Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has taken two major blows recently – one from a policy change implemented by the federal government, the second from the Supreme Court of Canada.
The first blow came when the government announced that any group wishing to apply for Canada Summer Jobs grants had to pledge to follow the Liberal Party’s official policy on a woman’s freedom of choice with respect to abortion.
The second blow came with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Trinity Western University law school case. It ruled allow provincial law societies could override religious choices made by candidates who freely chose to abide by the religious principles of certain Christian law schools, as a condition of entry.
Abortion is, and always has been, a sensitive topic for governments and courts. Most modern and democratic countries have resolved the complex topic by allowing unrestricted freedom of choice to a pregnant woman during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Thereafter, there are restrictions.
But there’s no such law in Canada. In fact, there’s no law about abortion at all. Our politicians find the issue too difficult to deal with. In spite of the fact that there’s no law, Canadian women can obtain abortions relatively easily in the first few months of pregnancy.
But if a woman was able to find a practitioner crazy enough to abort her fetus one day before she was scheduled to give birth, no law forbids it.
This is a preposterous scenario and it’s doubtful that something so extreme would ever occur.
But – and this is the truly outrageous part – this is the position that federal policy requires religious groups to sign onto: An absolute and unrestricted freedom to abort right up to the moment of the actual delivery of the baby. Failure to agree to this extreme position means that the groups won’t be eligible for grants of their own tax money.
It should come as no surprise that many religious groups can’t sign the form in good conscience.
The irony is that at one time it was the religious authorities who were the thought police. In that not-so-distant past, religious law trumped everything else. Apostasy laws, blasphemy laws and the like – based on how religious authorities interpreted the Bible – told everyone how to think.
This theocratic thinking still applies in less developed parts of the world, such as Iran. There, religious leaders tell people how they must think.
But in the West, brave Enlightenment thinkers forced the church to give up that absolutism and allowed people to think for themselves.
Now it seems that such intolerant thinking is back in its full fury. But this time, the thinking we’re being required to bow down to is some strange gospel of the secular, as interpreted by unelected judges and a self-described feminist prime minister. Both insist on telling all of us what we must think.
What happened to the Enlightenment?
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired judge and senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.