Canada was founded on freedom

  • June 26, 2012

Canada Day is a time to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy as Canadians. Few nations are so fundamentally committed to freedom, democracy and peace. These common values are the building blocks of a society of unparalleled diversity and tolerance that, while still a work in progress, deserves a national celebration.

But we shouldn’t allow the fireworks to divert our attention from a troubling trend. A belligerent secularism has a hold on popular culture and is causing a re-interpretation, if not a re-definition, of two fundamental Canadian rights — freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.

It is human nature to take our blessings for granted. But we do so at our peril when we are deaf to the caterwauling aimed at the historic and rightful place of religion in Canadian society.

The first sentence of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes “the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” The Charter guarantees four inalienable freedoms, leading with “freedom of conscience and religion.”

Yet, despite this unequivocal declaration, religious voices are commonly mocked and conscience rights increasingly scorned in many spheres of public life. A growing segment of society, including many political leaders, advocate these freedoms be removed from the public square and restricted to homes and churches.  But so narrow a definition of religious practice and conscience rights demeans Christianity.

Christians are called to lead dynamic lives of public witness and action. That includes a moral duty to participate in public affairs and engage in social causes to advance the common good. It means going forth to spread the Good News.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the erosion of religious and conscience rights in a pastoral letter in May. Emphasizing that these rights are not granted by the state but are universal and inalienable to all people “by virtue of their humanity,” the bishops warned that when religious freedom is threatened “all other rights are weakened and society suffers.”

The peril is universal. In the United States, American bishops are running a two-week campaign — Fortnight for Freedom — in response to threats to religious liberty. It was launched fittingly on June 21, the feast day of martyrs St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and ends appropriately on American Independence Day.

In 1867 the Fathers of Confederation recognized the rightful place of  Christianity in the everyday life of a new nation. Canada’s religious culture has evolved since then to encompass all the world’s primary religions. But the passage of 145 years hasn’t changed the fundamental right held by all citizens to  private and public expression of religious faith and conscience beliefs.

That is worth remembering as we wish each other a happy Canada Day.

This week's Letters to the Editor

Reach out to neglected

Re: “Are northern efforts coming at the expense of the new evangelization?” (June 13):

As pastor of a remote parish, I beg to differ with the pastoral strategy Fr. de Souza recommends. Essentially, he proposes abandoning entire populations (albeit small ones) in remote regions in order to give priority to specialized ministries such as youth ministry and young families — but in urban areas.

As much as I appreciate the efforts of people devoted to these specialized ministries, I cannot agree with abandoning people who are isolated. Those who live in far-flung regions must already contend with the relative scarcity of programs and services not only from the Church but also from governments and the private sector.

It may make good economic sense for the Church to focus its energies on urban areas and specialized ministries. It may even make good personnel sense. Something more important would be lost, however: the duty to reach out to those whom everyone else neglects.

Fr. Michael Smith, Pastor
St. Theresa’s Parish,
Temiscaming, Que.

Conspicuous absence

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission met in Toronto from May 30 to June 2, the map distributed to all participants listed 138 church schools across Canada, run mainly by the Anglican, United and Catholic Churches, along with smaller churches. On this list, 64 residential schools were run by the Catholic Church, almost 50 per cent of the total. Among the prominent participants at the event were two moderators of the United Church, past and present, and  in attendance were two Anglican bishops, one retired and another still active, and Professor Alan Hayes, who apologized for the part played by the Toronto School of Theology in the residential school system. Conspicuous by their absence were the Catholic clergy in any official capacity. Shouldn’t the Catholic Church be more prominently involved?

Janet Ritch,
Toronto, Ont.

Guilt not shared

Re: “Residential schools are relevant to all” (June 10):

The Catholic Register owes an apology to the many educators who gave their life to not only “Canadianize” but also Christianize the native people of this continent.

I fail to understand why a rational and serious Catholic publication such as yours has been taken in by a  fraudulent enterprise, known as the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, to milk taxpayers for “compensation” and pay lawyers’ and professors’ salaries of millions and millions of dollars.

“Pain” is not shared by all Canadians. Gerry Kelly bemoans that the people in the pews “have a hard time owning” an apology “that is rather remote from parish life.” Well, he will have to try harder to make us feel guilty for having tried to evangelize the natives of Canada.

Charles Lutz,
Haliburton, Ont.

De-funding more likely

OECTA came out in support of Bill-13. This implies that the majority of Catholic teachers are either ignorant about their faith or do not actually believe in the teachings of the Church they identify with.

It’s a real shame that the majority of Catholic teachers have so little regard for Cardinal Thomas Collins when it comes to matters of faith. It is also a shame that Catholic parents have to entrust their children to Catholics of convenience to teach them and guide them in matters dealing with their religion.

The erosion of the mandate of the separate school system to teach children in a faith-based environment will eventually lead to the system becoming irrelevant, thus making de-funding more acceptable and thus more likely.

Wilfred L. Camilleri,
Oshawa, Ont.

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