Re­li­gious free­dom ben­e­fits ev­ery­one

Winnipeg Free Press - - THINK TANK - RAY PEN­NINGS

IT’S a safe bet that Asia Bibi — a Chris­tian woman re­cently ac­quit­ted of blas­phemy charges in Pak­istan but still fac­ing mob vi­o­lence — would say re­li­gious free­dom makes Canada a bet­ter coun­try. In­deed, it’s be­cause Canada en­joys re­li­gious free­dom that this coun­try may even grant her asy­lum.

Chances are that Mus­lim Ro­hingyas flee­ing Burma or Yazidis and Chris­tians flee­ing the Is­lamic State would also ap­pre­ci­ate re­li­gious free­dom.

But ask Cana­di­ans and you’ll find only 59 per cent say re­li­gious free­dom makes our coun­try bet­ter. That’s ac­cord­ing to an ex­ten­sive sur­vey by the An­gus Reid In­sti­tute in part­ner­ship with the think tank Car­dus.

While a clear ma­jor­ity sees the ben­e­fits of re­li­gious free­dom, it’s cu­ri­ous that more of us aren’t en­thu­si­as­tic about this fun­da­men­tal hu­man right.

What’s at play here?

There are likely sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing a hard­core sec­u­lar­ist viewpoint, though this re­mains a mi­nor­ity view in Canada.

The same sur­vey used a se­ries of mea­sures to clas­sify Cana­di­ans among three cat­e­gories — those wel­com­ing of faith in pub­lic life, those who are un­sure and those hos­tile to it. The pro­po­nents of pub­lic faith are the largest group at 37 per cent, while the other two weigh in at 32 per cent each. Only 31 per cent of the group hos­tile to pub­lic faith say re­li­gious free­dom makes Canada bet­ter. An al­most equal pro­por­tion says it makes Canada worse.

Clearly, hard­core sec­u­lar­ism con­tains a fer­vent op­po­si­tion to re­li­gion and its free ex­pres­sion.

Re­lated to that sec­u­lar­ism could be prej­u­dice against pub­lic dis­plays of faith. In­deed, half of Cana­di­ans say they’re un­com­fort­able with re­li­gious gar­ments or sym­bols in the work­place — some­thing that dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects Mus­lims, Jews and Sikhs. Such dis­com­fort may trans­late into lower sup­port for re­li­gious free­dom.

Still, that’s not the whole story. Could it also be that some Cana­di­ans feel that the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms’ guar­an­tee of re­li­gious free­dom doesn’t ad­e­quately pro­tect them? If so, their an­swer about re­li­gious free­dom may re­flect their judg­ment on the ef­fec­tive­ness of char­ter pro­tec­tions.

Seven in 10 Cana­di­ans say they feel the fed­eral gov­ern­ment re­spects their re­li­gious com­mu­nity. And al­most six in 10 say Cana­dian so­ci­ety ei­ther makes room for their faith and val­ues, or has lit­tle im­pact on them. Dig­ging deeper un­cov­ers a mixed pic­ture. First the good news: a re­mark­able 85 per cent of non-Chris­tians — in­clud­ing Hin­dus, Jews, Bud­dhists, Mus­lims and Sikhs — say they feel the gov­ern­ment re­spects them. This is also the group least likely to say so­ci­ety shuts out their faith and val­ues.

This is en­cour­ag­ing. Non-Chris­tians should feel wel­come in Canada.

Now the bad news: Chris­tians don’t fare as well. Over­all, Catholic and other Chris­tians feel less re­spected by gov­ern­ment and less wel­come in so­ci­ety than non-Chris­tians do.

But it’s Canada’s evan­gel­i­cal Protes­tants who feel es­pe­cially marginal­ized. They’re the most likely to say the feds dis­re­spect them, with four in 10 evan­gel­i­cals say­ing so. And just over half of this re­li­gious mi­nor­ity says so­ci­ety shuts them out. They may not be en­joy­ing all the ben­e­fits of re­li­gious free­dom.

This finding is un­sur­pris­ing given the news of the last year: Evan­gel­i­cals and other Chris­tians bore the brunt of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Canada Sum­mer Jobs fiasco, which fil­tered out grant re­cip­i­ents based on their be­liefs. Le­gal chal­lenges are on­go­ing but haven’t borne fruit yet.

The evan­gel­i­cal Trin­ity West­ern Univer­sity in B.C. faced dis­crim­i­na­tion by sev­eral law so­ci­eties op­posed to it set­ting up a law school — dis­crim­i­na­tion that the Supreme Court of Canada even­tu­ally up­held.

And in Al­berta, it’s mostly evan­gel­i­cal schools that are threat­ened with the loss of fund­ing over an ide­o­log­i­cal dis­agree­ment with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

But could there also be some am­ne­sia about the fun­da­men­tal hu­man right of re­li­gious free­dom?

What many may not re­al­ize is that re­li­gious free­dom is not just for the re­li­gious; it ben­e­fits ev­ery­one. It pro­tects the abil­ity of the re­li­gious and non-re­li­gious to act ac­cord­ing to their deep­est be­liefs — in­form­ing our free­doms of speech, as­so­ci­a­tion and assem­bly. More Cana­di­ans need to see and un­der­stand this con­nec­tion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.