Church and State

Written by Harold McNeill on January 22nd, 2018. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts, Editorials


church-and-stateChurch and State Street: The Canadian Experience

Canada has made considerable progress over the past 150 years (mainly within the past 100 years) in advancing individual rights, particularly those of women, children, visible minorities, and lifestyle. Yet, many openly practice discrimination with impunity, their right to do so protected in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is an unusual situation in which a more accepting set of human values is applied to those considered non-religious than is applied to Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faith-based organizations.

Link Here for a 2014 historical perspective on Church and State

A Continuing Conflict Zone In Canada

As Canada continues along the path of finding a balance between Church and State, we have much rocky terrain yet to negotiate. There is little doubt an open debate would be helpful, but if the current flashback and heated rhetoric over the wording of a government funding application is an example, the time has not yet arrived. It is unlikely any current government, Liberal, Conservative or NDP, would dare open the discussion as an election issue.

Hence, it will be left to occasional bold government action and the courts to draw the line, as did Trudeau in 1969 when the Liberals removed abortion from the Criminal Code. Then, again in 1982, when the same government brought home the Constitution and developed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since then, a series of court, parliamentary and legislative decisions at the provincial and federal levels helped push forward individual rights, particularly those affecting women, children, visible minorities and the LGBTQ community. While women have made considerable gains, many barriers still stand in their path as they march towards equality with men. (For an earlier article on the subject link to Women’s Suffrage.)

The most recent furore arising over a wording change in an employment grant application suggests how close to the surface the conflict remains. While there is no question religious groups provide exemplary work in many areas, they continue to reserve the right to discriminate in all manner of ways, particularly concerning women. Over my adult life, I have observed first-hand the good being done within the community and witnessed the harm caused to some individuals.

One other divisive debate that has wandered through Parliament over the past several decades is one word in our National Anthem, the word “son.” That word was recently removed and replaced by “in all of us command” (here is an earlier post, “In all thy son’s command.”

The Current Debate

In a recent front-page article in the National Post, a reporter, John Ivison goes so far as to state a grant application will be denied unless the applicant “supports abortion.” How quickly the debate takes on an inflammatory tone. Even Fox News and right-wing religious groups in the US have jumped on the bandwagon, and neither is very subtle. In the instance of the Post article and others, Ivison is not reporting; he is attempting to mould public opinion. (A bit of background on the Alberta chapter of Mustard Seed is posted in the footer).

Even though the courts and four out of five Canadians uphold the “reproductive rights” of women, it is a clause that was not even worthy of being given a second thought for most of our history. As a result, women were forced into the shadows, where many suffered grievous injury and died on the altar of some religious group. One only needs to follow the path taken with almost every discriminatory practice to see it littered with bodies of the devout. Over the past twenty-five years, there has been a tsunami of reports brought forth from a time when women and children had little or no power. Today, as old issues are slowly settled, new ones take centre stage, particularly those where women, men and children, were abused by sexual predators. 

Even in the current reproductive rights conflict (it’s not a debate), people forget that individual women and men are still free to follow their religious conscience. While no woman can be forced to have an abortion, she can be coerced into not having one by her religions group. She might even be pregnant because some groups made it a sin to use a contraceptive. Millions upon millions have died of Aids because of that sanction. It’s clear within those groups that sex has only one purpose: to procreate. Stray outside that line to pleasure and you might be forever damned. Thank goodness an earlier government had the moral strength to say, “There is no place for the State in the nation’s bedrooms.” (Link)

It is with this background we see theist and mono-theist groups can discriminate to their heart’s content in any number of ways as the Charter of Rights protects that right. Following is a short list of approved discriminatory practices:

… reproduction (birth control and abortion),
… clerical inequality
… employment conditions
… student selection in faith-based schools and universities
… gender orientation
… dress codes (veils and other headdresses)
… marriages (gay, arranged, divorced)
… blood transfusions, vaccinations and other medical treatments,
… shunning, excommunication, etc.
… segregation by race, gender, status and other explicit means Religious Freedom

That is a shortlist of discriminatory practices, where sanctions for transgressions are often far more significant than in any part of provincial, criminal or civil law. No other business in Canada could practice any of the above, let alone multiple items on that list, without being hauled before the courts. It would not matter how altruistic were their overall motives.

