Threats to Cooperation Between Religion & the State in Canada Today

(Watch the conference presentation on video: Threats to Cooperation Between Religion & the State in Canada Today)

Wizard of Id by parker and hart—July 13, 2003

King addressing the populace from the balcony of the castle says: "You're violating the separation of church and state."

One of the crowd shouts back: "what does that mean?"

The King: "I dunno. It's just something we always say."

Wizard goes into the bar; "Gimme three bourbons and a tankard of ale."

The Bartender says: "What's wrong?"

The Wizard replies: "I've just finished reading the constitution 15 times!"

The Lawyer with his big top hat is also at the bar and says: "And?..."

Wizard: "I can't find the phrase 'separation of church and state' anywhere"!

The Lawyer sips his tankard of ale and says: "that's cause it don't exist!"

Wizard: "Don't exist?" Then he continues: "You lawyers slather it about like it's pure doctrine!"

The others in the bar all join in the chorus: "Yeah!"

The Lawyer with his cane is preparing to leave and his parting shot is: "So? Would you guys like the king running your church?"

"So? Would you guys like the king running your church?"

On the occasion of the Madrid Conference on European Security and Cooperation, (Sept. 1, 1980), Pope John Paul II stated:

... freedom of conscience and of religion ... is a primary and inalienable right of the human person; what is more, insofar as it touches the innermost sphere of the spirit, one can even say that it upholds the justification, deeply rooted in each individual, of all other liberties. Of course, such freedom can only be exercised in a responsible way, that is, in accordance with ethical principles ...

Pope John Paul II coming from a phenomenologist philosophical background spoke of freedom of conscience and of religion being the primary and inalienable right of the human person and that it is the foundation of all other liberties. It is because he has a conscience that man should be free and that freedom, thus, must be exercised responsibly, that is to say, in accordance with ethical principles.

Faith is oriented to the ultimate concern and purpose of human life. To deny religious freedom is to rob human persons of the ultimate meaning and direction of their lives. Constraining religious liberty diminishes our humanity.

In its Declaration on Religious Freedom, the Second Vatican Council declared: "the right of religious freedom has it foundation in the very dignity of the human person, as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and reason itself." Catholic teaching on human rights is based on both reason and religious faith.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by many nations of the world, is based on human reason.

Both the UN declaration and Catholic teaching root human rights in the dignity of the human person. The fact that both human reason and religious faith can lead to respect for human rights is evident in the collaboration of diverse actors and groups throughout the world who work to promote respect for inalienable and universal human rights.

A commitment to human rights is not alien to any authentic quest for religious or moral truth because it flows from the very nature of the human person and emerges naturally in all authentic religious, moral and cultural traditions as they move to express more deeply the truth of human life.

It is significant that nations with widely varying religious heritages have embraced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is also important to understand that full religious freedom is a rich reality with broad personal and societal implications.

Religious liberty begins with the right to worship according to one's conscience, but it does not end there. Religious freedom covers a broad range of vital activities from freedom of worship to freedom of conscience, from the right to establish schools and charities to the right to participate in and seek to influence public affairs.

Religious freedom is inextricably linked to other fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, freedom of speech and legal recognition of voluntary associations. Religious freedom is exercised by both individual persons and religious communities and institutions.

How is all of this being played out in Canada to day—I would say the reviews are mixed.

Revenue Canada—On June 15, 2004 I received a harassing telephone call from Mr. Terry De Marche from Revenue Canada Charities Division as a result of a complaint lodged by someone objecting to a Pastoral Letter in which I attempted to clear up some moral confusion engendered by former Prime Minister of Canada. In much of the secular media Prime Minister Paul Martin was portrayed as a "devout Catholic" even though his clarified position re abortion and same sex unions constituted scandal in the Catholic community and reflected a fundamental moral incoherence.

n the pastoral I pointed out that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offered guidance relative to the role religious faith should play in the 'public square'. The Note is a reminder to Catholic politicians of their duty to be morally coherent: "There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand the so-called 'spiritual life,' with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular' life, that is, life in family, at work .... in the responsibilities of public life and in culture." (Note, 6).

The person who lodged the complaint deemed that my letter contravened the Elections Act.

