Bible Citations Add Up to Hate Speech, Panel Says

Christian Ordered to Pay Activists Over Newspaper

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SASKATOON, Saskatchewan, JULY 13, 2001 ( What do Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 have in common?

References to them can be «hate speech,» says the Canadian province of Saskatchewan´s Human Rights Commission.

In a ruling last month, the commission ordered both the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper and Hugh Owens of Regina to pay $1,500 to three homosexual activists for publishing an advertisement with the references to four biblical verses condemning homosexuality, the National Catholic Register reported.

The ruling also bars Owens from «further publishing or displaying the bumper stickers» upon which his newspaper advertisement was based, according to the Register.

On June 30, 1997, Owens placed an advertisement in the StarPhoenix, on the occasion of Saskatoon´s Homosexual Pride Week. His ad listed four Bible references followed by an equal sign and the universal prohibition sign — a circle with a slash — containing two stick-men holding hands.

In its decision against Owens and the StarPhoenix, the human rights commission judged that, «while the stick-figures are more neutral,» it is the «combination of the prohibition symbol with the Bible passages that exposes homosexuals to hatred.»

The three homosexual activists had filed a complaint with the human rights commission, noting that provincial and federal human rights codes both include «sexual orientation» as a protected category.

The commission ruled that the provincial human rights code can place «reasonable restriction» on Owen´s religious expression, since the advertisement exposed the complainants «to hatred, ridicule, and their dignity was affronted on the basis of their sexual orientation.»

Father Paul Donlevy, vicar general for the Diocese of Saskatoon, testified before the panel that the Catholic Church understands sexual orientation may not be chosen, but nevertheless «every person is called to holiness … and homosexuals are called to the same sexual morality as any other unmarried people.»

He told the Register: «I certainly hope this decision is appealed. It´s a great concern that simply referring to biblical scriptures can be called hate speech. Soon, we´ll be so politically correct, we won´t be able to preach.»

Homosexual litigant Gens Hellquist said he was pleased with the tribunal´s decision. «There are standards for what´s fair comment regarding Jews and racial minorities,» he said, «and now the commission has set standards on fair comment regarding homosexuals.»

Hellquist added: «Owens´ agenda is really scary. He didn´t say it in so many words, but he really believes that judges should put homosexuals to death.»

For his part, Owens, 50, an evangelical Christian and career corrections officer, says he placed the newspaper advertisement as «a Christian response» to Homosexual Pride Week.

«I put the biblical references, but not the actual verses, so the ad would become interactive,» he said. «I figured somebody would have to look them up in the Bible first, or if they didn´t have a Bible, they´d have to find one.»

Owens denies that, as a Christian, he wants homosexuals put to death, as some inferred from the biblical passages. But he does believe that «eternal salvation is at stake,» both for those engaging in homosexual acts and for himself, if he fails to inform them about «what God says about their behavior.»

Owens believes his case is clearly a collision between religious freedom and sexual orientation rights. He is planning to appeal the decision, and thinks his case may end up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

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