Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sorry, religious conservatives, Canada is a secular country

I'm immensely pleased with this Supreme Court ruling yesterday.   It has struck me as wrong for decades that we continue to recite Christian prayers at public council and legislative meetings in this diverse and secular country.

Chantal Hebert nicely sums up the issues in her column here. 

Hebert writes: "The recitation of a prayer remains a fundamentally religious act, a fact about which the court had this to say: “. . . the state may not, by expressing its own religious preference, promote the participation of believers to the exclusion of non-believers or vice-versa. (. . . ) A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society..." 

"In paragraph 74 of the judgment, and almost as an aside from its core narrative, Justice Clément Gascon writes: “I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.”

Those who suggest that Canada is a Christian country by heritage and therefore that should trump other religions today are wrong headed.   To them, I have a simple message: Canada was originally 100% Aboriginal.   The Europeans and others who brought Christianity here did so centuries afterwards.   Christians have no more right to dominate public spaces today with their practises than any other religious group of immigrants like Muslims or Hindus.

We are all descendants of immigrants to Canada, if not immigrants ourselves.   Even Aboriginal Canadians are descendants from the very first immigrants to this land.   Plus we are a country that respects the clear division between church and state.

Those religious folks tend to resent it when they perceive the state encroaching on religious freedom.   Yet many of those same folks continue to demand that their religions encroach on the state (such as with public funding for Catholic schools in Ontario, or Christian prayers at the start of city council meetings, or conservative religious censorship of public school curriculum.)

I'm sure we'll all hear incessant grumbling about how Canada is a Christian country from those with a warped perspective of history, and how this ruling is unjust.  Canada was a Christian country when the Christians took it over and imposed their religion on the entire populace.  But now in these secular times, such old practices need to be curtailed.

A moment of silence at the beginning of legislative sittings would be most appropriate from now on.   But no spoken prayers.