Sportsnet Broadcaster Fired After Opposing Gay Marriage on Twitter
The firing of broadcaster Damian Goddard, who was let go from Sportsnet six months ago, is turning into a test case about religious freedom in Canada and the right to declare those views in public.
Mr. Goddard lost his job after he wrote on Twitter only marriage between a man and a woman is a “true” marriage.
“I do not hate homosexuals,” the devout Roman Catholic said in an interview this week.
“But if I remain silent I am consenting to something I don’t believe in. I have 2,000 years of Christian history backing me up on this. I’m good with that.”
On Wednesday, it was announced Mr. Goddard had been hired as a spokesman for the Marriage Anti-Defamation Alliance, a wing of the National Organization for Marriage, which is working to stop legalizing same-gender marriage in the United States.
Sportsnet has hinted other factors were involved in Mr. Goddard’s termination. But some legal scholars say the issue surrounding the Toronto-based broadcaster — whose case is now with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal — is whether free speech is being eroded by new societal norms.
“In Canada we’ve become far too sanguine about restrictions on speech when in fact we should be encouraging speech, not restricting it,” said Iain Benson, a lawyer whose expertise is constitutional law and religious freedom.
He says the bill that legalized gay marriage in Canada six years ago included several clauses that protected freedom of expression, including this one: “[N]othing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.”
The lawyer, who would not comment directly on Mr. Goddard’s case, said there is now a dangerous atmosphere in Canada in which comments protected under law can be twisted to appear as hate speech.
“Hate speech needs to be related to inciting violence, not hurting feelings,” he said.
“I draw a distinction between ‘hurt speech’ and hate speech, and the culture has shifted in which hurt speech has become hate speech.”
William Gale, the broadcaster’s lawyer, said a look at events before his client’s firing makes it clear the tweet was the cause of his dismissal.
In May, Sean Avery, a professional hockey player, made a public service announcement supporting gay marriage in the United States.
Soon after, hockey agent Todd Reynolds tweeted, saying Mr. Avery’s support of same-sex marriage was misguided and gay marriage, legal or not, “will always be wrong.”
Mr. Avery was not a client of Mr. Reynolds.
Mr. Goddard decided to send out a tweet of his own on May 10 in support of Mr. Reynolds.
It read: “I completely and whole-heartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage.”
“I just had this immense amount of respect for a man who was willing to put himself out there and speak for truth — and do what we are called to do as Christians,” he said. “I saw no one was supporting Todd.”
He adds the Twitter account was his own and he used it from home, not on company time. He also said he had never been involved in controversy before.
According to Mr. Goddard, his boss at Sportsnet called a few hours later and asked him to come to the office immediately. They agreed to meet the next day.
“Heading into the chat I thought this is about the tweet because they contacted me right after I sent it. It had to have been about that because I had never been called on the carpet for anything before,” said Mr. Goddard.
“But I thought they were going to say to tone down the tweets. When I realized they were firing me, I thought, ‘Wow, they’re doing this. They’re firing me for sending a tweet.’ ”
He said his wife burst into tears at the news, but understood the tweet was sent out of religious conviction. The couple has two small children.
He said his employer never said why he was being let go.
In response to questions about Mr. Goddard, Sportsnet released the following statement:
“Mr. Goddard is aware of the reasons — which are well documented — why he is no longer with Sportsnet. Out of respect for our employees we do not discuss personnel issues in the press.”
Mr. Gale said he contacted Sportsnet in May to see if there was an amicable way of settling the situation.
He spoke to a senior person in human resources, who said Sportsnet had already made the decision to terminate Mr. Goddard for cause before the May 10 tweet and the company had lots of documentation to support its case.
The lawyer said he told Sportsnet if its case was so overwhelming and he could see its documentation, he would likely advise his client to give up.
“[But I also told them] that if you don’t produce the documents, I’ll take the view that you don’t have the evidence and I’ll tell my client to you don’t have a case,” he added.
“The only thing I got from Sportsnet was a very heavy-handed, sternly worded letter warning us if we did anything they would be all over us. They tried to shut us down.”
Stephen Reid, president of the Toronto Gay Hockey Association, said he was furious when he read Mr. Goddard’s tweet, but did not think he deserved to lose his job.
“I wouldn’t say he should be fired but he has to be aware of being a public figure and the weight of his words,” he said.
“Someone who is not gay doesn’t know what it feels like to be a gay youth. It’s inflaming a situation.”
His league has 120 players, most of whom have been mocked or harassed for being gay.
“When you have gay kids who are committing suicide because they’re gay and made to feel different it is up to everybody has to be careful how they say certain words.”
For his part, Mr. Goddard believes Canadians are being forced to agree with ideas that violate their individual beliefs and people will become more timid in the face of growing liberal pressure.
“I’m living the effects of it, because it is no longer live and let live. Instead, it’s now: you must agree with my lifestyle. How quickly the mind set has changed.”