Canadian bill threatens free expression of religious opinion

A new bill amending Canada’s Criminal Code to remove the defence of “religious exemptions” to hate speech provisions within the Code represents a concerning threat for the future of religious freedom in the country.

Critics of the bill are concerned that it will pave the way for the arrest and prosecution of Christians for simply quoting portions of the Bible in public or preaching against certain sins.

Currently, under the Code, it is an offence to incite hatred or wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group. However a person will not be convicted of an offence if, in good faith, the person “expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text”.

It is this exemption that the Bill seeks to remove.

This is an extremely concerning development.

While the Bible provides guidance, wisdom, and spiritual nourishment for millions of Canadians, for others, its message clashes with their personal beliefs and ideologies, prompting attempts to suppress and censor those who publicly proclaim or support its teachings.

The proposed removal of the "religious exemption" in the Canadian Criminal Code would effectively criminalise expressions rooted in religious beliefs, paving the way for a chilling effect on freedom of speech. No longer would Canadians be free to articulate their sincerely held religious convictions without fear of reprisal or persecution.

The Bill has been dubbed the “Closet the Christians Bill” by critics, who argue  “that is exactly what it intends to do – put Christians in the closet”.

David Brooke, campaign manager for the Campaign Life Coalition argues that the Bill is dangerous, because “under threat of jail-time, it will silence believers who oppose the woke ideology that is overrunning our country”.

The purported rationale behind Bill C-367 – the need to address antisemitic demonstrations –  falls short of justifying such extreme measures, given that existing laws already prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence. According to critics, this proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled assault on religious freedom. It represents a triumph of identity rights over fundamental freedoms including speech and religion.

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws similarly frame the right to religious freedom and expression as ‘exemptions’ to anti-discrimination laws. The current debate in Canada illustrates the problems inherent in providing freedom of religion in the form of ‘exemptions’ to other rights. These exemptions are always vulnerable to being removed by legislatures, leaving Christians no defence when centuries old teachings and Bible passages are interpreted as ‘hateful’.