Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Freedom of religion starts at home

The announcement that, if re-elected, a Harper-led Conservative Government will create an office dedicated to the monitoring and promotion of religious freedom around the world has been applauded by people of faith in Canada – particularly Christians – who have seen, not just the rights, but the very lives of their co-religionists come under increasing threat in recent years. It’s a welcome initiative, but it also begs the question: what about defending religious freedom right here at home?

Consider the following:

Since the definition of marriage was changed in Canada to include same-sex unions, dozens of private Christian marriage commissioners across the country have had their licenses to solemnize weddings revoked for refusing to officiate at same-sex ceremonies. In no instance was the “right” of same-sex couples to marry infringed. Provincial governments simply demanded the acquiescence of these commissioners irrespective of the fact that others would be willing and able to step in an officiate if necessary. Who is defending the religious freedoms of these commissioners?

What about the right of Jewish parents in Ontario to direct their education taxes to Jewish schools, just like Catholic parents can direct their education taxes to Catholic schools? The UN committee that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ruled several years ago that this practice is discriminatory and a violation of Canada’s obligations under the treaty, and ordered the Canadian and Ontario governments to rectify the situation. Such an order may be unenforceable, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that the policy infringes on the right of Jewish parents to educate their children in their own schools. Who is defending their religious freedom?

In Quebec the Ministry of Education has ordered schools to teach its controversial course Ethics and Religious Culture. The aim of this course – to promote tolerance and respect in society - seems benign enough, but to accomplish this goal the program requires that schools embrace and teach the supremacy of cultural relativism, a concept that is both anti-intellectual, and antithetical to the values these schools are trying to instill in their students. What about religious freedom in Quebec?

Back to Ontario where the government is imposing an equity policy on Catholic schools that forces them to support the creation of so-called gay-straight alliances on their campuses in direct contravention of the Church’s teaching on sexual propriety. This is the same government that tried to initiate sex education for children as early as kindergarten. What about the right of Catholic schools to adhere to Catholicism, or the right of parents to determine when it is proper to introduce sexuality to their youngsters?

And then there are the various colleges responsible for licensing of medical doctors, nurses and other practitioners. These quasi-government bodies have been increasingly brazen in their attempt to compel medical professionals under their jurisdiction to either provide, or support, controversial procedures such as abortion or risk losing their licenses to practice. Do doctors and nurses in Canada not have the right to treat patients without violating their own moral conscience?

It’s easy – and right – to criticize Muslim countries that prohibit Christians and Jews from building churches and synagogues, or to condemn attacks by Islamic radicals against Christian or Jewish worshippers, or to threaten trade sanctions against a country like China for persecuting its Christians, but what about right here in Canada?

Little by little, in a hundred different ways and in a hundred different places, the rights of individual Canadians – rights that we possess, not by virtue of our citizenship, but by virtue of our humanity – are being eroded, suppressed or ignored. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of association; all of these are in danger of being overwhelmed by the relentless expansion of a militantly secular government and its unremitting encroachment into every aspect of our public and private lives.

An Office for the Monitoring and Promotion of Religious Freedom? It’s a great idea, but let’s make sure that we pay attention to what's going on in our own back yard as well.

After all, religious freedom starts at home.