There’s a duplicitous game of sleight-of-hand that is taking place in discussions about freedom of speech in academia and the public square.
Here’s how it works: at first, a person fishes for controversy by saying several things that they know will offend people. If this garners enough attention, then the process recurs organically — say, whenever a politician wants to reference the controversy as a coded dog whistle to their base, or when a teaching assistant replays a recording in class because she thinks the discussion is interesting and challenging.
And the moment the people targeted by that discussion get angry and protest, they’re described not as being upset about the content of what is being said, but rather their protest is reframed as opposing freedom of speech itself. Whether you see that as accidental or deliberate probably depends on how cynical you are about the whole issue. Continue reading Free Speech, When The “Debate” is You (and You’re Not Invited)
Although I’ll be remarking on the passing of Bill C-16 elsewhere, I wanted to post Bill Siksay’s closing speech from February 7, 2011, back when the bill was in its third incarnation (of five), Bill C-389. To me, it’s a profound moment to look back on, and realize just how far we’ve come.
It took 12 years to pass this bill. For the first six, it was completely ignored, as was the trans* rights movement. Shortly after this speech, the bill did pass at Third Reading, and the effort finally was taken seriously… but was then very hard fought. This speech was the moment (if there was any single one) that things changed.
I hope that Mr. Siksay’s efforts are remembered now. Trans* people have usually been told to wait their turn, that legislation is incremental, that we should work for gay rights, and then the LGBTQ movement would come back for us. This was a rare exception in which someone actually did come back. Continue reading Trans* Human Rights Bill C-16: A Look Back
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that one of the first things America’s political left would do during the 2016 election post-mortem is to attack minority groups like trans* people, and “identity politics.” That narrative says Americans decided a potential fascist (when you consider his policy proposals, unilateral rhetoric, media manipulation and stoking of hatred) was a better choice than a continuation of (stalemated) progressive politics, because the latter went too far by, for example, letting trans* folks in.
But it is worth digging down to see what is meant by “identity politics.” Like “political correctness,” it’s a conveniently vague term that can be used to complain about the politics of almost anyone whose struggles one hasn’t experienced firsthand. “Identity politics” is a code for all civil rights — for people of colour, for women, for LGBTQ folks, for immigrants, for Muslims struggling against the continual conflation with terrorists, and more. Beyond Colin Jost’s barbed joke on Saturday Night Live and a columnist in the New York Times, the most-cited instance of blowback was a statement by Bernie Sanders, that “It is not good enough for someone to say, I’m a woman, vote for me.” While perhaps true on the surface (though it seems intended with more nuance than it has been given by those who cite it), the inevitable inverse suggestion that minority groups were too greedy and / or impatient in trying to acquire equal rights risks being, in its way, yet another roundabout step toward white supremacy, whether conscious or not.
It is also looking at the situation entirely backwards. Do not fault people for wanting an equal chance. Fault the chances being sucked away from everyone. Equality is not an unreasonable demand, and nor is wanting it now.
On the contrary, a civil rights perspective is what has been needed. There have been significant flaws in how it has been implemented so far, however. Between the weakness of compromised politicians, the fears of ticking off corporate funders of the organizations and institutions that have taken the issue on, and the subjectivity of corporate-controlled media which either provide or squelch voices on the issue, civil rights only progress toward — but never reach — the point at which they address economic injustice. Meanwhile, privileged people within social movements have too often been satisfied with equality on paper, almost like a placebo, and willing to leave behind their poor and disenfranchised in order to get it.
This is against a backdrop in which economic disparity has stratified wealth — and it is only helped if everyone fights each other over the scraps rather than wondering where it has all gone. Four decades of “trickle down economics” have been more than enough to prove that wealth, instead, has only been bleeding upward.
Civil rights movements have been the right direction. But between opponents and the lack of will (or corporate indebtedness) of proponents, they have been sold out, left standing only partway to justice, among a population that has been allowed to believe that equality has already been accomplished… or is at least so inevitable that it does not require any further effort. Equality has only been permitted to the point where it has not been seen to jeopardize the wealth of the richest, at a time when the greed of the latter has been simultaneously sucking society dry universally.
At this moment, the worst thing the political left can do is to fracture and feed the impulse to blame each other for wanting “too much.” It is time to recognize that political and institutional powers have instead been only willing to offer too little, and to take it only from the less affluent (and in ways that were perfectly designed to sow resentment).
The left is weak because it has been fragmented, atomized, divided into pocket communities with single-issue visions. If it chooses to continue to do so in the face of possible looming fascism, then it is well along the path to self-defeat.
