The religious voice is one that needs to be heard

By  Charles Lewis, Catholic Register Special
  • June 9, 2010

At a recent conference on religion and the media, a colleague from the Toronto Star announced his paper was getting rid of its full-time religion beat. That should have been a grand moment for me and the National Post, the paper I write for.

When he told the assembled group of about 50 esteemed representatives from various churches of the Star’s decision, it was a perfect opening for me to discuss how the Post was putting an even greater emphasis on religion. It was hard not to crow.

But crowing is to miss the big picture.

At the Post, we have been covering religion seriously since our inception and, in the past three years, have increased that coverage exponentially. We do not ghettoize it on a “religion page” but include it among our normal news pages. Indeed, many of our religion stories have appeared on A1, the most coveted page for any writer.

We also launched a religion blog called Holy Post at which we are trying to build a community of people who are serious about religion and want to take part in an intelligent conversation about faith and society. It has several links to some of the best of the religious press. And our op-ed pages are crammed with commentary about religion, including columns from Fr. Raymond J. de Souza. Last Christmas, our front page was a giant icon of Mary and the baby Jesus. This past Easter, we wrote about the making of saints.

We are also conservative, so our first instinct is not to dismiss the religious point of view. When I first began writing about religion, in 2007, many people said my stories were biased in favour of the “religious right” or conservatives. What they were noticing, in fact, was orthodox Christians being allowed to talk about their faith without being filtered. During the battle in the Anglican Church of Canada, many of the church’s mainstream leaders were incensed because I spent so much time talking with the conservatives who opposed the blessing of same-sex marriage.

I think what I do, what we do at the Post, is bring balance. But in Canada, where we are anchored down by this vague notion of Canadian values, some voices are simply not welcome.

So why was I not pleased about the Star backing off of religion, at least as a full-time venture with a dedicated reporter?

First, the more competition, the more interesting the stories. Reporters from competing papers push each other to do better work and stay sharp. I have often built on a story I have seen in another paper or heard on the radio and simply tried to make that story better or advance it into new territory.

But there is more.

The number of issues confronting society in which the rights of the religious are coming into conflict with the rights of the secular are becoming more numerous. Just witness the recent attack on Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City for stating Catholic opposition to abortion, even in the case of rape. Yet, when he and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa called for a way to reduce abortion — not to make it illegal — by finding common ground on all sides, the story was completely ignored because it did not fit the stereotype of what Catholic leaders are supposed to say.

In the past few years we have seen the licensing body for doctors in Ontario push, but fail, to remove religious conscience provisions for doctors who refuse to refer patients for abortion. And recently the courts said that Christian Horizons, an evangelical group that helps the most desperate of Ontario’s citizens lead lives of dignity and respect, could not fire a woman for being gay, even though she signed a moral code voluntarily.

These issues are as important as anything else we hear out of Parliament Hill or City Hall because they hit people where they live.

Religious people deserve a voice, and not just from the religious media. It is worth reminding those who would ignore religious citizens that is most often the churches, in the name of Christ, who feed and house the homeless, who care for society’s discards and care deeply about their fellow citizens. If they are ignored in the mainstream media, our democracy will suffer for it.

(Charles Lewis writes about religion for the National Post and is the editor of the religious blog Holy Post. See his recent post on the head of Opus Dei in Canada)

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