Church and State

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


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 in areas involving lifestyle.
Yet, in every community across the country, there exists a safe haven for discriminatory practices not allowed in any other part of our society. In addition, the freedom to practice that discrimination is protected under the 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 clearly have much rocky terrain yet to negotiate.  There is little doubt an open debate would be useful, 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 the 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 that time a series of court, parliamentary and legislative decisions, at the provincial and federal level, have helped to 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 good work in many areas, they continue to reserve the right to discriminate in all manner of ways, particularly with respect to women. Over my adult life, I have observed first hand both the good being done within the community by religious groups, but have also witnessed the harm caused when that discrimination is practiced in the most unseemly ways.

One other divisive debate that has wandered through Parliament over the past several decades is one word in our National Anthem, the word “son’s.”  That word has 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 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, for most of our history, was not even worthy of being given a second thought. As a result, women were forced (and in some places still are) into the shadows where many have suffered grievous injury or died on the altar of a belief system.

One only need follow the path taken with almost every discriminatory practice to see it is a path littered with bodies and that it is most often religiously based. 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 seem to forget 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 to having one by constraints placed on her by her religious belief.

In this sense, theist and mono-theist groups can discriminate to their heart’s content in any number of ways as that right is protected by the Charter of Rights, Religious Freedom. 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

This is just a short list of discriminatory practices, where sanctions for transgressions are often far greater than in any part of the provincial, criminal or civil law.   No other business in Canada could practice any one 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. That being said, many 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 large faith-based hospital system in which discriminatory practices are allowed.

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

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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  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

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    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

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    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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  • Harold McNeill

    August 21, 2019 |

    For those who followed the earlier post about the cost of ICBC Auto insurance coverage in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (linked in comments) here is another follow-up article.

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  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

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    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.