During the telephone call, Mr. De Marche reminded me that I wasn't to engage in partisan politics, etc, pointing out that such actions were in contravention of the Elections Act and implying that my actions jeopardized my charitable tax status. I pointed out that I didn't tell anyone how to vote, that my letter was "pastoral" to my people on Catholic teaching and an attempt to clear up moral confusion. I asked him if pastoral letters were outlawed? He never answered that question. He talked about perception and I replied that I can't control the perceptions of all people in Canada, but have to assume that they can think, and can think critically and evaluate, and surely to God they can understand that I am not telling anyone how to vote here.

He then asked if I was going to take the pastoral letter down from our diocesan web site? I answered "no, why should I?" Again there was no response to my question. He wanted to know if I was going to do anything else re the election? I said nothing was contemplated. He then said that he was gong to write a report for his supervisor or superior and that I might hear back from them again.

I was left with the impression that this conversation didn't go the way he thought it would, i.e. I didn't fold, beat my breast, and say that I was sorry and that I would never do it again; but that his purpose had been served insofar as I was warned or threatened; and that I wouldn't do anything more and that he matter could simply be dropped. I never heard anything more directly on the matter.

However his intervention prompted me to write another article for the Calgary Sun, entitled "Election—'Responsibility and Discernment'"outlining some key principles of moral and social teaching which function like a lens through which to examine and evaluate public policy and programs, e.g. respect for life, support for marriage and family life, the preferential option for the poor, and the common good.

Nigel Hannaford of the Calgary Herald wrote an opinion piece on Saturday August 21, 2004 entitled ,"The Silent Pulpit," dealing with a March 29th luncheon meeting that took place between Revenue Canada spokesperson and lawyers for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Fellowship. He concluded:

"..Governments don't like challengers to the moral authority they claim for themselves.... there is no question about Ottawa's direction. An end to sanctuary. No praying to Christ at government events, no more Bibles for new Canadians, and making it a hate crime to condemn homosexual practices: Two Canadian prime ministers declaring their role as politicians supersedes their Catholic convictions. That's the context in which the two church lawyers were invited to chat with the tax collectors. They took heed, then gave their employer-churches correct advice on keeping their tax exemptions. The churches took it, and were quiet on the moral issues of the day. Something their Founder never was."

Nigel's column prompted me to share my story with him, and that upped the ante considerably, leading to more media coverage and some interesting exchanges in the House of Commons.

I am not going to bore you by reading all of the exchanges recorded in Hansard but I would like to give you something of the flavour of the dialogue between Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick and the Minister of National Revenue , Hon. John McCallum.

BF "....It is however very disturbing when government uses the machinery of government, the powers of the state, to muzzle and shut down our most fundamental freedoms...."

JM "... We know that the great majority of charities will conduct their activities within the law when they fully understand it. It is the job of the officials of the Canada Revenue Agency to help charities understand the rules so that they can easily comply. It is common practice for our officials to be proactive in dealing with registered charities and to provide guidance and assistance in helping them comply with the law...

"We are sometimes called upon to discuss the issues of partisan political activities with charities. This can happen after receipt of a complaint or when an official notices that the rules re being pushed. In these cases, we always try to understand what the charity is trying to achieve and what it is planning on doing in the near future..."

BF "... Men and ladies of the cloth deal with moral issue on a day to day basis, whether one is talking about war, family, marriage, just name it. They speak to these issues all the time because that it the nature of their occupation. It is really wrong that the state during an election campaign could tell people of the cloth to shut up, that they cannot speak on these issues during an election and to close down their churches or religion during the election period because the state does not like what they have to say on moral issues during an election campaign. That is wrong."

Mr. Jeff Watson continued the exchange with Hon John McCallum.
"... There is a pattern emerging from the Liberal government. A religious organization, such as the United Church of Canada or the Metropolitan Community Church, that agrees with the government on a moral issue, for example, same sex marriage, is free to publicly support the government..... A religious organization that disagrees with the Liberal government on a moral issue, same sex marriages, for example, is threatened by Revenue Canada Agency officials.... I have read the letter that was on Bishop Henry's website. I do not see here anything advocates a cause for voting or not voting for a particular candidate or political party. The minister owes us a much better answer than the first time around....

JM "Madam Speaker, in general terms I reject the charge but the law, as have said before, does not permit me to refer to any conversation or even to acknowledge that such a conversation did or did not take place.... the Income Tax Act prohibits me from breaching the confidentiality of any tax payer, so I am unable to address any concerns they may have with regards to specific organizations."