At one time, the left was galvanized by the ideas of unions, collective effort, and sharing the load / sharing the benefit. It is well past time for a call to question individualism and revisit an “everyone together” vision of progress.
In Canada, we tend to value freedom of speech very highly, and it’s often said that the best way to counter objectionable speech is with more speech.
That’s the first thought that crosses my mind in the case of U of T professor Jordan Peterson, who declares in a series of YouTube videos that he will not honour trans* peoples’ chosen pronouns, and opposes trans* human rights protections, all in the name of combating “political correctness.”
Of course, that would be an ideal world. In the real world, it’s still not that unusual for discussion of trans* issues to devolve into a “balanced” debate between pro- and anti-trans* academics over whether they exist at all, without any annoying context like actual trans* people being present to discuss their lived experience of, well, existing. In the real world, there are real problems about who gets to speak, and how widely they can be heard… and the marginalized are often not given much voice to matters that affect — and are specifically about — them. In fact, the established and prolific voices in today’s media are more often quick to reject attempts to “inflict” change, or energetically create a lopsided portrait.
Speech is not a truly universal and equitable thing in the first place. Rather, it is something that is dependent upon access to favourable platforms, and is usually pre-emptively muddied by characteristic value judgments made about the speaker’s class, gender, race, etc.
Nevertheless, we strive for it as best we can. And in doing so, we arrive at the next irony: the very act of protesting ignorance with speech becomes itself heralded as evidence of censorship — as if the only way one’s speech can be truly free is for everyone else to remain silent.
The outcry and protest of ignorance [edit: example removed, was based on bad information – M] is speech, too — that of the protestors. But in a disparate society, privileged speech is defended, while protest of it is often minimized, marginalized and dismissed as rowdiness, whinging, totalitarianism (!), censorship, and noise. It becomes: “a little free speech for me, and a little shut-up-and-take-it for you.”
But let me back up for a moment.
Jordan Peterson is a University of Toronto (UofT) psychology professor who began his rants — especially about, but not limited to, trans* people and a “radical leftist ideology” — in late September, saying from the beginning that he felt he could face consequences, and even feared government or university reprisal because of existing human rights and hate speech laws. He told Postmedia:
“I think (Bill C-16) risks criminalizing discussion about aspects of human sexual behaviour and identity that we need to discuss,” said Peterson, explaining that there are layers to C-16 — the biology of sex, gender identity and gender expression, for example — that could cause problems down the road.
One of his top stated concerns has been with the inclusion of trans* people in existing hate crimes legislation. The thing that people forget about this when it pertains to speech, though, is that the law has already been tested and shown to apply only exceedingly sparingly. If Bill Whatcott’s homemade but mass-distributed “anal warts” flyers equating LGBTQ people with pedophiles, and lyrical invitations to “kill the homosexual” skirt the edges of hate speech — some permissible and some not — then Peterson probably has nothing to worry about. Speech can indeed be hateful, and yet still not be legally actionable as hate speech.
But given that he seems only (or at least primarily) worried about human rights and hate crimes legislation when it pertains to LGBTQ people, one has to wonder if the concerns are cover for fears about the growing acceptance of trans* people in society. He stated from the beginning that he will not use non-binary pronouns for other people, even if they request that. He also said in his first video that he is “scared by the people behind the doctrines,” and attributes them to a radical Marxist ideology (reminiscent of the “cultural Marxism” panic making the rounds among social conservatives). He even compares the latter to Naziism, because of what he considers “murderous” and “Marxist” policies around the world.
Peterson frames his views in an academic and perhaps libertarian perspective, rather than a religious perspective, but he has been enjoying the support of religious conservatives. This is probably because his views are quite compatible with the right-wing narrative that accepting and acknowledging trans* people as they need to live is (as enunciated regularly at LSN) a “disservice” and “false compassion because it’s not true.”
Peterson’s remedy to all of this dreaded political correctness — and what he calls upon listeners to help him with — is to propagate a “No PC” sticker campaign across the campus, and beyond.
The response to his videos has been mixed, with fierce supporters and opponents. It has reportedly spawned threats, and affected some students’ class attendance. In recent days, personal information about trans* students was circulated in far right subreddits, and protesters were nearly overwhelmed by an angry mob that allegedly included neo-Nazis. This puts the University of Toronto in a quandary, as calls for reprisal — including possibly firing Peterson — have arisen.
