Monday, August 28, 2006

Morton's Talking Points

The resurrection of Ted Morton's obnoxious Bill 208 has, of course, brought forth a series of right-wing talking points about how "good people" are being "dragged before human rights tribunals and the courts", "being fired from their jobs", etc. ostensibly "just beccause they expressed an opinion" contrary to public policy.

Of course, there's really only a handful of cases that they are referring to, and in reality only one of them is even remotely related to the issue of SGM itself.

Case #1: Chris Kempling

Twisted Assertion: Kempling was fired for expressing an opinion contrary to public policy.

The Reality: Kempling was suspended from his job as Teacher and Counsellor for more than just that. Kempling was repeatedly writing hostile "letters to the editor", as well as advertising "cures" for homosexuality through his "therapy" business on the side.

Even if Morton's legislation were still in force, Kempling would have found himself answerable to a number of questions - starting with creating an environment in the school which is implicitly hostile to gay students.

Further, Kempling has pushed his case through the courts system and repeatedly lost decision after decision.

If Kempling were simply operating a private counselling service and making those claims, that would be one thing; however, he was also a guidance counsellor at the local school, and as such had a fairly high profile both within the school and the community.

Since the school clearly has obligations to all of its students, one of its staff running about making claims that are obviously going to make a part of the student body extremely uncomfortable dealing with him is detrimental to the school's overall responsibilities.

Case #2: Scott Brockie

Brockie refused to print materials for a Gay/Lesbian organization. In other words, Brockie did the classic "we don't serve your kind" routine when he found out that his client was a G/L organization. Turning this one on its ear a bit, what would Brockie have done had he walked into a G/L owned business and found himself refused service because of his religion? A quick check of Brockie's business website provides no clue that he runs it on "strict born-again christian" principles.

As with the Kempling case, Brockie did more than just express an opinion. In this case, he chose to deny service based on that opinion. {Which, by the way, is one of the things that Morton's law could be interpreted as permitting}

Case #3: Bishop Henry

Bishop Henry's case is still ongoing, as two separate complaints were filed.

Notably, the first complaint was resolved/dropped following a conciliation meeting between the Bishop and the complainant.

The second complaint is still pending, and as such is subject to an assortment of confidentiality issues.

Personally, I think that Bishop Henry's letter steps somewhat beyond the normal bounds for "pastoral letters" - at least the examples I've found on the web tend to be much more oriented towards the interpretation of scripture with respect to an issue, rather than outright calls for political action.

However, even though I disagree with what the Bishop wrote on the subject, I am willing to respect the fact that the first complaint has been dropped (and I suspect that the second complaint will die quietly).

Case #4: Knights of Columbus in B.C.

This case arose after the KofC cancelled a booking made by a lesbian couple to celebrate their wedding.

The end result was a split ruling. The KofC was penalized for breaking a contract, but their right to not rent their facilities to future gay or lesbian couples was upheld.

Now, you might look and say that this is similar to the Brockie case, but there is a key distinction here. The KofC is clearly a religious organization affiliated with the Catholic Church. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to get the picture that they might have some objections to celebration of gay weddings. (In fact, I'm surprised the couple approached the KofC in the first place - but that's my own sensibility speaking) Brockie is running a commercial enterprise with no indication whatsoever of any religious affiliation.

Again, the KofC situation is not merely a matter of someone "expressing an opinion", and I think that's quite important to recognize here. In this case, a contract was agreed to, and then subsequently broken.

[Update: 07/12/06]:
There is subpoint to this one wandering about the conservative blogosphere. It seems that several people don't believe that the BC tribunal actually said that the KofC had a right to refuse services to a Gay couple based on their religious affiliation and beliefs. I refer you to Paragraph 120 of the Decision itself which reads:

Although we have accepted that the Knights could refuse access to the Hall to the complainants because of their core religious beliefs, in the Panel’s view, in making this decision they had to consider the effect their actions would have on the complainants. In the circumstances of this case, the Knights could not simply act in a manner that adversely affected the rights of the complainants to be free from discrimination without considering the effect that would have on the complainants’ right to access a public service particularly because they had already agreed to rent the Hall to the complainants.



In four cases, we see a 50/50 split, where some complaints are seen to have merit, and others are dismissed (or ruled against) on the lack of merits. Both the Kempling and Brockie cases have been through the courts systems on a variety of appeals.

It should be noted that in the Kempling case, Kempling tried to argue the "religious discrimination" suit, and the argument was found lacking in light of his other actions.

With the exception of Bishop Henry, not one of the cases cited is "simply" a matter of someone expressing a religiously based opinion. They involve either denial of services or the creation of a hostile environment.

Bishop Henry's case is unique in that his "pastoral letter" just "happened" to be published widely on a number of internet sites before it was to be read out to congregations in Calgary. His choice of wording is certainly questionable, and the highly political tone of the letter is unusual. Since one of the two complaints is still pending, we will just have to sit back and see what due process turns up.

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