Promoting a Flourishing Society

Religious Freedom and Communities

April 30, 2018

How is religious freedom exercised by citizens and upheld by our institutions?

The issue of how religious freedom is exercised by citizens and upheld by our institutions is surely one of the more fundamental issues being debated today in North American and specifically Canadian society. Amidst various court rulings, and in particular decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada, we can detect an emerging recognition for how religious freedom is exercised and advanced by individuals within their religious or belief communities. While fundamental freedoms and rights are classically understood to be borne by individuals there is a growing awareness that among people of faith the right to freedom of religion or conscience is typically exercised in the context of being a member of the broader faith community whether that be a local congregation, a faith-based institution such as a school or university, or an indigenous community striving to adhere to sacred traditions.

The relationship of religious freedom to communities of different forms is explored in a ground-breaking new collection of essays published by LexisNexis and edited by Professor Dwight Newman of the Faculty of Law at the University of Saskatchewan. The collection Religious Freedom and Communities, published in October 2016, contains 19 essays by several of Canada's leading legal scholars in the field of religious freedom. Among the contributors are Mary Anne Waldron (Victoria), Faisal Bhabha (Osgoode Hall), Carissima Mathen (Ottawa), Janet Epp Buckingham (Trinity Western), and Shauna Van Praagh (McGill).

After surveying the framework for a legal understanding of religious freedom and communities and the historical antecedents for religious freedom and society in Canada, the collection offers a focused examination of some of the leading cases that are currently shaping an understanding of the link between communities and the exercise of religious freedom in Canada. Among the cases surveyed are the 2015 Loyola High School decision of the Supreme Court of Canada; the case of Trinity Western University and its law school; and, in the area of indigenous religious freedom, the current Ktunaxa nation/Jumbo Valley case in British Columbia.

Cardus Law, in partnership with Lexis Nexis, was pleased to launch Religious Freedom and Communities at an event in Ottawa just after the book's publication in November 2016. The event was a structured dialogue between two of the books authors: the general editor of the collection and a contributor of three of the collected papers, Dr. Dwight Newman, and Carissima Mathen of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. The discussion was moderated by Cardus Senior Fellow and Canada's former Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett. The discussion provided insight into the book and in particular to two of the most pressing cases: the Trinity Western University law school case and the Ktunaxa/Jumbo Valley case, both of which have the capacity to further shape the courts' and our institutions' understanding of how individuals as members of communities live and advance their deeply-held beliefs within the broader society in which they live.

Many of these themes and questions around communities and religious freedom were further explored in Cardus Law's Symposium on Religious Freedom as a Fundamental Freedom held in December 2016 at Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto. Click here to watch video interviews from that symposium and read the papers presented.

Topics: Law