From my perspective, reprisals like firing are not really a preferable end goal. We do value freedom of speech in Canada, after all — especially in academic settings — so there is that kernel of validity, even if Peterson’s speech is disrespectful or hateful. He’s entitled to his opinion, and also to be a jerk about it, on his own time. Restrictions on freedom of speech are too often used to oppress minorities rather than people of privilege, anyway — much like the “homosexual propaganda” ban in Russia, which conservatives are still trying to figure out how to lobby for in North America. It’s that extra step that Peterson wants to take it with students and colleagues which makes the question particularly difficult.
When I say this, though, it’s also partly because I’m an avid reader of social conservative media, and understand the undercurrent of persecution narrative activism. It’s why I can recognize what likely motivates someone who — without anyone ever asking him to respect trans* people in the first place — took it upon himself to loudly and energetically pursue free speech martyrdom anyway.
And personally, I see no value in giving it to him. Peterson’s actions — whether deliberately or by coincidence — are destined to place him in a growing collection of social conservatives who self-immolate for a few moments of anti-LGBTQ fame. It’s become trendy to seek a place on the Kim Davis speaking circuit, alongside Fundie cake bakers, and the twice-suspended Alabama Chief Justice who tried to singlehandedly overturn marriage equality in the United States. Free speech martyrdom is also Ezra Levant’s entire schtick (which he’s still trying to parlay into a media network), so it also has just as valid and active a presence in Canada outside of overtly religious circles. Whining that someone’s “special right” to dignity and equality is trampling your perfectly ordinary right to discriminate seems to make you a far right folk hero, these days. One of the end objectives of this, of course, is to insert a special religious exemption in human rights laws, so that people can practice their faith by refusing to sell to, hire, or otherwise co-exist with heathens (I might have got the precise wording wrong on this, because I don’t remember the particular scripture where Jesus commanded his followers to willfully disrespect and refuse to do business with sinners — I keep getting hung up on the “love one another” and “give unto Caesar” parts, for some reason).
Anyway, free speech martyrdom will allow Peterson to play hero… or at least until some other dupe comes along. After all, the whole value of the Kim Davises and Melissa Kleins to conservative activists only lasts as long as they’re useful to the two legal groups (Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel) trying to etch anti-LGBTQ discrimination into American law, plus the allied think tanks, religious organizations and media outlets that are parasitically fundraising off both their successes and their failures. The Kleins, for example, recently closed their bakery, ruined because they thought that refusing to do business with a lesbian couple was a noble idea — and now they’re almost forgotten, except by the vaguely-phrased legend of the cake bakers. In that circuit, the fate of someone like Jordan Peterson is irrelevant. The point of beatifying the speech martyrs is to entice more dupes into creating more situations that help build a narrative which frames LGBTQ peoples’ rights to live, work and do business as automatically and inherently persecuting to people of faith… something that Peterson’s firing would fit into just as beautifully as any technical victory he might (though it’s a longshot) find some way to score.
Either way, giving Peterson the glory he seems to seek really only feeds an ongoing anti-LGBTQ political tactic — even if deceptive — and gives it power.
Yet, there does have to be some form of limit. There’s no denying the destructive effect of cumulative aggressions and microaggressions. It’s one thing to be told by someone that they think you’re deluded and that they refuse to respect you. It’s quite another to be told that in billionuplicate, at every turn, by several people you don’t know (and even worse: some you do), without you ever having done anything to warrant the hostility. If you pay attention to news related to trans* people, you know that stories of suicides due to bullying and harassment arrive on a weekly basis… and that’s only the reported instances.
Because as valid as the need to protect free speech is, it is also very often weaponized, and used to gaslight entire communities that just want to be able to participate in society and be accorded the same dignity and respect as anyone else. It’s used to minimize them, tell them they ask too much, and shame them into going away — back into their closets would be just fine, for example. Remember what I said about free speech in the real world being often a one-sided or lopsided thing.
But where to draw the line on hateful speech is almost impossible to determine. It’s easy to limit speech in cases of libel and direct harassment or incitement. Cumulative hatefulness, though, is difficult to realistically pin on an individual, especially given that an individual doesn’t always intend the hostile fallout generated by their supporters or the like-minded. I don’t know that it can be done legislatively, except in extreme and / or intended instances.
What has to happen is a mass awakening, and a mass rejection of ignorance — and unfortunately, the pace of that kind of change is glacial. Of course, mass backlash will still be framed as persecution and censorship, but it will be better recognized widely as a reasoned response to bigotry. And that takes time and awareness… and continual revisitation.
And if there is no clear legislative solution, then there’s not a lot of guidance outside the court system, either. So I understand the position this puts the University of Toronto (and potentially the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if it came to that) in… particularly with the issue of pronouns.
The thing to keep in mind about pronouns is that deliberately misgendering someone is itself an act of hostility — an act of asserting that you know better than someone else who they are, what they need and what their life experiences mean. It’s putting your inconvenience of having to adapt ahead of the reality of their entire lives. It’s not just about invalidating one’s choice of pronoun — it’s about claiming the right to authoritatively invalidate everything that they know about themself(/ves)*.
[* And if you paused for less than five seconds to look at that, understood it — however awkward that pronoun might have looked — shrugged and moved on, then congratulations: you’re far better able to cope with gender neutral and / or singular “they” pronouns than a UofT prof!]
Allowing Peterson to speak his opinions about “gender ideology” is one thing. Having him publicly vow to deliberately antagonize and disrespect students and other faculty members is quite another. And as the increasing tensions and threats over the course of his campaign have shown, sustained, hateful free speech can have serious consequences.
So what is to be done? The best scenario would be if Peterson would recognize where he has stepped beyond speech into deliberate antagonism and borderline incitement, maybe apologize, or at least leave things be, but that’s obviously not going to happen. Probably, the only result that both he and trans* advocates and supporters will be satisfied with is some form of free speech martyrdom, in the form of firing or some lesser kind of censure.
And this will inevitably once more feed the conservative persecution complex, and the dreams of a Trump-like saviour to free them — in the words of the inimitable Samantha Bee — “from that prison, and the cruel shackles of empathy and mutual respect.”
(Crossposted to rabble.ca)
So inevitably, a blog that’s all about religious freedom would need to comment on the ongoing troubles of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, and her stand against issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I didn’t want to rush on that right away, because I wanted to do so thoughtfully, and dig underneath the impulsiveness and spin of both right- and left-wing media… and also add some context from the experience of a Canadian, living in a nation where marriage equality happened back in 2006 without a “Christian genocide” (I’ll discuss that sort of phrasing in a later post) occurring.
Because the “conflict between LGBT human rights and religious freedom” is actually remarkably un-complicated, when you drill down to the bottom of it.
First, the particulars. Kim Davis is the elected (2014 — as a Democrat, ironically) clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. After the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court ruling, she chose to defy a U.S. Federal Court order which required her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Saying she was acting “under God’s authority,” she was jailed for contempt of court, on September 3rd and may face charges of official misconduct.
Here are some of the points that her legal team, Liberty Counsel, has made on her behalf:
“Davis only asked that the Kentucky marriage license forms be changed so her name would not appear on them. She would record any license without her name affixed. Marriage licenses remain in county records permanently. Davis said, “I never imagined a day like this would come, where I would be asked to violate a central teaching of Scripture and of Jesus Himself regarding marriage. To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”
“Before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Obergefell on June 26, 2015, 57 clerks, including Davis, wrote a letter to Kentucky legislators during the regular session, pleading with them to “get a bill on the floor to help protect clerks” who had a religious objection to authorizing the licenses. The Kentucky Clerks Association also recommend that the names of clerks be removed from the forms.
“… Kim Davis does not hate homosexuals or lesbians, as she explained: “I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will. To me this has never been a gay or lesbian issue. It is about marriage and God’s Word. It is a matter of religious liberty….”
“… The Supreme Court did not change Kentucky’s marriage law or its forms, but invalidated the legislation limiting marriage to opposite sex couples…”
There are a few other points at that link establishing her God credentials, and discussing her divorces, which in my opinion have been (perhaps fairly, but overblown) touted in media as showing her own hypocrisy. Those points are irrelevant to the specific discussion here.
Liberty Counsel’s statements are a bit dubious.
Davis not only refused to sign and provide the licenses: a major part of the contempt ruling was because her deputies were not allowed to issue the licenses, either. (Following Davis’ jailing, 5 of 6 subsequently have started issuing licenses, but without Davis’ signature)
Additionally (this is hinted at in one of the above points, but not made clear), the licenses may not be valid without her signature. Davis has in fact argued that they are not. Admittedly, this isn’t clear — a judge questioned about the discrepancy only remarked that couples getting licenses in Rowan County do so at their own risk — but it’s certainly likely that Liberty Counsel or another right-wing group would attempt to contest the legality of those licenses, at some point. Either way, Davis is in essence demanding the right to deny all licenses from her county office, altogether, which goes beyond the jurisdiction of personal conscience.
