhere else.
Sadly, Macdonald is not the only Canadian who would gladly diminish our fundamental freedoms in the name of a mistaken notion of “human rights.” The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the work of educating Canadians about how the free society works is never finished.
John Carpay is a Calgary lawyer and president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca).