Hating Hate Speech Laws

Stephen Boissoin

Stephen Boissoin

I’m a big free speech advocate.  So I’m very happy an Alberta judge has ruled that Canadian pastor Stephen Boissoin’s anti-gay letter is not a hate crime.  The judge overruled a 2008 decision by the Alberta Human Rights Commission that the letter (published in the Red Deer Advocate) broke the law.

I’m fine with old-fashioned laws against the direct incitement of violence.  But I hate the idea that the best way to deal with loathsome thinking is to silence it with the law.  Hell, a good bit of what I write on this blog is loathsome to a significant chunk of America.  But screw it, I’ll say what I want.

Cases like this make me proud to live in America with its First Amendment protection, where I can mock and refute the Christian right, where pastors can say that gays are hell-bound sinners, and where we’re free to respond like this:

Never shut upExpose the hypocritesBe generally fabulous

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11 comments to Hating Hate Speech Laws

  • 1
    tavdy79 says:

    I agree with you that hate speech shouldn’t be banned. No matter how repulsive it is, the right to express an opinion must remain sacrosanct. Whether or not inciting others to hate is something which should be banned is a much more complex issue, and one which I haven’t yet really reached an definite opinion on. The line between expressing an opinion and inciting to hatred is not always distinct, so unintentially crossing from one to t’other is quite plausible, however I know from experience the consequences of hate, and for purely personal reasons I feel uncomfortable with a lack of any restriction against incitement to hatred.

    Whether or not the letter expresses an opinion or incites to hate is debatable to such a degree that I’m not sure I could develop a definite opinion, however I’m inclined to give Boissoin the benefit of the doubt because the letter presents another far more cut-and-dried issue for me, and one which you touched upon.

    The distinction between inciting to hate and inciting to violence is much clearer, and for me incitement to violence is utterly unacceptable irrespective of the circumstances. In my opinion the letter does exactly that in this phrase:

    “It’s time to stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn.”

    “Whatever steps are necessary” could easily be interpreted to mean violence. It is true that Boissoin does include a disclaimer at the head of the article you linked to claiming that he “do[es] not encourage, condone, support or approve of ANY violent act towards ANY individual(s) unless in self-defence or the defence of the innocent”, however there is no indication of whether or not it was in the original letter, and I am inclined to believe that it was not.

    Had the letter been circulated only within his own church, where his opinions on violence might already be known, this would not be an issue – his congregation would have context for “whatever steps are necessary” – but “Joe Public” does not have that advantage, and so Boissoin’s intent actually becomes irrelevant – the way others could interpret the letter is the issue. Someone who reads the letter could easily see it as religious justification for homophobic violence; if even one person is so much as slapped round the face because of it, the letter will have incited violence.

    I believe Boissoin when he says that he does not condone violence and would not consciously encourage it, however if his disclaimer was not included in the original letter (and I do concede that it is a potentially significant “if”) his choice of words could do exactly that.

  • 2
    Erik says:

    I, for one, was greatly excited when the US Congress enacted the new hate crimes law including new protected sectors of the population. In a perfect world, two things would be in place so that hate crime laws would not be necessary. First, every level of education would teach the art of debate rather than argument. In that class, it would also teach everyone to recognize an empasse when both parties in the debate have reached it. Both parties would then do one of two things: Come to a common place based on compromise or simply agree to disagree and move on. Also, any attack would be on the IDEA and not the messenger of the idea. Secondly, while everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, all 300 million plus of us would recognize that an opinion is just that: an opinion. Sadly, at least from my experience, the 21st century has begun with both of these sadly lacking.

  • 3
    Mykelb says:

    I disagree with the author of this article. We need laws like Canada has to keep the murder volume down. Americans are vile, racist, bigoted, violent people who need to be kept on a leash.

  • 4
    Tom L says:

    Mykelb: You really need to stop and think before you generalize people or places. I have traveled a lot during my years on this Earth and have found vile, racist, bigoted, violent people all over – including in Canada. You assertion that only Americans have such types is really quite ignorant.

    I agree with much of what is said here, but I do feel there is a line between freedom of speech and license to say anything. One should treat freedom with care and respect. Spewing forth vitriolic hatred is unacceptable, unless of course one accepts it being spit in ones own face.

  • 5
    toujoursdan says:

    Canada has free speech too. It’s guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which also has interpreted by the Provincial and Federal courts to guarantee equality for gays ,including gay marriage, something that as a Canadian I am proud of. Our rights and freedoms cannot be taken away by referenda.)

    You are free to mock and hate all you want in Canada. You can even walk up to a policeman and say you want all gays to die without breaking the law. You can protest to your heart’s content in Canada. We do it all the time.

    But under Canadian law, the media (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) are considered the public domain whereby everyone gives up a certain level of freedom to preserve community standards. American law is quite similar. You can cuss and be obscene in private and in certain public settings without breaking the law, but you cannot do that on broadcast TV or radio. The FCC censored Howard Stern for obscenity and Janet Jackson for her wardrobe malfunction and levelled huge fines against the broadcasters. And we all know what happens if you express a desire to kill the President.

    Canadians tend to be more accepting of obscenity and foul language but believe that hate speech can lead to hate violence and Americans generally accept hate speech but get worked up over foul language and sexual displays. It’s merely a value difference.

    I understand that Americans think they are the best people on earth with the best country EVAH, but come on. This is rather laughable.

    [Webmaster’s note: My very good Canadian friend Brad would agree with you. Of course, he’s chosen to live in America, which we never let him forget. :) ]

  • 6

    […] based on gender identity into hate crimes, when they did nothing of the sort.   Believe me, with my firm opposition to hate speech laws, I’d have been all over this bill if it did.  The moment I saw that account in the […]

  • 7

    […] about countries in Europe outlawing hate speech against gays, Christians, and so on, and I’ve written to that effect. Fortunately, in the US, there is no such thing as a legal charge of “hate […]

  • 8

    […] it happens, I oppose hate speech laws and have decried their use in other countries. My question is: Will NOM show the same consistency? Will they stand […]

  • 9

    […] true this happened to pastor Stephen Boissoin in Canada.  I wish it had not.  I also wish Sider had noted the pastor was ultimately acquitted.  Not that his legal […]

  • 10

    […] true this happened to pastor Stephen Boissoin in Canada.  I wish it had not.  I also wish Sider had noted the pastor was ultimately acquitted.  Not that his legal […]

  • 11

    […] about countries in Europe outlawing hate speech against gays, Christians, and so on, and I’ve written to that effect.  Fortunately, in the US, there is no such thing as a legal charge of “hate […]

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