Bishop's Blog

The Trumping of Freedoms

The brief prayer, “God bless Canada,” uttered by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the end of his election victory speech, sent shock waves through much of Canadian society.

Although taken aback by such an unexpected conclusion, I was absolutely delighted and yelled out a loud “yes” in the solitude of my living room and pumped my fist in the air, reminiscent of Tiger Woods' reaction to sinking an impossible putt.

Why? All too many of our politicians and public figures have been inclined to be timid, even apologetic, in professing or witnessing any belief in God.

Rather than forbidding the mention of God, here was a Prime Minister actually mentioning God and asking for a blessing; this constituted nothing less that a modern day resuscitation.

The Prime Minister’s conclusion, of course, dovetails perfectly with his call for government accountability and integrity, as ultimate accountability must be rendered to God. Furthermore, his reference to God reflects our nation’s history, the spirit of the founding fathers and mothers of our nation, our national anthem, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which begins “Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

Immediately, the Charter proceeds to list our fundamental freedoms. The first one is the freedom of conscience and religion. The second is freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression.

In the Supreme Court case, known as Big M Drug Mart case, Chief Justice Dickson established the nature of religious freedom in broad terms: “The essence of the concept of freedom of religion is the right to entertain such religious beliefs as a person chooses, the right to declare beliefs openly and without fear of hindrance or reprisal, and the right to manifest belief by worship and practice or by teaching and dissemination...”

Regrettably, it’s mostly been downhill ever since.

After asserting our fundamental freedoms, the Charter then begins to spell out rights - first democratic rights, then mobility rights, followed by legal rights, then equality rights, etc.

Section 15 (1) reads: “Every individual is equal before and under the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

More recently, not only has “sexual orientation” been read into the Section 15 (1) of the Charter, but the courts have ruled that protection for homosexual practices is part and parcel of the protection for “sexual orientation.”

In 2002, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled that the owner of a print shop, Scott Brockie, could not refuse to provide services to an organization even if the organization’s fundamental purpose violated his religious conscience. Brockie, an evangelical Christian, had refused to print letterhead and stationery for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. The court narrowed the acknowledgment of Brockie’s religious beliefs. He could only refuse to print materials the content of which actually offended his beliefs. Meanwhile, he was fined for offending the dignity of his gay-rights accusers.

In 2005, a BC Human Rights Tribunal ruled that a Knights of Columbus Council was entitled to cancel a hall rental when the Council learned that the rental was for a lesbian “wedding” reception. Nevertheless, beyond comprehension, the panel proceeded to rule that the complainants had suffered an affront to their “dignity, feelings, and self-respect,” and the women were therefore awarded $1,000 each. All of this despite a number of efforts being made by the Knights to accommodate the couple in question with other options.

In 2002, the BC College of Teachers disciplined a distinguished public school educator Chris Kempling for conduct unbecoming a teacher giving him a one-month suspension. His supposed crime boiled down to writing letters to the editor and an opinion piece in the Quesnal Cariboo Observer questioning the wisdom of promoting the homosexual agenda. Numerous appeals proved unsuccessful.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his freedom of speech case, prompting Kempling to state: “This is a victory for the enemies of free speech and a sad day for all Canadians who value the free exchange of ideas in the public square. Everything that I have publicly written about homosexuality is backed up by solid research data. I stand by what I have written. People need to remember that I have never been asked to retract any of my public statements, nor has any human rights complaint ever been laid against me. I was simply expressing a social conservative point of view shared by millions of Canadians.”

Since the Constitution Act of 1982 was passed, we have witnessed a new set of trump-rights to sexual gratification and expressive behaviour that override the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Charter.

As more and more social issues pass into the courts, there is less of a role for democratically elected bodies. As a result, not only is there less government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but consensus building and compromise disappear. There are then only winners and losers, and God help you if you are not on the politically correct side.

When a Prime Minister asks for God to bless the country, this gesture symbolizes the hope that the public square, that common place where people of all faiths and walks of life meet, work, study, debate, play, and worship, might after all respect and defend our fundamental religious freedoms.

“God bless Canada” deserves a resounding “Amen.”

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
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