Finally I would like to cite the question asked by Mr. Richard Harris:
"Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government threatened Bishop Henry of Calgary when he dared to talk about catholic teaching during the last election, and it did it using revenue agency's tax cops. When the bishop talked about these threats, Scott Reid, the Prime Minister's spokesman, called the bishop's comments "a ridiculous and unconscionable allegation". Scott Reid's attack on the bishop is despicable, and attack on his honesty and integrity.

Will he be made to apologize, and will he be disciplined?"

For those of you who don't know Scott Reid. He is the same person who said that parents couldn't be trust with monthly child care dollars as they would spend it on beer and popcorn. But I digress. Please note the technique: denial, obfuscate, hide behind confidentiality and if all of these fail, attack the person (ad hominen).

Come income tax time, I fully expected that as a result of my little confrontation that I would be audited. It didn't really happen but I was asked to supply information relative to my 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004 RRSP contributions. I am not claiming that there was a causal connection but I am happy to announce that after I complied with their request, I received a further $70.40 tax credit.

In Canada , we are also experiencing "The trumping of freedoms".

Religious belief is intertwined with 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..."

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."

Within the past couple of years, there have been a series of bizarre happenings. Human rights laws, designed as a shield, are now being used as a sword.

I am not going to speak at length about any of these situations but would like to address the Alberta Human Rights Complaints lodged against myself.

Carol Johnson and Norman Greenfield, each, and as far as I can determine independently of one another, filed a complaint against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary and myself on the ground of sexual orientation in the area of "goods/services refused and terms of goods/services", and in the area of "publications, notices, signs and statements," based on my January 2005 Pastoral Letter in which I challenged one by one the standard arguments used to support same sex unions as the equivalent of traditional marriage.

It is surprising that the Commission accepted the complaints on the basis of "good/services refused and terms of goods/services," as there was no explanation as to what constituted the goods or services refused, or their terms. Nor did the complainants set out the manner of discrimination in the areas. In short, although there was no evidence of denial of services as alleged, the Commission proceeded with the complaint.

In the second area,"publications, notices, signs and statements," the evidence was a January 21st, 2005 Pastoral Letter signed by myself and issued form the Office of the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary.

Since the two complaints were substantially the same, I will spell out the particular of Mr. Greenfield's complaint:

The following three statements were alleged to be discriminatory:

a) "There are also historical, cultural, philosophical, moral and anthropological roots. The failure to attend to the heath of all the roots runs the risk of killing the tree and destroying the public good."

b) "The principal objective in seeking same-sex "marriage" is not really even about equality rights. The goal is to acquire a powerful psychological weapon to change society's rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant acceptance."

c) "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good." The letters were published on the website of the Diocese, and republished in the media, "to incite hatred of a person or a class of persons, with the added intention of asking for this same group to be treated with contempt by the Government of Canada and parishioners of the Diocese."

I want to make a few comments on each of these items.

a) "There are also historical, cultural, philosophical, moral and anthropological roots. The failure to attend to the heath of all the roots runs the risk of killing the tree and destroying the public good."

This one boggles my mind—where is the discrimination? The full quote is: "The Supreme Court has said that Parliament may redefine marriage, it has not said that it must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. The Supreme Court Justices talk about reading the Constitution, "expansively," and that it is like a "living tree which by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life."

Nevertheless, I would suggest that there are more roots to the tree than simply the Charter of Rights and Freedom. There are also historical, cultural, philosophical, moral, and anthropological roots. The failure to attend to the health of all the roots runs the risk of killing the tree and destroying the public good."

b) "The principal objective in seeking same-sex "marriage" is not really even about equality rights. The goal is to acquire a powerful psychological weapon to change society's rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant acceptance."

Apparently, a gay activist can make such a statement but I am not permitted to do so.

Writing on August 16, 2000, in the Chicago Free Press, homosexual activist Paul Varnell states: "The fundamental controverted issue about homosexuality is not discrimination, hate crimes or domestic partnerships, but the morality of homosexuality. Even if gays obtain non­discrimination laws, hate crime law and domestic partnership benefits, those can do little to counter the underlying moral condemnation which will continue to fester beneath the law and generate hostility, fuel hate crimes, support conversion therapies, encourage gay youth suicide and inhibit the full social acceptance that is our goal. . . So the gay movement, whether we acknowledge it or not, is not a civil rights movement, not even a sexual liberation movement, but a moral revolution aimed at changing people's view of homosexuality."

c) "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."

Each, in its own way, undermines the foundations of the family. My list was never meant to be exhaustive as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also mentions: divorce, fornication, rape, etc.

The state obviously responds to each of these threats to family life in different ways as it exercises its coercive power. The government has a solemn obligation to protect, not re-engineer, an institution that is more fundamental to human life than the state. In a word, it must "build fences" to protect the institution of marriage.

The coercive power of the state extends to traffic laws, tax policy, education curriculum, communication regulations, and a whole host of other areas including marriage.

For example, in the case of marriage, federal legislation prohibits people from marrying if they are related linearly or as brother and sister, whether by whole blood, half blood or by adoption. Specifically: a woman may not marry her grandfather, father, grandson, son or brother. A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, granddaughter, daughter of sister.

The time has come for the government of Canada to use its coercive powers to legislate that a couple being married must be one man and one woman.

The letters were published on the website of the Diocese, and republished in the media, "to incite hatred of a person or a class of persons, with the added intention of asking for this same group to be treated with contempt by the Government of Canada and parishioners of the Diocese."

Several times, I have written and sated: "It must be acknowledged that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard to others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law."

This echos basic Christian teaching: "they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided (Catechism of the Catholic Church (2358).

The difficult balance is to hold onto both unconditional love and uncompromising truth.

Despite the clarifications presented to the complainants, the Alberta Human Rights Commission and the media, on August 24, 2005 we proceeded to the next stage of the human rights process, Conciliation.

This session is held "without prejudice" so what is said remains in the room and falls under the banner of confidentiality. When asked by the media re what transpired—I said: "Given the nature of my office, the importance of confidentiality, and my own personal reputation, I feel duty bound to adhere to the rules of the process, so I will not comment on what transpired, other than to say I am pleased with the outcome."

Mr. Greenfield had asked me if he could speak to the media after the session. I said, "It's up to you but I'm not going to."

Acccording to Rick Bell of the Calgary Sun, Mr. Greenfield said: "What I wanted to do is bring the issue to the media. There really is no other platform to do this, with the media selective in what sort of discussion they want to hear and the lack of public forums in the city for people like myself to go and talk about this issue.... I never had a problem withe bishop or what he preaching from the pulpit. I just had a problem with him asking our provincial government to use their coercive power to make sam-sex marriage illegal."

Rick Bell went on to comment that the complaints, taken seriously by the human rights commission, caused substantial stress to Bishop Henry, faithful Christians and freedom lovers across the country, but it does not seem to have entered the equation for Mr. Greenfield or the commission. Moreover, the defense has cost the diocese and its contributors thousands of dollars.

I believe that these complaints were an attempt to intimidate and silence me, the lodging of these complaints constituted a violation of my right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedom, and has revealed a multitude of problems with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and its processes.

Based on my experience, it is not difficult to point out a number of imbalances and flaws in AHRC's current operation such as the presumption of guilt until you can prove your innocence, the open ended time lines for dealing with a complaint, and unjust incurring of financial expenditures for the defendant in the simple event of a complaint being lodged. However, there is no punitive action imposed on the complainant as his or her legal fees, if there are any, are covered by the Commission.

I would also agree with the recommendations made to the Government of Canada in the 1998 report tabled by Canada's Auditor General Denis Desautel reviewing the mandate of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, (his recommendations can easily be applied to the provincial counterparts), i.e. that the government should:

  • provide for periodic reviews by Parliament of the relevance and impact of grounds of discrimination;
  • clearly separate the Commission's role as promoter of human rights, investigator and conciliator of complaints, representative of the public interest and advocate for an expanded interpretation of the Canadian Human Rights Act;
  • provide for greater transparency in appointment to the Commission and Tribunals;
  • establish statutory deadlines for the receipt and disclosure of information to and by the Commission;
  • ensure that specific standards are established and followed that safeguard the reliability, impartiality and transparency of the investigation, conciliation and decision-making processes;
  • require clear, complete and timely disclosure of reasons for decisions

I would also have liked the Commission to make a public statement that as of November 1, 2005, both of the complaints against me were dropped.

"So? Would you guys like the king running your church?"—To which I, for one, emphatically respond: "No way!"