A student journalist at Toronto’s Ryerson University is claiming damages from the school’s volunteer student newspaper, saying he was kicked off the paper’s roster of writers for his Catholic beliefs.
Fourth-year journalism student Jonathan Bradley is asking for $20,000 in general damages, reinstatement as a contributing writer and for the paper to “develop and implement non-discriminatory policies and procedures” in his application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
Bradley got in trouble with his editors at the Eyeopener student newspaper when a fellow student complained about statements he had made in the course of an exchange on Twitter in 2017, during which he said he believed homosexuality and transgenderism are a sin.
The student flagged the exchange to Eyeopener editors after Bradley published a March 2, 2020 opinion piece in the conservative online outlet Post Millennial.
In the piece, Bradley criticized equity, diversity and inclusion offices at universities and called campus social justice week events “crazy.”
“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,” the editors told him in a June 9 e-mail terminating the paper’s relationship with him.
They also disinvited Bradley to pub nights, meetings and other gatherings with Eyeopener volunteers.
In an e-mailed statement, the Eyeopener said, “We strongly refute the applicant’s allegations of discrimination. Nonetheless, we will honour the HRTO processes at this time and not comment further.”
“If we in society are punished for conversation between individuals in our workplace, that’s a slippery slope that we dare not approach,” said Bradley’s lawyer, Carol Crosson. “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.”
The Church does not teach that homosexuality is a sin, pointed out moral theologian Doris Kieser of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta. “Homosexual behaviours are considered sinful but the orientation itself is not.”
It’s not the job of the courts or tribunal adjudicators to determine how accurate or complete Bradley’s understanding of Catholic teaching may or may not be, said Crosson.
“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.”
Crosson said Bradley’s case could be groundbreaking for all employees who might face employer sanctions for social media posts. Under the law, volunteers are considered equivalent to employees, she said.
“I would maintain that what happened with Mr. Bradley is a road not yet taken by our courts and adjudicators. Hopefully, it will be a road they do not decide to go down — to agree with the punishment of individuals who are having conversations outside their workplace,” she said.