Saturday, February 12, 2011

Anti-Discrimination = the Death of Free Speech / Freedom of Religion?

The very important comment left in the previous post, "We accept long as you never find fulfillment", reads as such:
"I think it is a big question mark for you to say gay marriage would not impact on religious freedom.  I have read alot of articles about that exact thing happening in other countries with lawsuits etcetera.  I did even read about your country where a pastor has been arrested for saying homosexuality is a sin and he is in prison.  That doesn't sound like democracy and a free country to me. ...You cannot deny that this issue has negative implications for Christian speech.  That is why I am skeptical about it all.  Not because I am anti-gay but becuase [sic] I fear for the end of free speech and religious freedom."
Given the nature of the comment, and my inability to answer it effectively in the limited space provided for comment replies, I decided to address it here in it's own post.  It's quite important and worth taking a close look at.

First off, I absolutely understand your point and I agree that freedom of speech and of religion must be protected.  This is not negotiable.  These freedoms are firmly enshrined in democratic constitutions, including the constitutions of both Norway and the Philippines.  I must correct you, though, on the pastor to whom you refer.

For starters, the pastor, whose name is Hans Bratterud, was and still is a very far right fundamentalist Pentecostal preacher who had a night time radio program in the early '80s.  In Norway our anti-discrimination law was enacted in 1981 (it was the first such law in the world), and in 1984 this pastor was charged with violating that law's second clause, which covers hate speech and discrimination against gay and lesbian persons.  He was not arrested; he was ordered to appear in court.

The issue was not merely that he called homosexuality a sin.  If that would have been what he said, he couldn't have been charged with anything because he has a right to voice his beliefs.  His case entailed a deal more than that.

On his radio program he expressed his view that gay people are devil-possessed and psychologically sick, and gave his very rigid and narrow, literal interpretation of certain Bible verses.  But the main sticking point was when he called on all "true Christians" to get actively engaged in removing "known homosexuals" and "homosexual-promoters" from leadership positions in politics and other sectors of society, in order to "break the infernal power that homosexuality represents" (direct quote translated into English).

It's one thing to freely speak your mind and your beliefs, but when you call on others to join you in voting politicians out of office and getting principals and teachers fired simply because of their sexual orientation, it becomes a whole different ball game.

If he would have said those things during a sermon in some little church, it would never have come to anyone's attention.  But the fact that he said those things on the radio, released over public airwaves where many people heard and were very offended and upset by it, the complaints poured in.  The nation's biggest gay rights organization then filed a complaint and pressed formal charges under the anti-discrimination law, at which time the police and Equality/Anti-Discrimination Ombud got involved.

A lower court actually found him not guilty under his right to free speech, but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.  The high court scrutinized the details much more carefully, point by point.  It was found that he had every right to give his opinion, give spiritual guidance according to his belief system, and, of course, to preach and read from the Bible.  But what he did not have a right to do was encourage a public witch hunt so to speak, and insight those who agree with his views to try to get people kicked out of office and out of their jobs simply because they are homosexuals.  That is a clear violation of the Anti-Discrimination Act, and as the Supreme Court stated, "decisive weight is given in distinguishing between discriminatory opinions and incitement to discriminatory acts."

In other words, care is taken to separate mere derogatory remarks from statements that call for discriminatory acts.  The latter type of speech falls outside of free speech protection.  This understanding is also in conformity with the U.N. Declaration on Civil and Political Rights, article 20, which obliges states to prohibit incitement to discrimination.  Negative opinions will normally be protected by freedom of speech even if they quality as offensive, but the pastor's statements went beyond that and into territory that could incite discriminatory acts.  That was the problem.

As such, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling and sent the case back to a lower court.  Under the clear constitutional interpretation provided by the high court, the lower court judge found the pastor guilty of incitement to discriminatory acts.  He had to pay a fine and serve 30 days in jail.  (Going to jail in Norway isn't exactly a horrible experience; it's like being in a hotel room with a TV, heating and air conditioning, private shower and toilet, and three good meals a day, so he wasn't "suffering" by any means.)

This one instance back in 1984 was the one and only time anyone has ever been convicted of hate speech against LGBTs in Norway, and it was a special circumstance wherein a line was clearly crossed.  So no, pastors do not get arrested if they preach a sermon where they give a negative opinion of homosexuality -- that is their religious and free speech right.

Right now, for example, there is another Pentecostal preacher (what is it with Pentecostal preachers?) who is very ignorant in my opinion, and a few years ago he wrote that homosexuality is like "a cancerous growth in society."  Most Norwegians, including myself, were shocked by his stupidity, but he wasn't taken to court for it because he has a right to say and write what he believes.  Nobody pays much mind to him anyway -- there are very few crazies like him in my country and the majority of us Norwegians just roll our eyes and ignore him.

But the road goes both ways on this, of course.  For example, I happen to think that fundamentalist preachers (both the Christian ones and the Islamic ones) are extremists whose brains are stuck in the bronze age, and I have a right to say that.  But if I start saying that we should kick them out of town, deny them goods and services, or burn their churches down, then I would obviously be crossing the line and I would be charged with hate speech for inciting discriminatory acts.  The law applies to everyone:  rich, poor, gay, straight, conservative Christians, liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists alike.

