Photo by Rachel Moore

Peter Stockland: Religious freedom’s losses are piling up fast

By 
  • October 25, 2018

The new Quebec government’s proposed assault on religious freedom by barring public wearing of overt faith markers is worrisome enough.

More worrisome still is the political persistence of this appalling idea, which was soundly rejected by Quebecers several years ago in a moderately different guise.

Most worrisome of all is that the Quebec repression is but one of three major strikes against religious life that have occurred in 2018 across Canada. 

The year began, of course, with the federal government’s pernicious sneak attack on freedom of religion and conscience with its “attestation” requirement. To receive funding for student employment under the Canada Summer Jobs program, employers were obliged to tick a box attesting they were in conformity with ruling Liberal ideology, regardless of whether doing so violated their beliefs.

The smoke was still floating thick from that onslaught when the Supreme Court of Canada dropped a bomb on B.C.’s Trinity Western University by ruling that its community covenant governing sexual conduct for students and staff violated the Charter. It was a complete overturning of the court’s own ruling on the exact same issue about 20 years ago, and threw into doubt TWU’s plans to open a law school emphasizing the Christian roots of our legal system.

Now, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has resurrected the old Parti Quebecois Charter of Values, though it insists the restrictions on religious garb will apply “only” to those in authority such as prison guards, police officers, judges and school teachers. In fairness, no legislation has been made public. Additionally, the initiative is seen in Quebec as part of a narrow anti-immigration sensibility within CAQ that won’t survive collision with political reality. 

One of the more looney-tune party policies, for instance, is a mandate that new arrivals here must learn French within three years or return to their country of origin. In a province where the population stopped having replacement numbers of babies generations ago, someone will surely do the demographic arithmetic and holler: “Block that plan.” 

Still, the very thought of constricting the clothing Quebec public servants can wear simply because it manifests religious faith must leave all Canadians of faith wondering where such hostility comes from. That’s especially so given the year’s earlier battering of religious freedom.

My colleague Andrew Bennett, Canada’s former ambassador for religious freedom and now director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, said in a recent Catholic Register interview that a key source of the problem is aggressive secularism seeking to spread its intellectual influence into anything remotely called public life. He is right, but I sense it goes deeper.

What’s been flaunted in 2018 is the resurfacing of a much older, even antiquated, belief that “religion” is both a problem to be solved and a human emotion to be walled up and contained. Secularists don’t want to simply win a competition of ideas. They regard what they stand for as salvific.

Secularism is seen as essentially fairer, more rational, more efficient. Above all, it is held out as protective of public order. It will save us not just from the errors of religious faith but from the harm innate in religion’s arbitrary, irrational, volatile, uncontrollable nature. Religion, being ordered by an ultimate experience that is not answerable to mere human institutional power, is intolerable to a culture fundamentally convinced it can answer everything.

So, a turban, a kippa, a cross, a refusal to sign a government attestation, a school that insists on teaching from its basis of faith, becomes a form of resistance. It is a way to say to the keepers of secular sanctity: “There are things about the universe that are beyond the ken of your worldview.”

To the modern State, to the juridical, the political, and even a large swath of the cultural class, such a response is not mere resistance but outright provocation. There are ebbs and flows in the force of the response. The last year is evidence of a coming onslaught that’s already alarming. And it might get much worse.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and senior fellow with Cardus.)

Comments (1)

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I must admit I find this articles’ whole argument shallow and self-serving, especially coming from the follower of a church that has allowed its leaders to sexually assault thousands of children in the past few years. I’m sure the full count of...

I must admit I find this articles’ whole argument shallow and self-serving, especially coming from the follower of a church that has allowed its leaders to sexually assault thousands of children in the past few years. I’m sure the full count of children assaulted in Canada is yet to come and more scandals, like in Chile or the USA, are yet to be revealed. Many Canadians are alarmed by the rise in the muslim population in Canada, not because of the people or the races, but because of the ideology. In Islam, it’s ok to think of killing Apostates, and recent poles in the UK show that more than half of British muslims favor making it illegal to be gay. In Islam, girls start sinning at age 9, boys at no till 15, which re-enforcees why the hijab, the burka, the niqab are forms of enforced sexual purity and rape culture, where the woman is always to blame. I could go on for pages about the horrible things religions put forth or support, still bringing 7th century values into the 21st century because it’s what “God” wants. I grew up Christian, and to me Religion is just tribalism and fear and ignorance. The sooner it is removed from the public sphere, the better. Keep your religions out of my govt, my schools, and my country’s tax revenues. I support Quebec in this vision of a godless public square, after all, whose god really belongs there when all gods are mutually exclusive.

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