A controversial bill, which Catholic bishops fear could be used to silence Church teaching, was not voted on by the Canadian Senate before it adjourned for a one-week break, April 2.
Bill C-250 would add “sexual orientation” to the list of groups protected by the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code. Currently, the only identifiable groups are those distinguished by color, race, religion or ethnic origin.
“Participation in the current public debate on [same-sex] marriage has demonstrated that there are individuals who believe that Catholic Church teaching on homosexual behavior is hatred,” said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in a letter to senators March 25. “We remain concerned that this bill, as presently drafted, could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard.”
If a federal election were called after Easter, before the Senate could vote on the bill, the bill would die. However, if the bill clears the Senate before a federal election is called, all that is required for it to become law is the formality of royal assent, given by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.
In their letter, the bishops also looked beyond the concerns of the Catholic Church and remarked that Bill C-250 could also be used to silence comment on homosexual behavior by people who do not profess any particular religious faith.
“Everyone has an overall moral framework or belief system,” said the letter. “For some people, this is primarily based on religious convictions; for others, it is informed by philosophical principles, and for others, it is based on what have come to be called secular values. There are people who do not belong to a particular religion who may consider sexual conduct between people of the same sex to be morally wrong.”
The bishops also suggested senators “take the time to make sure that the guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not overridden.”
One way of doing that, they said, is to add a section that “clearly exempts, from the hate propaganda provisions, the communicating of statements about the morality of sexual conduct.”
Canadian Catholic News reported that the bishops sent their letter on the same day that the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs approved Bill C-250 without amendment, handing it over to the full Senate for a final vote.
Several church and family groups also oppose the private member’s bill, introduced by New Democrat member of Parliament Svend Robinson. They say it will impinge on freedom of religion and could lead to parts of the Bible being labeled as hate literature.
Robinson, who is openly gay, has maintained that this bill won’t affect freedom of religion.