Teacher Punished On Homosexual Issue Continues Fight For Free Speech
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — British Columbia public school teacher Chris Kempling isn't done fighting the war on the immorality of homosexuality — yet. But he is running out of options in his fight against a mindset that appears to be gaining ground.
That mindset, in the eyes of some, appears to equate Christian moral discourse with intolerance. And there are signs that it is taking root in the United States as well.
Kempling, a few years ago, wrote letters to the editor of his local newspaper pointing out the mental and physical health risks of homosexual activity. The provincial College of Teachers, the professional body that licenses and disciplines public school teachers in British Columbia — said he was guilty of unprofessional conduct.
Saying Kempling brought the teaching profession into disrepute throughdiscriminatory comments at odds with the pluralistic, tolerant values of the college, the body suspended his teaching license for one month.
Kempling, a 49-year-old father of three, lost two subsequent appeals.
On June 13, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, in a unanimous decision, endorsed the suspension.
“I am now applying for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Kempling remarked. “I'm not giving up.”
Kempling, an experienced teacher and counselor with a doctorate in psychology, added: “Even though I'm an evangelical Protestant, my most committed supporters are generally Catholics.”
And small wonder: Due to the twists and turns of Canada's history, Catholic schools in several provinces are fully or partially funded by taxes, making them vulnerable to human rights complaints.
“It's a worrisome development,” admitted Paul Schratz, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, noting several recent human-rights rulings have turned the movement for homosexual rights from “what was once a cry for tolerance into the exact opposite.”
In Ontario recently, the courts forced a Catholic school to allow a homosexual senior to bring his boyfriend to his graduation dance.
And, of course, the Canadian Senate is poised to ratify Bill C-38 redefining marriage to include homosexual “marriage.”
“These decisions all have an impact,” said Schratz. “Who can say what kind of a chilling effect they will have on what teachers or priests are willing to say in public?”
But the British Columbia Supreme Court and now the Court of Appeal have ruled that the right of homosexual students to a discrimination-free public-school environment has been violated by Kempling's remarks and supersedes his own rights.
“These statements demonstrated that Mr. Kempling is committed to fulfilling his public and professional responsibilities in an intolerant and discriminatory manner,” the appeal judgment stated. “Proof that he had actually discriminated against a particular student, or evidence of a poisoned school environment, was not required to prove that the school system had sustained harm.”
Among Kempling's published comments cited by the judges as proof of his discrimination is this: “I refuse to be a false teacher saying that promiscuity is acceptable, perversion is normal, and immorality is simply ‘cultural diversity’ of which we should be proud.”
While the College of Teachers would not comment on the decision until the 60-day appeal period has expired, Murray Mollard, executive director of British Columbia's Civil Liberties Association, which backed the college in this case, said, “We've always opposed censorship, but we've also maintained there have to be limits on freedom of expression.”
The limit, according to Mollard's reading of the court ruling, was crossed when Kempling indicated his judgments about homosexuality would influence his conduct as a public school counselor.
Mollard believes provisions in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedom protecting religion would cover Christian schools, which teach traditional sexual morality. However, only recently (July 11), the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal agreed to hear a complaint against the provincial Ministry of Education that the curriculum discriminated against homosexuals by ignoring them. Catholic schools in the province receive half their funding from the ministry in return for teaching the public school curriculum.
Meanwhile, a Knights of Columbus council faces a complaint with the same Human Rights Tribunal for refusing to rent its hall for a lesbian “wedding” reception. Mollard suggested the Knights’ chance of success would be strengthened by evidence of a consistent policy of refusing service to other transgressors of Catholic moral teaching, such as people remarrying after divorce. If they've singled out homosexuals, it's likelier to be judged discrimination.
Philip Horgan of the Toronto-based Catholic Civil Rights League, which intervened on Kempling's behalf in the recent case, said that the teacher hurt his case by failing to appear at the initial hearing of the College of Teachers, so he was unable to argue the truth of his opinions in his appeals. The college's initial assessment that his views were intolerant went unchallenged. The only issue was whether charter provisions for religion and freedom of thought permitted his “intolerance.”
Commented Horgan, “What seems to have been lost here is that one can hate the sin and love the sinner.”
That distinction is also being blurred in the United States. In Montpelier, Vt., a Catholic couple that provides wedding services at their family-run motel has been the target of a complaint to the state Human Rights Commission. Their offense: informing a prospective lesbian client that their religious beliefs would make it difficult to put their hearts into their event.
And in Northbrook, Ill., Allstate Insurance fired J. Matt Barber for writing an online column attacking same-sex “marriage.” Barber had written the column on his own time and without mentioning that he was employed by the insurance company.
“What is happening,” said Kempling, “is an effective muzzling of any expression of faith in public school teachers, social workers, pharmacists or any regulated professional. But I'm going to keep fighting for the cause of the Christian public square to the best of my ability.”
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.
- July 24-August 6, 2005