When does expressing a belief or opinion become hate speech?
Might declaring that “salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone” be considered anti-Semitic or Islamophobic speech? Might teaching that “marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman” be considered homophobic speech? Are they “hate speech”?
Of course not!
Canadians live in a vibrant, multicultural and multi-faith society, with a diversity of beliefs and opinions. This diversity means we will not always share similar views or attitudes on many issues. It is vital that we distinguish between hate speech and speech that just expresses dissent, disagreement or critique, no matter how strongly.
Our Charter guarantees the freedom of religion, conscience, thought, belief, opinion and expression for all Canadians. These fundamental freedoms are foundational to any free and democratic society and must be respected and upheld, even when the beliefs or opinions expressed are unpopular or controversial.
At the same time, these rights are subject to reasonable limits. For example, we must draw a clear and firm line at expressions of hate and the incitement of violence against any person or group. We must not permit the use and propagation of hateful words and slurs that seek to dehumanize members of an identifiable group – distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability – or that threaten, incite, advocate or justify violence towards them.
Violence attributed to online hate speech has been increasing worldwide. Many concerned groups are now pushing their governments and the social media giants to “do something.”
In Canada, the number of reported hate crimes has increased since 2009 – including a 47% increase between 2016 and 2017. This, coupled with the use of online platforms to promote hatred, has led several groups, including the EFC, to urge Parliament to study this issue and to develop a Canada-wide strategy to combat online hate. We pushed for a national discussion on online hate that carefully considers what constitutes hatred and the relationship between hate speech and violence.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was tasked with conducting a study on online hate. It heard from nearly five dozen witnesses this spring. The EFC was one of many groups that made a written submission to the Committee.
In June 2019, the Committee tabled its report in the House of Commons. The report highlighted the main concerns raised during this study and examined how potential amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Criminal Code or any other Act might help stem the propagation of hateful acts and the enticement of hate.
Why is it important for the EFC to be involved in the ongoing discussions on this crucial issue?
Because we believe that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). We must protect the right of Evangelicals to be able to continue expressing biblical truths in the public square without such teachings being branded as hate speech. Moreover, without these freedoms, the task of proclaiming the Gospel and passing on our faith to the next generation could one day be seriously hindered.
We are also involved because we believe that every person is created by God, in His image, and is loved by Him. This compels us to oppose practices that devalue human life and to uphold the dignity of every person. Because our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Prov. 18:21), we believe that hate — and especially online hate that incites people to commit heinous acts against other human beings — is both an urgent public safety issue and a fundamental human rights issue. We all have a responsibility to fight against hate because no group should feel unsafe or be subjected to calls to violence, hatred or genocide.
Jesus said, “… by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37)
And finally, we are involved because at stake is the potential loss of free expression that allows for the healthy discussion and debate of policy, ideas and beliefs – for the good of all Canadians.
We are deeply concerned that violence that’s linked to online expressions of hate might become the “norm” in Canada and around the world. Will you support the EFC in our ongoing work to combat this serious problem? Will you support us as we prepare for further dialogue to address online hate? Please make a donation today!
As always, your prayers and financial gifts in support of the EFC are greatly appreciated. We thank God for you and your partnership in our Kingdom work!
Executive Vice-President & Resident Theologian