CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence

Charles Lewis: Religious liberty is fading fast

  • April 30, 2019

We are witnessing a collapse of religious freedom in Canada. Anyone who doubts it is naïve or completely uniformed. There may be some who simply cannot believe this is happening in a modern democracy. But it is.

How could a nice country like Canada be so nasty to some of its best citizens? Yet, the evidence is plain to see.

With this is the growing stink of totalitarianism. There seems to be a desire by many in control to enforce a groupthink and even, as what is happening in Quebec, a group-look. Rigid uniformity is the hallmark of the totalitarian state. Religion is the best bulwark against such thinking. Therefore, religion became a nuisance.

Let us start with Quebec. Premier François Legault, leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, came to power in the 2018 provincial election. Part of the party’s platform was to institute a ban on religious garb and symbols in public workplaces. It is meant to prevent all manner of people in myriad occupations — from police officers, to judges, to teachers, prosecutors and ordinary public servants — from wearing any obvious religious garb — from yarmulkes, turbans or other headcoverings. It is unclear whether a conspicuous cross or star of David would also be banned. I have no doubt it would impact those who would dare to wear their ashes on Ash Wednesday into any public building.

I can imagine a cadre of provincial government enforcers, damp cloths at the ready to scrub down those with offending foreheads Andrew Coyne, the esteemed National Post columnist, exposed underlying nastiness behind this proposal.

“Let us not dress this up as anything but what it is: religious discrimination, pure and simple,” Coyne recently wrote. “And, since membership in these religious minorities overlaps heavily with membership in racial minorities, it carries a strong whiff of racial discrimination, as well.”

What possible offence do Legault and his supporters imagine would take place if a teacher or a prosecutor showed up to work wearing a skullcap or a turban? Are they worried that schoolchildren will run out into the street in terror because a Christian teacher shows up to work one day with ashes smeared on his forehead?

This all stems from the antidemocratic notion that religion has no place in decent society.

By all means, do your religious nonsense behind closed doors but do not offend the good people of Quebec by any kind of public expression. It is a declaration not so much of state secularism but of state atheism.

It does not help that Justin Trudeau, an enthusiastic cheerleader for abortion and euthanasia, is our prime minister.

Recall last summer his demands that all groups wanting federal summer job money had to attest that they agree with the Liberal policy on abortion. It was so beyond the pale that nearly every editorial writer in the country damned the policy.

The Liberals did finally relent, but well after the summer and the damage had been done. It not disturbing that the people who came up with this fascist-lite policy are still in power?

It goes deeper.

Recall the number of pro-life groups that have been banned from university campuses.

Recall that in some provinces doctors and nurses are still fighting not to be penalized for refusing to abet abortion and euthanasia.

Recall Trinity Western University, a great Christian school in British Columbia, that fought for years to build a law school only to be shut out because several provincial bar associations said TWU was unworthy to produce lawyers.

The reason: TWU has a morality clause each student must sign. The school took its case the Supreme Court of Canada and lost by 7-2. There is more. But I am running out of space.

Do you not see the pattern? Do you not see religious liberty slipping away? Why are we letting this happen?

(Lewis is a Toronto writer and regular contributor to The Register.)

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Religious liberty is not diminishing in Canada. For starters, our national Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 2) protects, as fundamental, everyones' individual liberties, including freedom of religion, conscience, thought, expression,...

Religious liberty is not diminishing in Canada. For starters, our national Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 2) protects, as fundamental, everyones' individual liberties, including freedom of religion, conscience, thought, expression, opinion, association, etc., insofar as the rights and freedoms of others are also not unreasonably impeded. (Sometimes it's necessary to draw on our courts to resolve conflicts in these areas, and they normally consider our national Charter in so doing, just as they did recently with Trinity Western University's controversial covenant.)

Canada is not imposing "state atheism," as demonstrated by the fact that freedom of religion remains protected as a fundamental right under our national Charter. I also see no indication of this changing (along with other protected rights and freedoms), and I'm not convinced that there's any serious threat at present to redact freedom of religion.

The recent decline in Catholicism may have more to do with how poorly the Catholic Church has been responding to their recent child abuse scandals (e.g., the Australian case of Cardinal George Pell, in particular, recently received significant public attention and media coverage), and, for many past Church attendees, discontinuing their association could very well be a reflection of their disappointment with the Church (which is partly known for promoting the position that all morals come from their god).

Conflating racism with religious discrimination is both inaccurate and unnecessary, for, in addition to being two separate issues, our national Charter (section 15) already proscribes against both of these [and other] forms of discrimination. While religion is a personal choice in the psychological and intellectual realms, race is akin to being a genetic characteristic that is also difficult to find clear distinction in among today's vastly diverse mixed-race Canadian population (it seems to me that racism is gradually dissipating, albeit not rapidly enough in my opinion).

Bodily autonomy is also a fundamental right according to our Charter protections regarding individual liberties, and also according to the United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights (of which Canada is one of many signatories). This means that every pregnant person has the right to undertake an abortion without being required to justify their decision to anyone. It also means that euthanasia is an option, particularly for those suffering from a terminal illness that includes the gradual onset of higher levels of pain.

In the case of Trinity Western University (TWU), their covenant (which is much more than merely a "morality clause") was in conflict with our national Charter, and so our Supreme Court of Canada did resolve the matter by making the correct decision to favour our fundamental rights of freedoms and consequently ensuring equal access to the justice system. TWU is still operating and still offering law courses, but now without the discriminatory factor, which serves as a reasonable example of our Canadian rights and freedoms being protected rather than diminishing.

Sincerely, and with warmest regards,

Randolf Richardson
President of the Canadian atheists

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