There are nuances, and this is no exception. I’ve touched on the first two, and there are also others:
- As mentioned above, she used her power to disallow her deputies to issue the licenses;
- Also mentioned above, it’s not simply a question of a refusal of a signature, but also an attempted refusal of legal standing of the licenses;
- Davis is a public employee, and responsible to all citizens of the State of Kentucky;
- As a public employee, she is subject to the legal principle of the separation of church and state;
But a crucial point, independent of all of the above, is probably that in any dispute centering on a conflict in rights, there should be at least some effort to accommodate. All of the above assumes that LGBT human rights cannot be accommodated at all, without automatically invalidating the rights of Christians to live their faith.
But it’s not an either/or proposition. There is a key flaw in the way this is framed.
In Canada, the conscience debate has had some instructive resolution in the medical field (although there are occasionally attempts to resurrect it). Many provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons across the country have some form of policy that allows medical professionals to decline to participate in processes that violate their conscience, provided that a timely referral is made and the patient is able to access the medical care they need, in a timely manner. “Timely” is somewhat relative, and the rules don’t always work well (honestly, sometimes the process fails and care is denied or unreasonable obstacles are created), but it is at least a formal acknowledgement that there is a duty to accommodate, in a way that is relatively equitable for both parties.
What is instructive is that in Kim Davis’ very public demand for her right to freedom of religious conscience, this is not even a question. The closest it ever came to being addressed at all was when some supporters claimed it’s a reasonable accommodation to require county residents to drive to a neighbouring county to obtain their licenses. It’s not hard to recognize that that’s actually an undue hardship.
As someone who has advocated for trans* people and know how the Colleges’ policies fail in Canada, I don’t consider theirs an ideal solution. However, the point is that there could be some form of middle ground, even if imperfect. The State of Kentucky could amend their laws to ensure the validity of marriage licenses without Davis’ signature (to Davis’ credit, she does appear to have asked, and was ignored by legislators), and require that at least one person in the office be present besides herself who would be willing to issue them. But among the far right, this isn’t even a discussion. Among the far right, the objective is simply to have the right to deny licenses altogether, with no compromise being considered.
And that speaks volumes about Davis’ and supporters’ demands for religious freedom.
In closing, here’s a hint about what Davis’ supporters (and arguably perhaps puppetmasters) really feel about things:
“[Wallbuilders’ David] Barton, predictably, responded by asserting that Davis is entirely in the right to refuse to allow her office to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because “the Founding Fathers made it real clear that the laws of God are higher than the laws of man.”
“This is a law of God. Man’s law is not allowed to contradict God’s law,” Barton said, which means there can be no justification for jailing Davis because she is upholding God’s law…”
(From my sister blog, Today In Religious Freedom)
Everyone’s familiar with the old adage, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.”
Which is why the Evangelical leaders who held a press conference on Parliament Hill calling for greater religious freedom laws and schmoozing with Conservative politicians last month might do well to remember Indiana.
“Unfortunately, Christians in this country find themselves under attack. This is a violation, and we are calling on the Canadian government to stop this type of violation across this country…” — Charles McVety
Because almost to the day that the collection of Canadian religious leaders held a press conference at Parliament Hill, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a piece of legislation that was exactly the kind of thing they meant. And it went over like plutonium-based paint.
For anyone who missed the ruckus it caused, the State of Indiana proposed a “religious freedom” law that was very similar to those existing in other U.S. states and federally — except that by the omission of a small phrase, it essentially made it illegal for any government body to intervene in cases of discrimination, provided said discrimination was motivated by a person’s religious freedom of conscience. Put simply, it would legally sanction religiously-motivated discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* (LGBT) people (and for that matter, just about anyone else), while making it illegal for any government body to intervene. And the State of Indiana did so because of an outcry from religious groups struggling against marriage equality (with no shortage of drama) claiming that legally protecting LGBT people from discrimination is tyranny:
“This is tyranny, and it has not come to the United States from an invading nation with tanks and rockets. It has come wrapped in a hijacked-rainbow flag, under the banner of “diversity” and “nondiscrimination.” At this point, only the most uninformed and deceived among us cannot see that the radical homosexual movement—a movement based purely on lies and sin—has at its heart the wicked goal of tyranny over Christian freedom, expression and conscience. Don’t doubt it. While this particular case does not necessarily involve a Christian employer, ultimately Christians and Christianity are the true targets of this hell-born movement. But, these activists will gladly target anyone who resists their dark agenda, as this company, Tower Loan, is sadly discovering.
