On Free Speech and Hate Speech
Late last month, the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled that an anti-gay letter written by Stephen Boisson, a former member of the Concerned Christian Coalition, violated provincial human rights codes.
Now, I wrote about what I thought about the case when it was brought in front of the commission, and clarified those thoughts a little a few weeks later in a very special mail bag segment. Now that the case is concluded, I thought I’d share some more thoughts.
I’m not sure how easily understood this is unless you are one of the people threatened by the letter, but being called “as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps” and then having a call to action issued against you as open-ended as “take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness [of the] homosexual machine” is scary. Unlike Boisson, I firmly believe that being gay is neither a choice nor an alterable trait and support activism that seeks equal rights grounded by this view. From this perspective, the letter is somewhat of a doom sentence. If my “wickedness” can’t be reversed, what remaining steps are left to stop me? Would anyone take the letter’s instruction to heart? Perhaps someone did, as a violent anti-gay attack occurred two days after the letter was published.
But what about from Boisson’s perspective? He doesn’t believe gay people exist: only straight sinners. Did he really call for the violence that occurred after his letter’s publication? There’s only circumstantial evidence linking the two, though the letter probably helped foster an environment where a physical attack was considered an appropriate action by the perpetrators.
Here’s the tricky thing. The letter was strongly worded, but vague—a meticulously constructed plan to assert territory in a legal grey area. Whether or not it calls for outright hatred and violence depends on the reader’s interpretation.
Ethically speaking, should the letter have been written? Absolutely not. It was an unnecessary and consequential assertion; a total confusion of one’s right to do something and the right thing to do.
Should one be fined for writing such a sufficiently vague letter, though? I’m still conflicted—not that it matters much. The issue has been decided, hasn’t it?