We have freedom of speech, except for Catholics

By  Dorothy Cummings, Catholic Register Special
  • January 17, 2008

Any Catholic who has gone to university in Ontario knows that there is a lot of anti-Catholic feeling here. And any Catholic whose family has been in Ontario for more than two generations is not particularly surprised.

After the Jews, the Catholics are the longest-reviled religious group in English Canada. Happily, it is no longer acceptable to sneer at the Jews. Sadly, it is still OK (even "correct") to make fun of Catholics, aka, "the Catholic Church."

Catholics, of course, notice it. I noticed the people in my Canadian poetry class sneering at “the church” and guffawing at pilgrims who climb the steps of St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal on their knees. And I notice the Catholic-bashing and Catholic baiting in the local and national newspapers. I once burst into tears at work over a Globe and Mail columnist's nasty little slight on "so-called priestly celibacy." I telephoned my mother who said, "My dear, it's the Globe and Mail. What do you expect?"

Protestants, or their post-Protestant children, sometimes notice it. In her wonderful Our Lady of the Lost and Found, Canadian Diane Schoemperlen has her narrator say of her parents, "They apparently had no strong feelings about religion and: I suspected we were only sent to Sunday school mostly so that they could have time to themselves. And yet when my cousin Sarah married a Catholic man and converted, they were upset for reasons I did not understand. One Sunday morning a few years later, Sarah, her husband, and their children were involved in a car accident on their way home from Mass. . . . This accident seemed to prove my parents right about something and. . . they referred to it frequently with a kind of smug satisfaction, as if their reservations about Sarah's conversion had been confirmed."

The way I dealt with the Globe and Mail was to write a cutting little letter to the editor. It was published. I was satisfied. By writing, I told them that they were a pack of old-time Orange Ontario anti-Catholics, and by publishing my letter, they seemed to be saying, "Yes, we are. So what?"

And freedom of speech goes on. Religious groups newer to Canada, including the small Canadian Islamic Congress and its protegés, can learn from that.

Anti-Catholics want to take away our school boards. Annoying, yes. But groups that want to take away Catholics' and all other Canadians' freedom of speech are frightening. And that makes me see the newspapers' slurs in a new light. Yes, I wish they wouldn't say nasty or snarky things about Catholics, but paradoxically I'm glad they have the right to do so. For one thing, the press alerted us to pedophile priests and priests with crushes on teenage boys. For that, I am grateful.

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that we Canadians cannot take our freedom of speech for granted. Although the ancient sport of Catholic-baiting creaks on in the nation’s presses, certain Canadians and certain Canadian publications have been singled out for thought crimes. Any citizen who feels offended by another’s published opinions has the option, it appears, of applying to drag that individual or publication before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal or its provincial counterparts.

The accuser does not have to pay costs. The defendant and the taxpayers may end up paying thousands of dollars. When the Canadians being prosecuted were neo-Nazis and anti-gay evangelicals out West, we didn’t notice much. When B.C. Knights of Columbus were fined for not renting out their hall for a lesbian wedding, we got a little worried. But now that Maclean’s magazine’s Mark Steyn is being dragged before human rights tribunals by the Canadian Islamic Congress, for predicting an Islamic Europe, and Catholic Insight is facing the same treatment by an Alberta gay activist for disliking homosexual sex, quite a lot of people are terrified and angry. Who’s next?

I am wondering just how long it will be safe for me to state my beliefs and disbeliefs. As G.K. Chesterton writes, "Because I believe some things, I do not believe others." Some non-Christians wonder at us because we believe Jesus rose from the dead. Muslims wonder at us because we believe Jesus died on the Cross. They believe he escaped and died somewhere else. I say that that is nonsense. Anyone want to sue? Christians are already being sued by gays for stating their belief that gay sex is sinful, so why not?

The increasingly unchurched Orange and the stubbornly faithful Green were duking it out a long time the CIC's brand of Islam got here. It is a boring, annoying old game, but we're likely to go on playing it for 200 years more unless the New Orangemen finally realize why they're playing. I can only hope that their Establishment doesn't shoot itself in the foot, though, by encouraging their preferred special interest groups in their quest to shut us all up.

(Cummings is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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