Julie Payette's delivering her installation speech as Canada's 29th Governor General on October 2, 2017. The Governor General’s anti-faith sneers in her speech to a national science and public policy conference did not seem, at first blush, reason to make sweet hosannas ring. But then the thunderclap outrage began building, and it was truly cause for prayers of thanks. Photo by Mcpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall

Comment: People of faith given reasons for optimism

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  • November 16, 2017
In the hatches-battening critical storm that crested over Governor-General Julie Payette’s recent derision toward religious believers, where, I ask, was the gratitude?

Granted, the G-G’s anti-faith sneers in her speech to a national science and public policy conference did not seem, at first blush, reason to make sweet hosannas ring. But then the thunderclap outrage began building, and it was truly cause for prayers of thanks.

Across the country, voices of the faithful, and even markedly less than faithful, began calling Payette out not just for what she said, but the tone with which she said it, and the sheer impropriety of the Queen’s representative mocking the spiritual convictions of Canadians. Over two weeks, it crescendoed toward an almost Cohenesque hallelujah.

As Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote, the sheer diversity of critical sources in the media was inspiring. It was not such a surprise to see ex-altar boy Rex Murphy of the National Post slice and dice Payette’s remarks to smithereens. But when John Ibbitson over at the Globe and Mail undertook a similar dismantling from the “enlightened liberal Liberal” perspective, something was going on.

Nor was it just going on merely among media moilers. David Mulroney, former diplomat and now president of the University of St. Michael’s College, gave Payette a perfectly ambassadorial public pasting. Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast gave our vice-regal former astronaut a warm and welcoming reminder of why Jesuit minds have made superb scientists over the centuries. My heart could go on adding non-journalists, non-Christians, even non-believers to the list.

What mattered was the compounding, not just the pounding. I was happy to concede early on that the Governor General simply made the rookie mistake of thinking the audience she stood before was the one she was speaking to. I was prepared to pray she has learned the hard way that her audience is always all of Canada. Others were no so forgiving. A line had at long last been crossed. It was gratifying to see so many pitching up to say “enough” so emphatically.

Does that, in itself, constitute some irresistible turning point? Certainly not. But it is reason for optimism about an opening to admit substantial change in our public attitudes towards religious belief and believers. Aggressive secularists are not, of course, simply going to give in and go away. We should never expect that. They are as entitled, within the bounds of pluralist democracy, to their superstitions as people of faith are to our understanding of undeniable God.

It is understanding, not outright agreement, that we seem better positioned to pursue than has been the case for decades. The evidence piles up beyond the reaction to Payette. It’s in the horrified reaction to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s sulphureous slander of the Catholic school system’s sexuality curriculum. It’s in the paltry rationalizations, the barely suppressed public embarrassment and the assertive launching of legal action against Quebec’s hideous State suppression of the niqab.

In a more positive way, it’s there in the remarkable change of heart by a House of Commons committee on Bill C-51. The committee appeared fully prepared to push through legislative changes that would have removed disturbing a religious service from the Criminal Code. After hearing ample expert testimony and a letter of appeal signed by more than 60 faith leaders across Canada, the committee recommended the House amend the Bill to drop that contentious provision. Obscure as all that might sound, it’s a major victory for those fighting to have faith practices respected in the public square.

A similar win-win seems to be coming from the committee studying what was perceived as the potentially divisive M-103, the House of Commons motion aimed at combatting Islamophobia.

All is hardly clear sailing ahead. On Nov. 30, Trinity Western University will be in the Supreme Court of Canada to once again defend its legal right to operate a law school on evangelical Christian principles. Much hangs in the balance of that case. Still, balance regained is a genuine prospect. We should all thank God for that.

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

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