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LONDON: Homosexuality and Hate Speech

Homosexuality and Hate Speech

Defending Moral Principles Is Getting Riskier

LONDON, FEB. 14, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Christians defending moral teachings on homosexuality are increasingly running foul of laws that ban any negative statements about the subject. A British Anglican bishop, for instance, who suggested that homosexuals seek psychological counseling was the target of a police investigation, the Telegraph newspaper reported Nov. 10.

Bishop Peter Forster of Chester told a local paper: "Some people who are primarily homosexual can reorientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a medical specialist on the subject -- that's in the area of psychiatric health."

Police investigated the statements and a spokesman said a copy of the article would be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. Subsequently, the police dropped the case, the Independent newspaper reported Nov. 11.

The matter raised fears about restrictions on defending Christian morality, the British-based Christian Institute explained in its January newsletter. It added that the bishop's position was backed up by a lot of academic research. Even a longtime supporter of homosexual rights, Columbia University professor Robert Spitzer, recently published a study finding that homosexuals could become predominantly heterosexual through psychotherapy, the newsletter observed.

Debate also flared last year in the United Kingdom over whether churches should be allowed to refuse employment to homosexuals. The government finally agreed to add a clause to anti-discrimination legislation giving religious organizations the right to exclude a person on the grounds of sexual orientation, the Sunday Times reported June 1. Still, the Christian Institute warned in its January newsletter that employers must be prepared to argue their case in court.

In Ireland, meanwhile, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned the Catholic Church that distributing the Vatican guidelines on same-sex unions could bring prosecution. The document published last July by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith falls foul of the Incitement to Hatred Act, according to sources quoted in the Irish Times on Aug. 2.

"The document itself may not violate the act, but if you were to use the document to say that gays are evil, it is likely to give rise to hatred, which is against the act," said Aisling Reidy, director of the civil- liberties council. Those convicted under the act could face six-month jail terms. Of the Vatican document Reidy said: "The wording is very strong and certainly goes against the spirit of the legislation."

The limits of diversity

On the other side of the Atlantic, December saw a victory for Christians. In Michigan, U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen upheld the right of a Christian student to express her religious beliefs in opposing homosexuality, reported a Dec. 5 press release by the Thomas More Law Center.

The law center had filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Betsy Hansen as a result of a dispute over the 2002 Diversity Week program held at the Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. School authorities censored the speech to be given by Hansen, a Catholic, as part of the activities of the "Homosexuality and Religion" panel. Officials claimed that her religious view toward homosexuality was a "negative" message and would "water down" the "positive" religious message that they wanted to convey -- that homosexual behavior is not immoral or sinful.

School officials also only allowed clergy who espoused a pro-homosexual position to take part in the panel, denying Hansen's request to have a panel member who would express the Catholic position on homosexuality.

"This case presents the ironic, and unfortunate, paradox of a public high school celebrating 'diversity' by refusing to permit the presentation to students of an 'unwelcomed' viewpoint on the topic of homosexuality and religion, while actively promoting the competing view," observed Judge Rosen in his decision.

Another case, still to be finalized, involves a Colorado mother who left a lesbian relationship after converting to Christianity in 2000. Cheryl Clark is appealing a ruling by Denver County Circuit Judge John Coughlin to "make sure that there is nothing in the religious upbringing or teaching that the minor child is exposed to that can be considered homophobic," the Washington Times reported Nov. 5.

Her former partner, Elsey McLeod, was awarded joint custody of the child, an 8-year-old girl.

Matthew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, a public-interest law firm based in Orlando, Florida, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. He commented that the judge gave no similar orders to McLeod regarding remarks or teaching about Christianity or Christians. "It's a real one-way street on this," Staver said.

Vancouver bishop targeted

Controversy regarding criticism of homosexuals has been increasingly common in Canada. A recent case involves the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun reported Sept. 24 that the archdiocese canceled a long- standing partnership with VanCity Credit Union, owing to the fact that the institution actively supports the local gay and lesbian community.

The turning point for Archbishop Adam Exner was an ad campaign by the credit union, featuring a homosexual couple. Consequently the archbishop put an end to a VanCity program operating in four Catholic schools. Under the program, students learned out to save and invest their money and opened savings accounts with the credit union.

A document posted on the archdiocese Web site explained the reasons for the decision. "VanCity in its advertising and by its sponsorship has publicly manifested its support for agendas which are worrisome and harmful to the Church and to society," said the statement signed by Archbishop Exner. "Any cooperation with an organization that publicly supports such agendas appears unacceptable."

The decision drew strong criticism, as Archbishop Exner noted in a letter published Oct. 1 by the Vancouver Sun. When news of the move became public, it "opened the floodgates to letters, e-mails, phone calls and faxes, alleging everything from bigotry to fascism," he said. "I found myself accused of teaching intolerance and hatred of homosexuals -- something contrary to Catholic teaching and my own convictions."

Not-so-free speech

David Bernstein, professor at George Mason University School of Law, addressed the topic of how antidiscrimination laws are creating problems for free speech in his recent book, "You Can't Say That!" Fear of litigation, he observed, "is having a profound chilling effect on the exercise of civil liberties in workplaces, universities, membership organizations, and churches."

Bernstein related how one U.S. Catholic university was beaten down by legal actions into giving full recognition to student homosexual groups. And citing several recent legal cases in Canada, he commented: "Indeed, it has apparently become illegal in Canada to advocate traditional Christian opposition to homosexual sex."

On the question of how homosexuals are to be treated, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is careful to point out: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (No. 2358).

Nevertheless, the Catechism is no less clear when it deals with the morality of homosexual acts: "They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved" (No. 2357). Defending this teaching, in a charitable way, is no easy task. And in the current legal climate, it could get a lot harder.


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