An Act to Silence Christians -- and All Free Speech

by Dr. Stephen Baskerville
October 26, 2010

The attack on Christianity taking place throughout the Western world is not limited to cultural polemics.  It is crossing the line into legislation that will silence not only Christians but all speech to which anyone objects.  A little-known Directive now pending behind closed doors in the European Union (EU) will, if adopted, potentially enable anyone objecting to Christian beliefs to sue Christians or anyone else to whose views they object. 

The proposed Equal Treatment Directive is a blanket order now under consideration by the EU which may soon be issued to European governments prohibiting “discrimination” and “harassment” virtually by anyone against anyone.  Within its pages of impenetrable legalese exists no provision requiring accusers to actually prove their accusations; the burden, rather, would fall on the accused to prove their innocence.  Indeed, the document is formulated so that an accusation in itself amounts to a finding of guilt, setting the stage for rich financial rewards for accusers and crushing financial penalties for the accused.

The Directive, to be applied in the ubiquitous realm of EU “goods and services,” includes a number of potential victim groups, sexual ideology being uppermost.  “Sexual orientation” is among the grounds listed for victimization, and anyone offended, for instance, by Christian sexual morality might sue and collect from those expressing it.

Interestingly, this Directive shares its philosophical underpinning with U.S. sexual harassment and domestic violence law, which tend to place the burden of proof on the accused. And as with other measures formulated by sexual ideologues, victim status is determined subjectively: an accuser automatically becomes a “victim” merely by being “offended,” essentially simply by the act of accusing.  Discrimination is defined as being treated by someone “less favourably” than someone else and the determination of whether one has been treated less favourably is made by the one claiming to be a victim.
 
Thus, according to this standard, any accusation is automatically true by definition.  As Professor William Wagner of Thomas Cooley Law School has observed, it will be impossible to defend against an accusation; one is guilty by virtue of being accused. 

Adding to the chilling nature of this Directive are provisions enabling the accuser to demand virtually any amount of money from the accused.  Being offended brings lucrative payoffs, and offending potentially means financial ruin.  Because this creates financial incentives to bring as many accusations as possible, it would prove a windfall for lawyers. 

The Directive also creates new armies of bureaucrats for the express purpose of encouraging complaints and lawsuits, requiring governments to create officials to provide “independent assistance to [alleged?] victims of discrimination in pursuing their complaints.”  As Sophia Kuby of European Dignity Watch reports, these officials will mount legal challenges in the names of the victims and assume the legal costs.  No similar officials exist, however, to protect the accused.  The Directive would even allow private groups to mount legal action on behalf of accusers.  “Any NGO [nongovernmental organization], who has the necessary financial power, could henceforth accuse alleged offenders and appear in court as complainant although the presumed discriminatory behavior is not directly related to them,” observes Kuby.  Since such groups could then figure their own “costs” into the inevitable award, this could conceivably become a risk-free invitation to loot Christians or anyone else whose views are deemed “offensive.”

The vagueness of the Directive, moreover, makes it difficult to know if one has violated it.  “The ambiguous language…fails to provide the public with adequate notice of the kind of conduct that is prohibited,” writes Christian Concern (CC).  If citizens cannot determine what is prohibited, they cannot know if they have transgressed.  Under these intentionally vague standards, everyone is potentially guilty.

Especially insidious is a provision on “harassment,” taken directly from the concept of sexual harassment, which it broadens to make even more vague and subjective.  Harassment is defined as anything having “the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.”  This allows an accusation merely for expressing something the accuser perceives as creating an “offensive environment.”  Criticizing homosexual conduct, even in the abstract, could be considered harassment of individual accusers (the number of which are potentially limitless).

The Directive also penalizes discrimination based on “age” but gives no guidelines for what this means.  Because it can include children, it further undermines the authority and rights of parents.

With audacious irony, the measure also purports to protect “religious belief,” but this is inverted to mean not freedom to express one’s beliefs but freedom to sue others for expressing their beliefs.  As Kuby explains, “explanation of one’s religious tenets to a person of another faith could also be interpreted as harassment.”

As is often the case with radical ideology, this proposed Directive creates precisely the problem it claims to be combating.  A measure advertised to protect religious freedom will destroy it.  If anyone is creating an intimidating and hostile environment, it is the EU, and if anyone is to be harassed it will likely be Christians and others who express views that the EU ultimately defines as “unpopular.”  As noted by Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, “Rather than protecting people against harassment, the harassment provisions become nothing less than a license to harass those who disagree with one’s views.”  One could argue that the first action under this Directive should be a suit by Christians against the European Union.

The very method by which this measure is being considered reflects a culture of censorship.  It is being negotiated in secret at the EU, and requests for documents by Christian Concern have been denied.

In the final analysis, Christian Concern’s apparently apocalyptic scenario may prove not to be far-fetched:  “Those with an anti-Christian agenda will wield a weapon capable of extinguishing Christian expression in Europe.” A letter-writing campaign against the EU’s Directive has been launched by Christian Concern. To participate or to learn more about how to effectively respond, go to Christian Concern for our Nation.

Stephen Baskerville is associate professor of government at Patrick Henry College and author of Taken Into Custody: The War Against Fathers, Marriage, and the Family (Cumberland House, 2007).  He is working on a book on sexual politics.