Religious freedom on trial
Scott Brockie’s legal challenge to an Ontario Human Rights Commission ruling against him has received a significant boost with the announcement that an inter-faith coalition of groups has been formed to intervene in support of his case.
The Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance, comprised of the Christian Legal Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Catholic Civil Rights League, filed a factum August 17 in the Brillinger v. Brockie matter, which is scheduled to be heard in Ontario Divisional Court Dec. 5-7.
“It’s great. It’s really encouraging to have those guys involved,” the Toronto printer said. “They’ll have an opportunity to make a presentation at the hearings and be an additional voice for people who want to say that their faith and beliefs don’t want to make them involved with (morally objectionable causes).”
In September 1999, Brockie and his business, Imaging Excellence, were found guilty of “discriminatory conduct,” fined $5,000 and ordered to print materials of Ray Brillinger and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, after Brockie’s refusal to do so on moral and religious grounds back in 1996. (Brockie had done printing work for gays and lesbians in the past, but not for their causes.)
Perhaps most disturbingly for Christians, the human rights commission said Brockie’s rights as a Christian were subordinate to those of homosexuals not to be discriminated against. It also said he must restrict the practice of Christianity to his home and church, and not take it with him into the public marketplace.
Despite the 5 1/2-year ordeal, and numerous legal maneuverings, Brockie said he has not been worn down. “You just pray to be a faithful witness, that’s all. I think of believers throughout the world who are undergoing what I would call real persecution, trials and tribulations. This is a minor inconvenience compared to what others are going through … We’re just taking it one step at a time.”
Ruth Ross, executive director of the London, Ont.-based Christian Legal Fellowship, said the directive that Brockie cannot take his faith out into the public marketplace is “an unfair restriction.”
“Mr. Brockie was really expressing his own sense of conviction and conscience about being part of an organization that was promoting an idea or concept that he personally could not abide by because of his own personal faith.”
Her organization is made up of Christian lawyers and other legal professionals from across Canada with the purpose of integrating Christian faith with the practice of law. Although primarily a support, education and networking group, the Christian Legal Fellowship has also intervened in other high-profile legal conflicts, including the Trinity Western University (B.C.) and Vriend (Alberta) cases.
Ross said that this is the first time the larger Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance has worked together and it is uncertain whether the it will continue to work beyond the Brockie case or not. “We felt it was important to reflect a number of different positions. We want the courts and public to see us as forming a fairly significant number and position in society, so we’re not on the fringe. There’s a real force out there that’s concerned about these issues.”
She said the factum developed by the Alliance contains a number of strong arguments. She is confident the court will look at them seriously, especially in the wake of the Trinity Western University case, which was a strong vote in favour of religious freedom in Canada. “Canada is a society that needs to respect freedom in all its aspects. Religion is one of those important items that needs to be protected.”
Ross added that the Alliance would appreciate people’s prayers and financial support as it proceeds with the legal intervention.
The Alliance, in its factum, contends that there can and should be accommodation for conscientious or religious beliefs in human rights legislation. It also argues that the Supreme Court of Canada, in the Trinity Western University case, held that there is no “hierarchy of rights.” When the human rights commission addressed competing rights, the factum says, it should have done so in such a way as to resolve the conflict.
The Alliance also posits that the Ontario Human Rights Code does not protect causes from discrimination, and so Brockie was well within his rights to refuse to do work for a cause that offended his religious beliefs.
“It was not that Brillinger was gay that was the issue. It was the fact that the Archives is identified as promoting the gay and lesbian cause,” it said.
Rory Leishman, an author, national affairs columnist for the London Free Press and a contributor to Catholic Insight magazine, said although he is pleased to see that the Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance has been formed, he believes Brockie is “in serious danger” of ending up in jail as a prisoner of conscience if he stands by his Christian principles.
“All Canadians should be very concerned about the plight of Scott Brockie. Prior to the enactment of the Charter of Rights and human rights commissions, it would have been inconceivable that a court would have changed the law in such a way as to compromise the freedom of religion so that someone like (Brockie) could end up in jail.”
Leishman said human rights commissions are “dangerous” and do more to suppress genuine human rights than to uphold them. “All of us would be more freer and more secure in our rights if those commissions were abolished.”
He harkened to the plight of Hugh Owens in Saskatchewan as another example of human rights commission rulings gone amok. In that case, Owens, an evangelical Christian, was found guilty of violating the “rights” of homosexuals after he took out an advertisement in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix newspaper that simply quoted Bible verses condemning homosexuality, and included an illustration of two stick-figure men holding hands with a slash drawn through them. Owens is appealing that ruling as well.
Mayors in Hamilton and London, Ont. have been found guilty and penalized by human rights commissions after they refused to proclaim “gay pride days” in their cities.
“It’s just mind-boggling that these things are happening in Canada,” said Leishman. “Unless Canadians who uphold historic principles of freedom under the law get behind people like (Brockie), there will be no stopping these ever-more-alarming restrictions on our freedoms.”
Leishman, who recently completed a book on judicial activism and is arranging for its publication, added that he is becoming increasingly pessimistic about the future because Canadians are so complacent. “They don’t really care. They think they’re safe from the arbitrary rule of judicial activists … They have adjusted their thinking to the heresy of court-defined human rights that fly in the face of more than 2,000 years of Judeo-Christian teaching …
“Arbitrary rule by a judge is no better than any other arbitrary rule by a dictator. I’m afraid most Canadians aren’t going to wake up until it’s too late.”
For his part, Brockie is soldiering on, with the support of many people in the southern Ontario area through a legal defence fund that has been established by members of his church.
“I’d like to thank people at large who have contributed, because there has been a number of them.”
At this point, he won’t hazard a guess at how the court will rule when the appeal is heard in December.
“Who knows? It’s too hard to say. There’s a long way to go. We’ve been 5 1/2 years into this thing now … I haven’t really thought back over the whole thing and about what ought to change and what should be different.”
Donations to the Scott Brockie Defence Fund can be made at the Royal Bank, branch 3132, 33 City Centre Dr., Mississauga, Ont., L5B 2N5. The account number is 5077219.The Canadian Religious Freedom Alliance’s factum on the case can be accessed on the internet at: www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/pdf/brockiefact.pdf or http://www.christianlegalfellowship.org/Interventions/brockiefactum.html.