“The culture in our nation today is steeped in immorality and moral relativism to the point that far too many people have no perception of the grotesque reality of homosexual behavior and how the activists and their supporters in this sexual anarchy movement are using sodomy and “transgenderism” as a foundation to create new “rights” for those who engage in these base behaviors. These new “civil rights” for sodomites are for the purpose of destroying the rights of the majority of the American people…”
The State of Arizona had attempted a similar thing last year, until people started realizing that it might allow medical professionals who were Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny patients blood transfusions, and other unpredictable consequences. Moreover, the clear intention had been to disenfranchise and target a specific group of people, which proved not a very popular idea with the commercial sector. Boycotts were threatened and travel to the state was likely to become embargoed in places, while the law’s proponents demonstrated just how aggressively they intended to use the law (while still denying that it constituted a form of special rights). Arizona backed off, and the Governor refused to sign the bill.
In Indiana, though, Governor Pence did so happily, with a smile, a flourish, and a special fringe group photo-op.
The backlash was instantaneous. Several states and local governments banned the use of taxpayer money to fund city employees’ travel to the State. Celebrities canceled shows and declared a boycott. NASCAR, the NFL and other sporting figures put pressure on the State. The Gap, Twitter, Apple, Angie’s List and several other companies spoke out with condemnation. Ten religious groups decried the law, including the Disciples of Christ, which threatened to move its annual convention. The Indianapolis Star published a front page with the top half black, and bearing the words, “Fix This Now.” And the Indiana-based NCAA made it known that they were questioning whether to hold the long-awaited Final Four tournament in Indianapolis, if not make greater changes in the future. Eventually, the State amended the law to remove the freedom to discriminate portion (although notably, Indiana still does not actually have state-wide LGBT human rights protections, so the issue is actually not over, even if the state government wants to sweep it under the rug). Other states have had mixed reactions to the spectacle, however, and groups and individuals have taken a certain amount of inspiration from Indiana’s trial run:
“In an interview with WOOD-TV, Dieseltec owner Brian Klawiter said he is a Christian and that he doesn’t ask his customers if they are gay, but “If you want to come in here with your boyfriend and you want to openly display that, that’s just not going to be tolerated here. We don’t believe that here.”
“In the rant, posted on Tuesday, Klawiter lamented the discrimination white heterosexual Christians face everyday in the U.S. and said he is no longer going to take it…”
To be fair, the March 25th delegation of Evangelicals didn’t call upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper for an Indiana-style “religious freedom” law per-se. By the time they got to the Hill, in fact, they’d figured out that all of their complaints were in jurisdictions outside federal control. So they asked for a statement.
And they didn’t get it. Instead, they came away with a lone MP who left the Conservative caucus and used the opportunity to give a weird rant in Parliament about scientists being “gagged over a false construct related to the theory of evolution.” Not the wisest way to politically self-immolate, I suppose.
“There’s a whole generation of kids being taught that what they’re taught in Sunday School or in church is garbage, it’s wrong, it’s false, and it’s simply a form of bullying that’s no longer acceptable. It’s not scientifically tenable, it’s a disservice to science… it’s not freedom of religion if your views are put down by your peers.” — MP James Lunney
But it’s not the first time that ideological groups have called for religious-based special rights, and it’s certainly not going to be the last. If anything, the effort seems poised to grow. In the U.S., some states are pressing forward with new bills of the sort, while more than one Republican Presidential contender has vowed to make it a priority. The view from the American side of the border, at least, is that LGBT acceptance and Christianity are simply incompatible:
“When two diametrically opposed and incompatible value systems (namely Christianity and hedonistic humanism) come together in the same place, there can be no peaceful coexistence. One will necessarily dominate, while the other is necessarily subjugated. We saw that quickly happen in Indiana last week.” — BarbWire commentator Bob Ellis
(It’s worth adding a reminder that I personally try not to use “Christian” to describe these folks, despite their rallying behind the term, because I consider it questionable whether they actually are… at least when it comes to “loving one another” by trying to disenfranchise, invalidate, and occasionally even still criminalize people whose existence they deny or object to… not to mention doing things like conflating entire groups with sexual predators as a political tactic.)
In Canada, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are tiptoeing around Indiana while strategizing further… and recognizing that their fight is a little harder in a nation that has already had marriage equality for several years and somehow managed to cope.
“… The most significant part of the HMP [“Homosexual Ministry of Propaganda”] victory is that the word “Equality”, a word twisted by the HMP to squash dissent, has once more been reinforced in the minds of the public to mean that a male + male or a female + female = marriage…” — Peter Baklinski at the Canadian website, LifeSiteNews.
The old “special rights” argument, now with actual special rights added.
The “religious freedom” tactic isn’t really all that new: only the phrasing used to convey it. For many years, religious groups complained that extending human rights protections to LGBT people would confer “special rights” upon them. Lest readers doubt that there was some deliberate co-ordination to all of this, Media Matters provides an in-depth look:
“Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization that works with 2,400 allied attorneys nationally on a $39 million (as of 2013) annual budget. ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country’s largest national evangelical Christian ministries to “press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation’s courts” and “fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians.” Today, it has become the country’s best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization calls the “myth of the so-called ‘separation of church and state.'”
“… While the group prefers to talk about its “religious liberty” work when in the media spotlight, ADF also actively works internationally to promote and defend laws that criminalize gay sex. ADF’s formal support for anti-sodomy legislation dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public health risk…”
Of course, it then became awkward trying to explain the dangers that could ensue if the “special right” to be equal might trump the then- perfectly ordinary everyday right to deny someone employment, housing, medical care, enfranchisement, and/or goods and services. Embarassed, anti-LGBT leaders began looking for new phrasing and the lowest-hanging fruit to justify their claims. The shift to a “religious persecution” -based tactic started with adoption agencies that were “forced to close” because they refused to assist would-be parents in gay or lesbian relationships. Except that they weren’t really forced to shut down:
“Catholic Charities in Illinois has served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children. But now most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in Illinois are closing down rather than comply with a new requirement that says they can no longer receive state money if they turn away same-sex couples as potential foster care and adoptive parents…
That’s when the attention turned to wedding cakes and photographers. To at least some of the public, it seems relatively trivial and nit-picky that LGBT people are expecting to be able to enjoy the same access to those services as anyone else. Never mind that the same logic and law used to deny a wedding cake might also be used to deny housing, education, health care, security, or any other service where religious freedom of conscience might cause someone to take issue.
Canada illustrates this a bit more visibly, with religious conservatives fighting a conscience policy for medical professionals which would allow them to decline non-emergency as long as they still provide a referral to someone who will provide accurate information. Shoulda’ went for the cakes. Just saying.
I’ll admit that there’s a civil libertarian in me who wonders why someone would take it upon themselves to fret about anti-LGBT cake vendors, or even go looking for them for the sake of stirring up a controversy. I just don’t see the point of wanting to give homophobes and transphobes a bunch of money. But I get it: full enfranchisement hasn’t happened until a person can go about their business without having to worry about being blindsided by idiots trying to exclude them, just because of who they are. And that’s why the trivial stuff matters.
But in the end, while the dust settles on Indiana’s religious freedom bill fiasco, and Canadian ideologues try to raise the issue to a national level, it’s important to look at the fallout. Because as much as religious fundamentalists might try to pretend that they’re only interested in protecting their own freedoms and not harming others, the meltdowns that have occurred in the wake of the Indiana bill’s demise paint a different picture:
“It wasn’t broken and the alleged “fix” that the Indiana legislature, at your request, has proposed to the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), will destroy the law beyond all recognition. In fact, it will turn it into the “RFDA” – the “Religious Freedom Destruction Act.” No bill at all would have been better than this anti-Christian, sexual anarchist disaster.
“What was intended as a shield to every American’s First Amendment-guaranteed religious liberty, as proposed, will now become a sword used to destroy it. What was designed to defend people of faith against being discriminated against and bullied will, instead, codify anti-religious discrimination and bullying into law. It will unconstitutionally force people of faith, under penalty of law, to affirmatively violate their sincerely held religious conscience. It has been turned into a weapon that compels people of faith to disobey God or face government sanction.” — Matt Barber
Because the intent was clearly to discriminate. And sometimes when anti-LGBT leaders think that only the faithful are listening, they’ll even candidly say so:
“Starting in the 1990s, the homosexual movement worked tirelessly, spending enormous funds, to get state and local governments to amend their anti-discrimination laws covering public accommodations, employment, housing, public education, etc., to include “sexual orientation.” In recent years there’s been a push to include “gender identity” (cross-dressing, transgenderism, transsexuality) also.
“There’s a big strategic reason for that. As Dr. Scott Lively has pointed out for years, these updated laws are the starting point for the whole, brutal legal jihad against Christians and others holding traditional values. Every outrage we’re now seeing — including the LGBT activism in the schools, targeting of businesses, men using women’s restrooms, sado-masochist/”swinger” conventions in hotels, etc. — emanates from these laws.
