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The death of debate

  • April 30, 2015

With two decisions this spring, the Supreme Court of Canada set laudable boundaries between the necessarily neutral state and the exercise of religious freedom.

The bad news is that the Court’s good sense is being extinguished in our political life not by the force of law, but by the odious intimidation of those engaged in robust democratic debate.

In the matched set of rulings from the Loyola and Saguenay cases, the Supreme Court made clear that the state must respect religious diversity, not seek to extinguish it, while at the same time maintaining neutrality in the fulfilment of public duties.

The Loyola judgment thwarted the Quebec government’s bid to force its secularist agenda on a private Catholic school in Montreal. Saguenay forbade a municipal government in Quebec from opening meetings with an overtly Roman prayer and ritual.

The former case properly prompted praise from all who care about freedom of religious faith, particularly those who believe Catholics should never be constrained from teaching Catholicism to Catholics. The latter case provoked unwarranted worry about all prayer being banned from all public occasions in Canada, particularly from legislative sessions. Nothing portends such an outcome.

There is, however, reason for deep concern about assaults on our public political practices. The concern has to do with the type of treatment inflicted on Russ Kuykendall, a prospective and then rejected candidate for Alberta’s Wildrose Party.

Kuykendall, a native Albertan with significant experience at a variety of political levels, was seeking the nomination for a Calgary riding when his feet were viciously kicked out from under him by his own leader in mid-April. Without word of warning, he was disqualified from carrying the Wildrose banner in the current Alberta election. Why? Because of a blog post Kuykendall wrote in 2007 for the now-defunct Western Standard magazine.

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