Evangelical Fellowship Defends Religious Speech in Canada

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“Jesus’ command to his disciples found in Matthew 28 compels Christians to public engagement in word and deed. Jesus’ motivation, and that to which he called us, was love of sinner and hatred of sin; separation of the identity of a person from behavior unacceptable according to his teaching,” explained Don Hutchinson to the Supreme Court of Canada on Oct. 12.

Hutchinson is vice president and general legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC). He addressed the court in the Whatcott Religious Speech case.

The Christian Reformed Church in Canada is a member of the EFC, a national association of evangelical Christians.

The EFC has intervener status in the Whatcott case, which involves the expression of religious comment in public policy dialogue.

In 2001 and 2002, William Whatcott distributed flyers to neighborhoods in Saskatoon and Regina, Saskatchewan. Vehement in tone and language against homosexuality, the flyers offended some individuals, who filed complaints with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, which said the flyers contravene the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code and promote hatred.

The hearing at the Supreme Court was the result of multiple appeals, mostly recently before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, which found the flyers to be constitutionally acceptable free expression.

It is that decision that has been appealed by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“While we don’t necessarily condone the language Mr. Whatcott used, we do firmly believe that every Canadian should be and feel at liberty to share their beliefs and participate in the democratic process from a faith-inspired perspective,” continued Hutchinson. “Canada is a multicultural, multi-faith society. To shut out the expression and beliefs of one perspective is to dictate who can and who cannot participate in peaceful public policy dialogue. It would, quite simply, be undemocratic.”

Rev. Bruce Adema, director of Canadian Ministries for the CRC, agreed with Hutchinson. “We will not be flippant about this. We are really glad the EFC is speaking for us and others in the evangelical community in this case, but this is not based on our own deep analysis of the relevant issues. Lots of people will not agree with what Whatcott said, but the EFC raises the important point that in a free society citizens need to be free to express their religious point of view. We have to be careful to protect that right even if we don’t agree with what was said. We support and stand by the EFC and appreciate their representation.”

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