Christians Facing Prosecution for Comments
By Father John Flynn
LONDON, OCT. 8, 2006 (Zenit.org).- In many countries speaking out publicly against homosexuality leads to serious legal problems. And in the battle under way to protect freedom of speech for Christians to express their beliefs, the future is far from clear.
A recent victory in Britain saw legal charges against Stephen Green dropped, the Telegraph newspaper reported Sept. 29. Green was arrested by police in early September after handing out pamphlets at a "Mardi Gras" homosexual festival in Cardiff, Wales. The pamphlet contained Bible verses about homosexuality. During a hearing before a magistrate's court last week, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it would not proceed with charges.
A Sept. 6 report in the Daily Mail newspaper quoted police as saying Green had not been violent or aggressive. His only offense was distributing the pamphlet. The article noted it was the latest in a series of police actions regarding opposition to homosexuality. Writer Lynette Burrows was warned about a "homophobic incident" after she suggested on a BBC Radio Five Live program that homosexuals did not make ideal adoptive parents.
A Christian couple in Lancashire were warned after they complained about their local council's policies in favor of homosexual rights. And police in London investigated Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a former leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, after he said in an interview that homosexuality was harmful.
Police behavior regarding homosexuality was questioned by the Christian Institute in a press release dated Sept. 22. While action against Green was pending, the group noted that the Gay Police Association will not be prosecuted for publishing an advertisement that accused Christians of violent assaults on homosexuals. More than 40,000 complaints by the public were made about the advertisement, according to the Christian Institute.
The Green case could soon be followed by many others, if pending regulations proposed by the British government are approved. The Sexual Orientation Regulations would, among other provisions, make discrimination against homosexuals illegal.
In a commentary published Oct. 2 in the Telegraph, Philip Johnston noted that the regulations were being introduced at the insistence of the European Union. After a process of consultation, which saw strong opposition from religious groups, the government will now consider whether to modify the proposed regulations.
One of the problems involved, observed Johnston, is the conflict of rights. Christians argue for their right to express views based on their religious beliefs, while homosexual groups want any opposition silenced on the grounds of prohibiting discrimination. "These are the murky waters that we enter when we seek to enshrine more and more 'rights' in legislation," Johnston concluded.
The proposed regulations came under strong fire from Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien. In a homily to parliamentarians delivered June 14, he warned that the rules are "a threat to freedom of conscience" and "to religious freedom."
The cardinal's words were delivered right at the heart of the British Parliament, in a crypt at the House of Commons.
"Laws which are passed by any human authority must always respect the dignity of the human person and each person's integrity of conscience, whether that is a conscience formed by Christian principles or any other belief system," Cardinal O'Brien insisted. "The role of the state is overreached when it tramples legitimate moral freedoms and when it imposes values which are without rational and sociological merit."
This lack of freedom was illustrated by a recent case in Scotland. Nine firefighters from Strathclyde were disciplined after refusing to hand out safety leaflets at a "gay pride" march, the Guardian reported Sept. 1. The march took place in June. As punishment, the firefighters were ordered to undergo intensive "diversity training." One of the men was reduced in rank, consequently losing around 5,000 pounds ($9,400) in salary.
Writing in the Sunday Herald on Sept. 3, Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow explained that while homosexuals, along with all other groups, should be given fire-safety advice, the place to do this is not at a carnival-type festival. The firefighters, he noted, were aware that by going to the event they "would be subjected to cat-calls, inappropriate comments and, for some of them, gross insults to their religious beliefs."
The archbishop said that the real reason for handing out the material at the march "was not to offer life-saving advice to the individuals present -- it was to enable the brigade as an institution to be seen as tolerant, 'embracing diversity' and politically correct." The tolerance, however, did not extend to the firefighters' beliefs.
Similar risks exist in the United States. Robert J. Smith, a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, lost his job after arguing on a local cable show that homosexuality amounted to "sexual deviancy."
According to the June 16 edition of the Baltimore Sun newspaper, Governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. fired Smith. Ehrlich described Smith's remarks as "inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable," and as being "in direct conflict to my administration's commitment to inclusiveness, tolerance and opportunity."
After his dismissal Smith, a Catholic, argued he had a right to express his opinion. His comments took place during a talk show that included the topic of homosexual marriage.
In California, meanwhile, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law making it illegal for state-funded service providers, such as police and fire departments and universities, to discriminate against homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered persons.
Christian groups, along with others, criticized the move, saying it threatens religious colleges, day care centers and nonprofit organizations, the Washington Times reported Aug. 31. Groups that have government contracts or receive funding from the state, now run the risk of having to accept homosexual, bisexual or transsexual employees.
A victory, for now
In Canada, Christians earlier this year won a long-running battle for freedom of religious speech. The National Post newspaper on April 17 reported that a three-judge panel of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the judgment in the case of Hugh Owens. A Christian, he previously was convicted of the crime of placing newspaper ads citing Bible passages against homosexuality.
In 1997 Owens put an ad in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix in a personal response to ads celebrating "Gay Pride Week." He was found guilty of violating Saskatchewan's human rights code, even though it contains exemptions for religious belief and free speech. The April ruling, however, was far from a clear victory, commented the National Post. The court hinted that in today's circumstances, with greater legal rights for homosexuals, such an ad might not be allowed.
In fact, a pastoral letter from Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary expressed concern over threats to Christians opposing homosexuality. In his letter, dated Sept. 6, Bishop Henry encouraged Catholics to speak out against the legal changes last year to allow same-sex marriages.
"The homosexual life-style must now be treated as wholesome and legitimate, when in reality it is unwholesome and immoral," he said. "Freedom of speech is threatened for those who oppose same-sex 'marriage' in public." And civil servants who have refused to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies have been dismissed.
In an address to bishops from the Ontario province of Canada, Benedict XVI warned of a dramatic split between the Gospel and contemporary culture. In his Sept. 8 speech the Pope noted how in the name of "tolerance, … your country has had to endure the folly of the redefinition of spouse."
"Democracy succeeds only to the extent that it is based on truth and a correct understanding of the human person," the Pontiff explained. Catholics involved in politics and civic life "cannot compromise on this principle," he added. Those principles may likely face further battles.