We won!

3

February 28, 2013 by rebelwithalabelmaker

ImageYou will probably not remember my blogging way back in 2011 about my congregation’s involvement as an intervenor in the case of Bill Whatcott, a man who distributed anti-gay propaganda leaflets in Saskatoon mailboxes.  I was president of the congregation at the time, and pretty involved in the Whatcott case, but I didn’t blog about it much.  Legal writing is not my favourite genre, because there are serious limitations on how much liberty you get to take with the dialogue.  Also, laws are boring.

But I can’t resist writing about it now–in the interests of celebrating the good news.  Reasons for Yay:

1) They dismissed Whatcott’s assertion that he wasn’t attacking a group of people (gay men) but rather a type of behaviour (gay activity).  In a total deadpan, they stated that there is a “strong connection between sexual orientation and sexual conduct”.  Translation:  it is mostly the gay guys having the gay sex.  Well said, Supreme Court.

2)  They protected freedom of speech, stating that “The repugnancy of the ideas being expressed is not sufficient to justify restricting the expression…”.  Meaning, we can’t decide that the expression of certain ideas in and of themselves constitutes hate speech.

We get caught up in the myth that there a tradeoff–that we must allow hateful speech in order to protect freedom of expression and healthy public dialogue.  As though the difference between hate speech and freedom of expression is just a matter of scale.

It’s as though we envision a continuum.  On one end, we have a society where there is lively and free dialogue and also hateful propaganda, and on the other end, there is a society where everyone is politically correct and polite but it’s also a police state.   This isn’t how it works.  The police states throughout history were NOT characterized by an overzealous commitment to civil public dialogue and kindness towards vulnerable groups.  Yes, evil rulers have used curtailing freedom of expression as a tool.  Other tools they have used have included newspapers, taxes, and paved roads.

On the flip side, the cultures and conversations that are characterized by a healthy exchange of ideas and a diversity of opinions are not the ones that are also high on hate propaganda.

When a kid yells “NOBODY LISTEN TO BOBBY HE’S A BIG FAT LIAR EVERYBODY HATE HIM”, we don’t accept that behaviour on the grounds that this will facilitate everyone getting to express their perspective.  Placing limits on vicious shouting is not the first step on a slippery slope leading to Bobby’s absolute control of all information.  It’s the first step in building a space that allows for dialogue and a variety of perspectives.

Or, as I’ve said to my kids from time to time “I can’t hear you, you’re yelling.  I’m not hearing what you’re saying, because all I can think about is how you are saying it.”

3 thoughts on “We won!

  1. Juliet Sarjeant says:

    Liz, I will have to learn to use those same words with my kids. Thanks.

  2. Ed Proulx says:

    Good post and congratulations on your involvement.

    Also, laws are boring. (funniest thought)
    The police states throughout history were NOT characterized by an overzealous commitment to civil public dialogue and kindness towards vulnerable groups. (best thought)

  3. Greta James says:

    I really like this post B. I think it is very insightful and I especially like the comparison to your children. I do think, though, that in practice the line between freedom of speech and offensive behaviour might be a little less solid then you imply. I think it comes down to the question of how we define offensive behaviour. In my world the definition usually comes down to two things…my intent (do I mean to be offensive) and the feelings of the other individual (were they offended). As I see it we could run into problems, then, if my opinions and my expression of them (not matter how diplomatic) offends someone else. I definitely agree that Whatcott is a pretty black and white case. He definitely comes down on the side of offensive. But I do think there is a grey area in which what is perceived by some as hateful speech may simply be freedom of speech to some others.

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