There is another similar case, this time from Sweden, which is perhaps better known.  It is referenced repeatedly on certain Christian fundamentalist websites as being a wake-up call on anti-discrimination legislation's threat to Christian free speech.  The case involved a man named Åke Green, the preacher of a little Pentecostal church of about 70 people.  Again with another Pentecostal preacher!

Green was sued for violating Sweden's law against hate speech, the Act on Persecution of Minority Groups.  He made no secret of his disdain of homosexuality, and in 2003 he invited members of the media to attend a sermon at his church, because he was going to preach on homosexuality and thought the media attention might be a good tool for spreading his message.  Well the media didn't care and they didn't show up for the sermon.  So Green published a summary of his fiery sermon in the local newspaper.

He said a lot in that sermon, things like homosexuality "is a disease in a nation," "abnormal and perverse," that a person "cannot be a Christian and a homosexual at the same time," and that same-sex marriage leads to "sexually twisted people raping animals."  Needless to say there were many complaints that were filed against his printed rant, and an LGBT rights group pressed charges.

A District Court found him guilty in 2004 and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, but the case was appealed and overturned by an appeals court.  That ruling was then appealed by the Prosecutor General (state's attorney), and in 2005 the Swedish Supreme Court acquitted Green.  They ruled that a conviction based on Bible quotations would contravene international conventions, namely the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10.  Essentially the Court said it was a case of bigotry, but not necessarily hate speech, and I tend to agree.  Green said and wrote some ignorant and offensive things, but he was not directly inciting hatred or discriminatory acts (hate crimes).

Pastor Green was cleared of all charges and he never served a single day in jail.  Yet fundamentalists the world over use his case as a warning of how "dangerous" anti-discrimination legislation is for bigots fundamentalists.  For example, there was an ultra-conservative website I was reading one day, an American Baptist site I believe, which used the Åke Green case to scare Christians into fighting against discrimination protections for LGBTs.  They didn't tell the whole story though -- they gave the impression that there are Swedish secret police monitoring churches, and made it seem like the pastor was forever rotting away in a Swedish jail because of a simple sermon in his own church.

I left a comment asking if they knew that Mr. Green had actually been acquitted, that the Supreme Court's ruling actually bolstered protections of free speech for everyone (including Christians), that he hadn't went to jail at all, and that the circumstances of the case were more than just preaching privately in his own little church.  They replied that yes, they were aware of the acquittal.  When I asked them why they weren't telling the whole story, they didn't write back and they removed my original comment from their site.

These two cases from Norway and Sweden beg the question:  should Filipino Christians be concerned if the Philippine anti-discrimination bill should ever happen to pass?  The answer, in a word:  No.

I've read House Bill 1483 thoroughly (you can read it for yourself by clicking here), and it isn't quite as strongly worded as anti-discrimination laws that exist in the West.  Don't get me wrong, I think the bill is excellent, would do a world of good, and definitely should be passed immediately, but there are no hate speech regulations included in it.

House Bill 1483 seeks to ensure:
  • that LGBTs cannot be discriminated against in applying for a job, while on the job, or be fired from a job simply for being an LGBT person
  • that schools are a safe and accepting environment for everyone
  • that LGBT persons are guaranteed equal access to health care, housing, transportation, and social services, without prejudice
  • that discrimination against LGBT persons can be reported to authorities and penalized
  • that discrimination against the LGBT community can one day be eliminated in the Philippines
I find it sad that Catholic bishops, as well as fundamentalist preachers and imams, are rattled by the prospect of LGBTs being treated with decency.  That doesn't bode very well for the beauty of religion.  The opposition is discussed in this article by the Int'l Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Neither hate speech nor hate crimes are covered in the bill, and even if they were, free speech and freedom of religion would remain firmly intact as a pillar of the Philippine constitution.  No need to panic, Christian rights will be fine.  At least Christians have their rights.  To date, however, gay and transgender rights are nonexistent in the Philippines, so the passage of the anti-discrimination bill is well overdue.

Because of the importance and urgency of the proposed anti-discrimination legislation in the Philippines, I will devote my next post to it.


Gary45 said... Best Blogger Tips


You said: "Gay rights are non-existent in the Philippines". Really? Are gays not Filipino citizens? Our Constitution already guarantees respect for human rights (section 11), the rights of workers (section 18), equal access to public services (section 26), equal employment opportunities for all (section 3 article XII), and even against threats on libel, slander and sexual harassment in the Penal Code. Merit is the basis for employment. Education, work record, experience, performance. If a gay is fired for wearing too much lipstick he/she (?) can make a complaint to DOLE or DOJ. New laws and more laws aren't necessary when we already have laws for this and that, regardless of the implications to religious liberty.

I graduated pre-law so I do know a thing or two about this types of thing, and it seems to be much ado about nothing. I don't think that it's good for gays to get ''married'', but I don't really care if there is some other type of partnerships or something in the law.

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