CALGARY, Alberta, Canada (BP)--A Catholic bishop in Canada is under investigation by a government agency for condemning "gay marriage," and American conservatives say such infringements on religious freedom could be headed to the U.S.
The bishop, Fred Henry of Calgary, is being investigated by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for comments he made about homosexuality in both a letter to parishioners and a Calgary Sun newspaper column. Two homosexuals filed the complaints.
In the newspaper column, which stated basic Christian doctrine, Henry wrote, among other things, "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good." He also argued that behind the push for "gay marriage" is a desire to have society accept homosexuality.
If found guilty, Henry could be fined -- and religious expression will have taken a big hit.
"Gay marriage" is legal in seven of 10 Canadian provinces and one of three territories. While Alberta has yet to legalize "gay marriage," provincial law nonetheless bans discrimination based on "sexual orientation." That includes public statements and publications. The Human Rights Commission is the government body that investigates complaints.
Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said that even if the complaint is dismissed, homosexual activists will have won a small victory.
"Even the launching of a complaint itself raises deep concerns," Clemenger told Baptist Press. "It sets a troubling and a dangerous precedent. Will people of faith be able to express religious views on sexual morality without the threat of legal sanction? Even having a complaint filed means [the bishop] needs to bring in lawyers, begin preparing response. It's in some ways an attempt to intimidate or silence him, when in fact what he was doing is expressing some of the basic teaching of the Catholic catechism."
Henry vowed to fight the complaint.
"Those that support same-sex marriage want to shut the churches out of this important debate," he said at a press conference in late March, according to Canadian Press. "Those who favor same-sex marriage have been given a full opportunity to state their views on the issue. But now they are saying anyone who speaks out against same-sex marriage is discriminating against homosexuals."
Carol Johnson, one of the homosexuals who filed a complaint, said she was concerned Henry's letter and column would expose homosexuals to "hatred or contempt."
"These remarks are particularly dangerous when made by a person in a position of trust and authority," Johnson wrote in her complaint.
Social conservatives, though, say the incident is an example of what happens when homosexuality is put on the same level of protection as race, age and disability. In the United States, 16 states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, according to the homosexual group Lambda Legal. Thirteen of those ban discrimination in housing.
Illinois is the latest to pass a sexual orientation law. Peter LaBarbera, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Canada should serve as a warning to American conservatives.
"Once you get same-sex marriage, then it becomes hard to stop any other aspect of the gay agenda," he told BP. "That's the part that people are forgetting."
Religious freedoms already have been set back in Canada in recent years. In 2002 an Ontario court ruled that a Toronto printer violated the human rights code when he refused to print stationery for a homosexual activist group. He was fined $5,000. In another case, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission fined a man $4,500 for running a newspaper advertisement condemning homosexuality. The ad included biblical references.
Because of the fear of fines, Focus on the Family's radio programs occasionally must have references to homosexuality edited out before they are broadcast. Christian television also keeps an eye on its programming.
And it's getting worse. Last year, Canada's Parliament passed a bill placing "sexual orientation" in the criminal code classes protected against hate speech. The bill is now law.
"Clearly, the government and judiciary in Canada are poised to rule in favor of gay rights over rights to express religious convictions," Kermit Rainman, social research analyst for Focus on the Family, told BP. "From this point, it is a small step for the government to require churches to perform same-sex marriages against their belief systems. The situation here in the U.S. is not far behind what we are seeing in Canada and should cause every evangelical Christian and social conservative great concern."
Clemenger said too many people have a narrow view of religious freedom, seeing it simply as the ability to worship freely on Sunday morning. But religious freedom extends to all of life, including the workplace, he said. If "gay marriage" is legalized in all of Canada, then religious freedom will be in even greater danger, he said.
"Once gay marriage is legalized ... then there will be a tendency to say, 'Well, these are now legal family norms, and they should be taught as being acceptable within public schools.' Then, the question is, what would happen to public school teachers who have moral disagreement with that position? Would they be able to abstain or to opt out and not teach that section?"
LaBarbera said that even if the complaint is dismissed, homosexual activists will have accomplished much.
"Let's say they throw it out," he said. "Well, that church has still been put through the trauma of a case. The gay lobby is going to get what it wants through intimidation. You don't have to win the lawsuit, because how many churches even want to have a lawsuit?
"But people start to self-censor, which has already been happening all across Canada. And it's happening in the United States, too. They don't have to win these cases. I think the other side likes to bring the cases."
But LaBarbera said the lawsuits are not unique to Canada. He mentioned the case of the Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, which was sued for firing a lesbian employee. A federal judge upheld the firing. LaBarbera added he believes homosexual activists in America are disingenuous when they make their case for "gay marriage."
"I just take it with a grain of salt when they say they're going to preserve the right of churches not to marry homosexuals," LaBarbera said. "They know that that's a loser right now, so they talk about this idea of civil marriage.
"If there was no record of homosexuals going after Christian institutions, that would be one thing. But they actually are very aggressive."
For information about the national debate over "gay marriage" visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage