Catholic Civil Rights League turns 25

  • June 10, 2010
Thomas LanganTORONTO - The same-sex marriage debate. A controversial sex-ed program aimed at elementary students. YouTube videos exposing the desecration of the Eucharist.

These are some of the issues the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) has dealt with in its mission to combat Catholic defamation in the media and public square over the past 25 years.

The league celebrated its silver anniversary at a June 10 gala in Toronto.

Established in 1985, the league is a national lay Catholic organization that works with media to ensure a fair hearing for Catholic positions on issues, lobbies the government and intervenes in court challenges supporting laws and policies that reflect Catholic understanding of the common good and human nature

League president Phil Horgan remembers when he joined in 1994. It was after he’d organized a trip to Denver for World Youth Day. On that pilgrimage Horgan met Tom Langan, who was the league’s president at the time, and his wife Janine.

“I saw that the league was an interesting opportunity to present a better, if not fairer, hearing for Catholic teachings in the public square,” said Horgan, a lawyer who does pro bono work for the league while working full-time at a legal practice.

The CCRL has been involved in some 30 legal interventions and court cases, including Ontario’s “three-parent case” which challenged the traditional views of marriage and family. The league also challenged public funding to Henry Morgentaler’s abortion clinic in New Brunswick.

Not all has gone the league’s way. In 2007, Ontario’s highest court sided with the plaintiff and ruled in the three-parent case that it is legal for a child to have two mothers. A New Brunswick court refused to hear the league’s intervention in the Morgentaler case. And same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005.

Despite these setbacks, Horgan said the league provides an important perspective not often brought up in court. Although the same-sex bill passed, the league’s efforts helped in “expanding the protection to any individual or organization which continued to maintain that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.

“Is it an indication that we stop what we’re doing? Should we lay down?” he asked. “Should we maintain walls around our churches so we can maintain our right to worship or should we get people a little more motivated to realize that unless people get involved, the issues that (we may face) down the road may become even more challenging or problematic?”

There have also been successes. Recently, the league lent its voice to the public outcry that put a stop to Ontario’s controversial sex-ed program for elementary school students.

The league continues to fight anti-Catholic bias in media. Executive director Joanne McGarry writes a monthly column on media treatment of the Catholic Church for The Catholic Register.

She said the league has been successful in getting many media outlets to make corrections on misstatements about Catholics or Catholic views.

The league has about 25,000 members across Canada. Horgan said it hopes to attract more members and contribute to its work of defending Catholic values in the public sphere.

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