.- A bill that religious groups fear could brand the Bible as hate literature and silence religious expression was passed by the Canadian government last week.
The Canadian Senate passed Bill C-250 April 28 by a vote of 59-11. The passage of the bill added homosexuals to the list of groups protected under Canada’s Criminal code. The bill extends hate-crime protections to homosexuals by including “sexual orientation” among the identifiable groups, which before only included groups that were distinguished by race, color, religion, or ethnic origin.
The bill was passed despite opposition expressed by several religious and family groups, including the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Civil Rights League, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Focus on the Family and the Canada Family Action Coalition.
In addition, thousands of Canadians attended a full-day rally on Parliament Hill on April 17 to express their opposition to the bill.
Despite this public display of opposition, the Senate still passed the bill. The Liberal government wanted the bill passed before the next federal election, which parliamentarians expect will be called in May. The bill would have died had it not been passed before the election was called.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada now fears that the legislation will jeopardize freedom of speech and religious expression.
“Christians have seen their rights to dissent restricted by case after case in the courts,” said Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in a written statement. “We no longer trust that the guarantee of religious freedom in the Charter is necessarily going to apply to protect religious free speech.”
Dr. Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, is urging Canadians not to vote for members of Parliament who supported this new law in the next federal election. The bill, said McVety, was passed just in time to silence public debate on same-sex marriage during the upcoming election campaign.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops declined to comment on the passage of the bill. The bishops had presented a letter to all senators March 25, expressing their concern. The letter stated: “We remain concerned that this Bill as presently drafted could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard.”