As to the current subject of fund applications, the government is unequivocal about religious organizations parking their discriminatory practices at the boundaries of their belief system if they wish to access public funds. It’s astounding that even in the face of all that discrimination, religious groups across Canada still receive massive tax breaks (property) and other grants (e.g. hospital and school systems). The following article focuses on the subject as it applies in Australia (link). Alberta still funds a sizeable faith-based hospital system where discriminatory practices are allowed.

The best path for religious groups to follow to retain their Charter right to discriminate is to separate themselves from debt forgiveness and taking public funds. Individual professional groups (e.g. doctors and lawyers) will also need to address these issues.

In the footer is an excerpt from an article by Dr James C. (Jim) Wallace posted on the Web Site hosted by David Anderson, Conservative MP, for Cyprus Hill/ Grassland (AB).  Link here to full series of articles from the 4th Parliamentary Forum on Religious Freedom.

Here is a further article on the subject from Australia: It’s not just Islam, most religions are discriminatory,

Harold

Excerpt from the Article by James C. Wallace.

In Canada, we have only had 32 years for the Supreme Court to rule on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, thereby, to create the superstructure for religion in Canada. With each Supreme Court case, with each opinion interpreting the meaning of freedom of religion in Canada, the relationship between religion and state becomes more settled and secure.

Perhaps in the coming years, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada on religion-state relations will create that singular metaphor, that all-encompassing archetype that embodies the fullness of Canadian values in the same way that Justice Hugo Black did for the United States back in 1947.

Perhaps the resolution of the Quebec constitutional question will bring renewed clarity about who we are as two peoples in relation to religion.

Perhaps Canada will proudly maintain its multiplicity of religion-state models even as we pride ourselves in our multicultural mosaic.

Background on the issue. This is the headline in the Calgary Sun that lead of this attack on Trudeau.

Mustard Seed

Link to Article

The first I heard on this issue came from the Calgary Sun article as reported by Licia Corbella, acting on comments by Mustard Seed CEO Stephen Wile. Here is his complaint:

“The Mustard Seed doesn’t take a position on abortion, but with the government making this a requirement for funding, it’s trying to force us from a neutral position to an affirmative position on abortion, and we’re not prepared to do that,” said Wile from his Calgary office.

“We’re not willing to support the government’s position in order to get the funds, it’s just not worth it for us.

“It seems,” added Wile, “like the government is saying, ‘The issue of where you stand on abortion is more important than the work you do and the people you serve,’ and that’s really sad. At the core of who we are, we’re really against fear and hate, and unfortunately, the government is taking a position that instead of decelerating division, it’s accelerating it.”

Here is a further bit of background suggesting Mr. Wile’s motives may not be as pure as he suggests.   First, currently posted Mustard Seed job applicants are required to attest their support of the Mustard Seed Profession of Faith which, from my reading, comes mightily close to that of the Catholic Church. Not exact, but it comes close.  

Going back just a bit further in time, in 2o10 the Alberta Government, under the leadership of Premier Ed Stelmach, awarded the Mustard Seed $12,000,000 ostensibly to build housing for the homeless. A worthwhile endeavour indeed, but did that come with any liturgical strings attached? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Now skip forward a few years to after to after a time when Premier Stelmack stepped aside from leadership of the Alberta Conservative Party.  Guess what position he now holds? No less than Chairman of the Board of Covenant Health, a parallel hospital system in Alberta by the Catholic Church.

In recent years that hospital service has run headlong into conflict with recent court decisions regarding women’s reproductive rights and right to assisted dying. Here is one article:  If Covenant Health cannot obey the law, they should not get public money.

Does this mean the Mustard Seed is not a worthy charity? Of course not, but let’s be clear about where the Mustard Seed sits on women’s rights. Are they neutral? That remains to be seen as right. For starters, they could just remove the faith requirement from their job application process.

Harold

 

 

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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.