Toronto, Canada, Jan 26, 2021 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A Catholic student who said his university’s newspaper wrongly fired him for his critical views of homosexuality and transgenderism has filed a claim in a Canadian human rights tribunal, saying he was wrongly discriminated against.
Jonathan Bradley, a 21-year-old fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University in Toronto, was cut from The Eyeopener in June 2020 after a former student posted to Twitter a three-year-old private discussion on religion, homosexuality, and transgender people in the military.
The Eyeopener is an independent student newspaper, owned and operated by a non-profit company itself operated by the students of Ryerson University. The university has about 44,000 undergraduates, and most of its students pay a levy to cover the newspaper’s operation and costs.
Bradley’s lawyer Carol Crosson said the case’s outcome could affect all employees at risk of employer action for social media posts. Canadian law treats volunteers the same as employees. She voiced hope that the legal authorities will rule against employers that punish individuals for their comments both in and outside of the workplace, Canadian Catholic News reports.
“If we in society are punished for conversation between individuals in our workplace, that’s a slippery slope that we dare not approach,” Crosson said. “The right to free speech in society, and to disseminate our beliefs, is crucial. It’s crucial for a functioning democracy. Should it be that individuals are punished for their conversations, that really goes against the foundational freedoms that we have in society. It puts a chill on speech, even past speech.”
Crosson voiced hope that the legal authorities would not “agree with the punishment of individuals who are having conversations outside their workplace.”
Bradley has filed a legal claim with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal seeking $20,000 in general damages, reinstatement as a contributing writer, and a mandate for the paper to “develop and implement non-discriminatory policies and procedures,” Canadian Catholic News reports.
The Eyeopener denied Bradley’s charges of discrimination.
“We strongly refute the applicant’s allegations of discrimination. Nonetheless, we will honor the (human rights tribunal) processes at this time and not comment further,” the newspaper said in a statement.
Bradley had previously drawn a rebuke from an Eyeopener editor after he criticized diversity, inclusion, and equity offices and events at universities, including a Ryerson University event, in a March 2, 2020 opinion piece at another outlet, the conservative news and commentary outlet Post Millennial.
On June 3 of last year a former classmate of Bradley, who also objected to the opinion piece, posted to Twitter screenshots of private messages with Bradley from 2017. In that discussion, the classmate objected to Bradley’s views on homosexuality and transgenderism and asked him to delete his public Twitter post.
The classmate published the exchange and tagged the newspaper and Bradley on Twitter. The classmate said Bradley was a “bigot” who has “tweeted blatantly homophobic and transphobic things.”
“In 2017, he point blank said that homosexuality is a sin. I called him out publicly and messaged him privately and this was what happened. You need to do better!” the classmate told the Eyeopener on Twitter.
Screenshots of the 2017 private exchange show Bradley’s responses in a discussion that included religion, sexual ethics, and free speech.
“I don’t see how my comments are homophobic or transphobic, as that is what the Bible teaches,” said Bradley, who said he has family members in the LGBT community. “I hate that people freak out when someone says something that the Bible made clear. I want people to remember that they can be forgiven for any sin, no matter how serious, as long as they repent. Do you get what I’m saying?”
His correspondent said it was “homophobic” to publicize his belief, adding, “the world we live in is secular, especially living in Canada, and that needs to be respected. You can worship God and believe being LGBTQ+ is a sin all you want, just don’t publicly say it.”
“We’ve come to the point where we think we have to accept everything,” Bradley replied. “Freedom of speech is being suppressed, as different opinions are shut down… I was expressing my opinion that’s tied up with my religion. People are afraid to express their views for being told that they are ‘offensive.’ We’re heading towards a dictatorship because people can’t express the religion of the majority of the population without being told it’s wrong.
When the discussion was re-posted publicly in June 2020, Bradley commented on Twitter:
“Was this a gotcha moment or arising out of extreme boredom?” he asked. “If you read my messages correctly, you would see I’m quoting what the Bible says. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, including the Bible.”
On June 9 Catherine Abes, editor-in-chief of Eyeopener, sent Bradley an email saying the contributing journalist was fired, the Canadian news site True North News reports.
She cited “screenshots of a conversation in which you defended the notion that homosexuality as well as being transgender is considered a sin.”
“I see that you have tweeted this sentiment in the past and also defended it in the present day,” she said.
Abes said the publication has a responsibility to ensure that its community, including sources, contributors, readers, and editors, “feel safe and comfortable in working with The Eyeopener and coming into our space.”
“I fear that since you’ve made your opinion public, members of our community, especially queer, trans and non-binary folks, would no longer feel safe if you are associated with the publication,” she said in a June 9 email.
“It’s for these reasons that I’ve come to the decision that you can no longer contribute to The Eyeopener.”
Bradley’s use of the term “homosexuality” has also drawn some comment. In common usage, it can describe sexual orientation, sexual acts, or both.
Moral theologian Doris Kieser of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta told Canadian Catholic News that in Catholic thought “homosexual behaviors are considered sinful but the orientation itself is not.”
Crosson said courts or tribunals do not determine the accuracy or completeness of Bradley’s understanding of the Catholic faith. Crosson said Bradley needs to demonstrate “sincerity of belief.”
“The test for sincerity of belief from the Supreme Court (of Canada) is a very wide test that grants deference to the adherent,” she said. “There’s an assumption that sincerity of belief is valid. I don’t foresee that as being a problem in his claim.”
In a similar controversy Jack Denton, a Florida State University student was removed from his role as student senate president after comments in a private chat group for Catholic students which were subsequently circulated to a member of the senate. The comments expressed concerns that policy positions of certain groups, such as the ACLU and BlackLivesMatter.com, contradicted Church teaching on abortion, marriage, sexuality, and policing. He cautioned students to be aware of those positions before they donated to the groups.
He was subsequently accused of transphobia and racism by fellow students and, after a first vote of no-confidence failed, he was removed in another vote of the student senate in June 2020.
Denton filed suit against the student senate’s decision in both the university court and in federal court.
A federal court ruled that Denton’s claim of a violation of his free speech rights had a likelihood of success, and ordered the university to pay Denton for six hours of work a week, for the remainder of what would have been his term as student senate president. The court did not order his reinstatement.
The student court reinstated him in October, agreeing the action was unconstitutional retaliation for his private statements in the Catholic Student Union group chat, expressing his religious beliefs, actions protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Denton’s federal case is ongoing. University officials have not disputed the facts of the case, but have challenged whether they are legally liable.
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