“But pro-family people have only recently started to wake up on this. They instinctively realize that citizens should be able to discriminate and refuse to promote or celebrate perversion and “gay” marriage. But these anti-discrimination laws now make it a crime to do so…”
The fight for special rights to discriminate will continue — it’ll just change along the way. It will persist because the will to discriminate persists:
“What should Christians and other believers do in the face of this heightening repression? They must go on the offensive—charitably but vigorously—and fight the battle on several levels… The lame discrimination complaints by homosexualist organizations against believers in human rights commissions and the pressuring of corporations to dump executives and employees who dissent at all from the homosexualist agenda should should be met consistently with lawsuits for abuse of process and defamation. That would put financial pressure on the well-heeled homosexualist organizations…” — Crisis Magazine & LifeSiteNews commentary.
So the strategizing continues. In one American twist, anti-discrimination intervention is being said to be a violation of the separation of church and state. In another, an organization that considers boycotts and letter-writing campaigns organized by LGBT groups to be “economic terrorism” is exercising its own boycotts and letter-writing campaigns against alleged “anti-Christian discrimination” — discrimination which apparently includes producing a TV show about the life of Dan Savage. The hypocrisy is rampant, with the same groups that complain of being silenced having no qualms about censoring LGBT speakers or hounding them to leave their jobs with non-profit organizations. In a moment of coinciding interest opportunism, American lobbyists and legislators are even hoping that religious freedom bills can be combined with the ruling in Hobby Lobby to grant companies the same sort of special rights:
“Georgia State Senator McKoon hopes that, if his bill passes next year, courts will find it covers companies as well as flesh-and-blood human beings, even if it doesn’t say so explicitly in the text. “I believe,” he says, “that the bill would be read as the federal bill was interpreted by the Hobby Lobby decision…”
It’s not going to drop off the Canadian radar anytime soon either, because the Supreme Court of Canada just ruled that reciting a denominational prayer at town council meetings infringes on the freedom of conscience and religion. The state, it determined, should neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, nor impose one on others. Which, when viewed through the far-right lens means that the rival religion of secularism / atheism is persecuting Christians:
“In a sense, by prohibiting respectful, non-proselytizing, non-coercive prayer, the court is showing a clear preference to non-religious believers over religious believers, and gives an untenable status to secularism and atheism, which are themselves beliefs. So there is no balance and no reconciliation among various beliefs in this ruling but shows a preference for one belief – secularism – over all other beliefs,” Elia told LifeSiteNews.
“This is not an example of a true, authentic and robust pluralism,” Elia stressed. “In true pluralism, religious believers and non-believers can share the public square, but this decision means the public square can no longer be shared…” — LifeSiteNews.
So it becomes worth scrutinizing the recent events the Canadian delegation to Parliament pointed to as examples of attacks on religious freedoms in Canada:
- The decisions of a number of provincial bar associations not to accredit any potential law school graduate of Trinity Western University;
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy, which ensures access to medical care for people seeking abortions, contraception or other accepted legal medical procedures; and
- A recent Statement of Support for Diversity and Inclusion signed by 72 major companies across Canada.
Because when we do so, we see that:
- The decision not to accredit Trinity Western University law school graduates was made because of TWU’s ban on sexual behaviour outside heterosexual marriage, which amounts to a creative way to shut out LGBT people;
- The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy in fact allows medical professionals to opt out of procedures and services that violate their religious beliefs, but they must still provide a referral to someone who will give accurate information about treatment or procedure options (which gets portrayed in far right media as forcing doctors to perform abortions); and
- Seriously, this is a statement that says “We value the range of perspectives, ideas and experiences that diversity provides, whether grounded in gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background, religion or age,” and says that the signatory businesses will “encourage greater diversity and inclusion.”
Underneath it all, the special right being sought is the right to create deliberate barriers for people whose sexuality they object to. Even diversity policies are considered offensive:
“Gwen Landolt, a lawyer and national vice-president of Real Women of Canada, called BMO’s policy the “height of discrimination and intolerance.”
“Their position is shocking and appalling. They have applied political correctness to the absolute borderline of insanity,” she told LifeSiteNews…”
But don’t expect an equanimous approach to how “religious freedom” is interpreted. At best, it is a selective thing:
Lunney’s defence of religious freedom does not extend to supporting the right of Muslim women to wear the niqab when being sworn in as citizens, however.
After initially avoiding the question, he eventually confirmed that he shares the views of his former party and the prime minister that those seeking to become Canadian citizens should show their faces.
“I’m not going to get tangled up in that argument,” he said.
In the end, of course, the “religious freedom” battle cry may end up amounting to nothing in the warmer social climate of Canada. Hopefully, the general public will see it for what it is, without the benefit of a Mike Pence -like Premier to push the issue.
“Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says the opening prayer at the province’s legislature will remain despite a recent Supreme Court ruling…”
But then again, who knows?