The Canada Summer Jobs attestation is part of a growing erosion in the freedom of faith-based individuals and groups to act — or refuse to act — in accordance with the values and teachings of their faith, Majtenyi writes. Pixabay

Cathy Majtenyi: Faith-based values are not bargaining chips

  • February 27, 2018

It’s a sneaky way to make a government look progressive, a religion look regressive, and to divide a congregation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is using the Canada Summer Jobs program as a vehicle to reinforce, and enforce, his party’s view that access to safe and legal abortions is not only a human right but is somehow enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a tactic earning him national and worldwide applause.

Many Christians, Jews and Muslims are among Canadians who hold a different view of this specific “human right” being aggressively promoted by the Liberal government. They believe in another “human right”:  the human right of the pre-born to live. 

They recognize that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can be used to successfully argue for the extension of human rights to the pre-born — out of an understanding that life begins at the moment of conception — just as much as the Charter was used to legalize abortion.

Yet they are being compelled to tick off a box on their application form swearing that, “Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including … reproductive rights…” or else be ineligible to receive funding. 

Amidst opposition from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and multi-faith groups, the government scrambled to “clarify” the attestation: it only applies to the specific duties and mandate of a specific organization. 

“Applicants are not asked to provide their views, beliefs or values as these are not taken into consideration during application for the program,” says the bottom of the Canada Summer Jobs – Eligibility site. “That an organization is affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility for this program.” 

But only if that organization does not stand up for the views, beliefs or values of that religion.

Let’s use one situation outlined in the supplementary information section, which lays out examples of eligibility and ineligibility: “A faith-based organization with anti-abortion beliefs applies for funding to hire students to serve meals to the homeless” could get funding.

The key phase here is “faith-based.” Caring for the homeless is grounded within the context of a wider system of, in this case Christian, teachings and beliefs that value all stages and manifestations of life. Scooping out potatoes is a practical way to honour Christ through serving His creation, which includes the yet-to-be-born. 

Requiring a faith-based homeless shelter to give their support for access to abortion, using the logic that it’s OK because their specific mandate is to care for the homeless, will fragment, and eventually destroy, a holistic system of teachings and beliefs. 

Individual tasks and mandates must not be compartmentalized or divorced from the greater faith base. If they do, the “what” of the group’s activities will soon eclipse the “why” they’re doing it: faith turns into secular humanism. Religious congregations become divided as teachings become more and more watered down to conform to the masses.

Perhaps that’s the real intention behind the attestation.

This whole attestation issue came about mostly because of complaints that a group had hired students to distribute graphic pro-life literature to neighbourhoods in one part of the country and a case where another group did not hire LGBTQ youth for a camp program.

The government could have dealt with these individual cases without punishing all groups. The government is totally within its rights to prohibit organizations from hiring students to carry out “political” tasks. But requiring groups to support wholesale the right to abortion in violation of their faith’s teachings, beliefs and values is draconian overkill.

The attestation is part of a growing erosion in the freedom of faith-based individuals and groups to act — or refuse to act — in accordance with the values and teachings of their faith. 

We must be vigilant against this dangerous clawback in religious freedoms and attempts by government to silence faith-based expressions of values. 

(Majtenyi is a researcher and communications specialist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.)

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