Opinion by André Schutten – as published on the Cardus Blog – Yesterday, Peter Stockland penned another exceptional blog in which he accurately describes Québec’s religion problems as symptoms of a bigger issue. By emptying meaning from religion, Québec secularists are dividing themselves from those Québeckers who find true meaning in their religious lives.
Québec’s insistence on creating exceptions for Christian symbols is especially unnerving. Stockland says, “It’s the reduction of a belief that once moved the world to a collection of tchotchkes. It is faith as furniture.” While some might see the exceptions for Christian symbols as privileging the Christian faith, the Christians in Québec should be most afraid: if the Loyola School case is any indication, Québec will only make room for Christian symbols and little else.
The editors at the Globe & Mail suggest that Québec can simply look to the east and west for a good model of religious accommodation. They write, “The so-called Rest of Canada has gone through its own upheavals related to religious accommodation… But Canada has for the most part arrived at a consensus in which the expression of one’s religion is protected so long as it doesn’t harm society’s basic values.” But is Canada truly a model for the Québec secularists? I’m not so sure.
The accommodation of religion in the “Rest of Canada” is not that stellar. I could discuss social reactions and opinions to religion, but that would be purely anecdotal, and is hardly verifiable. A better indicator is our Supreme Court’s shaping of religion.
What does religion look like when viewed through the lens of modern Canadian constitutional law? Professor Benjamin Berger, one of Canada’s leading thinkers on law, religion, and culture, answers this question conclusively: Canadian constitutional law “casts religion in terms compatible with its own structural assumptions, as well as symbolic and normative commitments, which are themselves informed by the contemporary political culture of liberalism” (281). Law’s religion, Berger explains, is (a) individual; (b) centrally addressed to autonomy and choice; and (c) private (283).
“True” religion, Dr. Winnifred Sullivan explained in 2005, “came to be understood as being private, voluntary, individual, textual, and believed. Public, coercive, communal, oral, and enacted religion, on the other hand, was seen to be ‘false’. The second kind of religion… was, and perhaps still is, the religion of most of the world… [and] has been carefully and systematically excluded, both rhetorically and legally, from modern public space.”
One need only look to religious schools, an obvious manifestation of the “false” public and communal type of religion outlined by Sullivan, to see how unaccommodating the Rest of Canada can be. The situation with Québec’s Loyola School (banned from teaching about other religions from a confessionally Jesuit perspective) is replicated in Ontario (via Bill 13 legislation) and in Manitoba (via Bill 18, a modified replica of Bill 13).
We saw more of this “accommodation” in the Ontario Legislature last year when the then Minister for Colleges and Universities Glen Murray stood in the House and, after reading from a Pastoral Guideline on a scriptural interpretation of sexuality, stated (at p. 1351), “I have to say to the bishops: ‘You’re not allowed to do that anymore.'” And the then Ontario Minister for Education, Laurel Broten explained that Christian schools couldn’t teach that abortion is wrong because that would be “one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.” And the Canadian Council of Law Deans condemned plans for a Christian law school simply because its students choose to govern themselves according to tenets of the Christian moral code. In short, Christians can’t teach, or even live according to, basic moral doctrine anymore and still be welcomed in our pluralistic society. And if Christian communities can’t do that, other religious communities won’t be able to either.
The liberalism of today needs to make room for religious communities who choose to govern themselves according to their own religious dictates, not just our symbols. The state-approved clap-trap that we see in Bill 13, in the Loyola case, and in the law deans’ musings is nothing of the inclusive society we think we are.
The Rest of Canada has a long way to go in welcoming and accommodating diverse religious communities that might govern themselves a little differently than the secular individual would prefer.
André Schutten is General Legal Counsel and Ontario Director with the Association for Reformed Political Action (ARPA) Canada. He has the mandate of equipping the Reformed Christian community for political action on a broad range of issues. He also conducts regular analysis on the implications of different government bills and court judgments and acts as ARPA’s chief Parliamentary lobbyist. André is on track to complete his Master of Laws degree in Constitutional Law through Osgoode Hall Law School this summer. He lives in Gatineau, Québec with his lovely wife Karyn VanDooren.