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By John-Henry Westen

REGINA, April 13, 2006 ( – One of the most concerning court decisions against religious freedom in Canada has been reversed. The highest court in the province of Saskatchewan has reversed a 2002 decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench which ruled that a man who placed references to Bible verses on homosexuality into a newspaper ad was guilty of inciting hatred.

Hugh Owens adThe December 11, 2002 decision was in response to an appeal of a 2001 Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (HRC) ruling which ordered both the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper and Hugh Owens of Regina to pay $1,500 to three homosexual activists for publishing an ad in the Saskatoon newspaper quoting bible verses regarding homosexuality.Â

The human rights board of inquiry held that Mr. Owens had violated s. 14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. It prohibits the publication or display of a sign or statement which exposes or tends to expose to hatred, or which ridicules, belittles, or otherwise affronts the dignity of persons on the basis of various grounds. One of those grounds is sexual orientation.Â

In 1997, Mr. Owens placed an advertisement in a Saskatoon paper which reflected his religiously-based views on homosexuality.Â

The purpose of the ad was to indicate that the Bible says no to homosexual behaviour. The advertisement displayed references to four Bible passages: Romans 1, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, on the left side. An equal sign (=) was situated in the middle, with a symbol on the right side. The symbol was comprised of two males holding hands with the universal symbol of a red circle with a diagonal bar superimposed over top.

The Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan released its 37 page decision in Hugh Owens v. Saskatchewan today.Â

The ruling stressed that s. 14(1)(b) had to be read and interpreted in a way which respected the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As a result, citing Supreme Court authority, the Court said s. 14(1)(b) must be read as applying only in cases where the message in question involved extreme emotions and strong feelings of detestation, calumny and vilification. The Court also stressed that any message impugned under s. 14(1)(b) must be carefully examined with regard to its full context in order to determine whether the section has been offended.Â

The Court concluded that, although his advertisement was jarring and offensive to many, Mr. Owens had not acted contrary to s. 14(1)(b).

Since the previous court ruling had indicated that the Bible verses themselves expose “homosexuals to hatred”, Christian legal experts were concerned that the Bible itself may be banned due to the passage of the hate propaganda legislation in Canada.

See the full ruling online: