Religious Freedom

The Cardus Religious Freedom Program exists to foster emerging scholarship, facilitate public discussion, and to engage our country’s democratic institutions on the nature of citizenship and the public square.

Program Director

Andrew Bennett

Our latest project – The Anglosphere Project – looks at the history of religious freedom in the United Kingdom, The United States of America and Canada. A joint initiative of the Religious Freedom Institute and Cardus, it offers a constitutional and institutional history of this foundational liberty in the Anglo-American tradition. Read more at this link.

Research & Policy

Reasonable Limits
Reasonable Limits
2022-02-09T06:00:00

Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental freedoms enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Advocacy of religious freedom is often misunderstood as calling for positions that would be difficult for anyone to reasonably accept.

Needs Improvement: How Public Schools Teach about Religion
Needs Improvement: How Public Schools Teach about Religion
2022-01-26T06:00:00

Are students in public schools receiving the necessary formation that will support their participation in a society that is becoming increasingly diverse in religious expression? Instructing the next generations not in a religion but about religion should be a key element of Canadian education.

Our Inner Guide: Protecting Freedom of Conscience
Our Inner Guide: Protecting Freedom of Conscience
2021-09-27T09:29:55

Conscience, though inherently individual, is vital to the common good. Using current case studies from Canada that engage freedom of conscience, this paper offers concrete recommendations as to how this human right can be robustly protected at home and abroad.

Building Community
Building Community
2021-03-11T08:00:00

Building community has not been easy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gathering restrictions have been difficult enough for those with strong relationships, but for those who were already struggling to develop meaningful connections, the added challenges of physical distancing requirements and stay-at-home orders have simply added to their social isolation.

Public Worship Leads to Public Action
Public Worship Leads to Public Action
2021-03-11T08:00:00

When we speak about public worship, especially in the Christian tradition, we often use the term liturgy. Liturgy derives from the Greek word leitourgia which originally meant any public act. Christians in particular came to refer to religious worship, which has always been a public action, as liturgy: the coming together of the Christian community to praise and hymn God; to proclaim God’s Word; to offer petitions for the community and for the world; and, for many Christians, to participate in the Eucharist. But what then? Why is public worship important? What happens after our times of public worship? What is the liturgy after the liturgy?

Ve'ahavta - A Case Study on Jewish Humanitarian Response to Poverty
Ve'ahavta - A Case Study on Jewish Humanitarian Response to Poverty
2021-03-09T08:00:00

Ve’ahavta is a faith-based initiative of the Toronto Jewish community. Its focus is on bringing about positive change in the lives of people who have been affected by poverty, homelessness, and related forms of hardship. Its outreach activities are available to anyone who might benefit, regardless of their faith or belief.

The Welcome Home, Winnipeg
The Welcome Home, Winnipeg
2021-02-05T09:00:00

The Welcome Home is a Catholic ministry in the North Point Douglas neighbourhood in Winnipeg’s North End. It serves as a gathering place for residents of the neighbourhood and offers weekly and monthly programs that respond to Jesus Christ’s beckoning in the Gospel of Matthew: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you” (Matthew 11:28).

Pastoral Home Care of the Archdiocese of Montreal / SASMAD
Pastoral Home Care of the Archdiocese of Montreal / SASMAD
2021-02-01T17:47:35

Le Service d’accompagnement spirituel pour les personnes malades ou âgées à domicile (SASMAD), or as it is known in English, Pastoral Home Care, is an outreach program of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal. It is a free and confidential service that provides spiritual support through home visits to those who are sick or elderly. It is volunteer based and is supported by the archdiocese and by a private Catholic foundation.

Our Time - Project at Vanier Centre for Women
Our Time - Project at Vanier Centre for Women
2021-01-22T11:00:00

The OUR TIME project is a service initiative by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints volunteering at the Vanier Centre for Women, a correctional facility in Milton, Ontario. Through OUR TIME, the women incarcerated at Vanier have the opportunity to record themselves reading to their children, giving them a chance to hear their mothers’ voices while they are apart.

Union Gospel Mission: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
Union Gospel Mission: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
2021-01-12T09:00:00

Union Gospel Mission (UGM) ministers to people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and addiction throughout Metro Vancouver and Mission, British Columbia. Throughout its eighty-year history, Union Gospel Mission’s work has been rooted in and motived by its Christian faith. The organization meets immediate needs in the region with emergency shelter, chaplaincy services, and meals.

Matthew House: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
Matthew House: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
2020-11-10T15:39:02

Matthew House Ottawa provides services to refugee claimants, offering them a temporary place to live in Ottawa, Ontario, and access to an established support network as they start their new life in Canada.

Christian Horizons: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
Christian Horizons: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
2020-10-23T09:00:20

As its name suggests, Christian Horizons has been a Christian organization since its inception. Its founders, the Rev. Jim and Adrienne Reese, were devout members of the Baptist tradition. They envisioned and created an explicitly Christian response to the need to support people with disabilities.

Ismaili CIVIC: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
Ismaili CIVIC: Case Studies in Faith-Based Social Service
2020-10-14T16:28:57

Ismaili Muslims believe that it is the role of the Imam to continuously interpret the faith of Islam according to the times.

An Institutional History of Religious Freedom in Canada
An Institutional History of Religious Freedom in Canada
2020-04-03T09:51:35

This paper aims to provide a historical context for why freedom of religion and conscience is foundational to Canadian democracy, diversity, pluralism, and to our common life as human beings living in this place, this Canada.

Who Are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity
Who Are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity
2019-10-28T08:00:22

“Know thyself.” 

This ancient Greek maxim is popular today, but also widely misunderstood. Self knowledge goes deeper than awareness of your likes, dislikes, and personal interests. To know who you are, is to know what you are. 

What kind of being am I? What does it mean to be human? Do I have dignity? Who Are You? Reaffirming Human Dignity from the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute will help you answer these questions.  

Halacha and Civil Society
Halacha and Civil Society
2019-04-30T12:00:38

In this speech given at a CRFI symposium in Ottawa, Rabbi Dr. Reuven Bulka offers personal reflections on how the respect (or lack of respect) for religious freedom in Canada has helped or hindered the Jewish community's participation in public life.  Offering his prognosis and concerns for the future of religious freedom in Canada, Rabbi Bulka explores examples of cooperation, conflict, and relevant court cases that have shaped the present relationship between civil and Jewish law in Canadian society.

Judaism and the Social Order
Judaism and the Social Order
2019-03-26T11:21:47

Two Models for Accommodation

In this paper, Jonathan Milevsky explores Jewish understandings of the social order by examining the thought of two influential 20th century rabbis, David Novak and Emil Fackenheim. This paper is the second in a series of three papers published by the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute on the intersection of civil law and Jewish law (halakha). It was delivered at a CRFI symposium at the Ottawa Torah Centre in November 2018.

Synagogue and State: The Evolution of the Relationship Between the Jewish People, Halacha, and the State
Synagogue and State: The Evolution of the Relationship Between the Jewish People, Halacha, and the State
2019-02-11T09:00:34

This paper traces the history of Jewish halachic law and its encounters with political authority and civil law around the world.  Unpacking a complex relationship, Rabbi Fogel describes how Jewish law has historically served as both a "protector" and a "bridge" for Jewish communities under oppressive, supportive, and benign governance. 

He explores Jewish views of religious and civil law, conflicts between them, and how Jewish communities and secular states have navigated tensions. He writes, "Ultimately, the relationship between Halacha and societal law is the longest-running case study of a religious minority—one that is often persecuted and oppressed—struggling to maintain its identity while simultaneously trying to engage in and contribute to the broader society. Through it all, Halacha has acted as both the protector of the Jewish faith and the bridge between the Jewish community and the societies that it has encountered. 

While this story is far from over, I hope this paper can provide some insight into how Jewish law perceives secular law, the secular state, and its relationship to both."

Opportunity and Temptation: A Reformed Christian Legal Perspective on Church Discipline in Canada
Opportunity and Temptation: A Reformed Christian Legal Perspective on Church Discipline in Canada
2019-01-21T12:00:24

In this paper, André Schutten and John Sikkema explore church-state relations in Reformed Christian thought. They describe the high view of both government and local church authority present in the Reformed tradition. They examine recent legal conflicts in Canada between church and state, including Supreme Court cases such as Wall v. Highwood Congregation and the two Trinity Western University cases (2018), and human rights tribunal proceedings regarding the institutional autonomy of congregations to enforce church discipline. This paper is the third in a series of presentations made at the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute's Symposium on the Intersection of Civil and Canon Law.

The Role of Canon Law in the Catholic Tradition and the Question of Church and State
The Role of Canon Law in the Catholic Tradition and the Question of Church and State
2019-01-14T12:00:26

This paper answers questions such as "What is Canon Law?" and "What are its sources, uses, and its theological basis in the Roman Catholic Church?" Fr. Laschuk, the Judicial Vicar for the Archdiocese of Toronto, also explores Christian and canonical understandings of the proper relationship between church and state and between civil and canon law. This paper is the second in a series of three papers published by the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute on the intersection of civil and canon law.

Canon Law and its Intersection with Civil Law Throughout Canadian History
Canon Law and its Intersection with Civil Law Throughout Canadian History
2019-01-07T10:00:34

The paper, "Canon Law and its Intersection with Civil Law Throughout Canadian History" authored by Rev. Francis Morrisey briefly traces the history of Roman Catholic canon law in New France and Canada from the 16th century to the present. It was delivered at the first Decretum Symposium of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute in Ottawa in October 2018.

The Imperative of Conscience Rights
The Imperative of Conscience Rights
2018-12-04T08:00:04

This paper tackles critical but neglected questions affecting diverse societies today. What activity does freedom of conscience protect? Why protect this activity in a bill of rights? When can governments limit this freedom? Can governments pressure citizens to adopt beliefs against their conscience? How does freedom of conscience differ from religious freedom? What is the relationship between human dignity and freedom of conscience? 

This paper grapples with the current relevance of freedom of conscience and makes the case for robust protection of this fundamental human right.

Why Religious Freedom?
Why Religious Freedom?
2017-04-20T00:00:00

This critical paper on religious freedom and its relationship to the State by Professor Brett Scharffs of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University poses an important question: why should anyone care about religious freedom? The question here, though, is specifically directed towards those who are indifferent or hostile to, or uninformed about religious freedom.

Prof. Scharffs proceeds to examine a number of the crucial debates around freedom of religion and conscience through both an historical prism and by reviewing recent American jurisprudence dealing with this foundational, or as he terms it a "root" freedom. The arguments made by Prof. Scharffs are particularly cogent. Firstly, he articulates why religious freedom is a distinct freedom with deep historical and philosophical roots, distinct from freedom of speech, association, and assembly yet inextricably bound to them and they to it. He cautions against direct or indirect attempts to sever fundamental freedoms from the root of religious freedom—an act which would result in the withering of these related freedoms.

Secondly, in his examination of the role of the State vis-a-vis the guarantee of religious freedom he offers a valuable and timely distinction between what he terms monist and dualist views. Prof. Scharffs cautions against both secular and religious monism in which religious freedom and other freedoms are viewed as gifts of the State to citizens which can likewise be taken back by the State. He advocates for a dualism in which the State acknowledges the core principle that human rights are understood to be born by all human beings and derived from our inherent characteristics of reason and conscience and our ability to have empathy and compassion for our fellows. Prof. Scharffs raises grave concern about what he perceives to be "an erosion of the strong commitment to dualism that underlies not just the human rights worldview but most of Western history."

Freedom of Conscience and Religion
Freedom of Conscience and Religion
2017-03-16T00:00:00

This paper by Professor Douglas Farrow of McGill University is both a timely and forthright contribution to the growing discussion on the impact of the autonomy doctrine on a broad range of concepts, beliefs, and our understanding of truth itself.

The powerful criticism of this doctrine offered here is insightful. The paper offers a very helpful summary of the development of the autonomy doctrine philosophically and historically. In his arguments Prof. Farrow asserts that the increasingly widely held belief in the radical autonomy of the individual is having and will have a severely constraining effect on religious freedom. For Prof. Farrow the world is being fundamentally reordered in such a way around the individual that there is no longer any room for counter claims founded upon conscience and religious faith except insofar as they may be an aspect of a given person's individuality. Under the autonomy doctrine such claims must be assessed for what damage they might cause to another person's autonomy. The paper goes on to argue that under this conception of autonomy the human individual is no longer viewed as an accountable moral agent but rather a self-creating, self-measuring, and self-terminating being and no form of perceived religious intolerance must be permitted to infringe on this new conceptualisation of the social contract.

For Prof. Farrow, this development is a disturbing one. He examines how this idea has taken root in Canada not simply as broadly-held opinion but institutionally through legislation and regulation. Finally, Prof. Farrow assesses this increasing entrenchment of the autonomy doctrine particularly in how this doctrine misunderstands the human body and how ultimately certain fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of religion and conscience, will become subservient to this self-same doctrine.

Religious Freedom and the Common Good
Religious Freedom and the Common Good
2017-02-23T00:00:00

Professor Tom Farr's clearly written paper traces for the reader the development of the idea of religious freedom in the American context from the founding days of the republic during the Enlightenment through to our times in which the very acceptance of religious freedom as a core principle in our society is under threat.

Farr argues persuasively that the United States' founding fathers created a system of religious freedom based on the free exercise principle that was genuinely new. This system recognized a public faith, one that reflected the interior faith lives of citizens in how they conducted themselves religiously in the public space. This was possible due to the conception held by the vast majority of Americans that they were a religious people, yet this historic understanding has shifted fundamentally. Farr buttresses this civic understanding of religious freedom with the Catholic understanding of religious freedom and its insistence on human dignity and conscience leading to an exploration of how religious freedom is exercised by faithful individuals and those self-same individuals existing as and operating within communities of faith.

Farr offers a clear warning around the growing intolerance for religious freedom in the United States in the face of non-discrimination laws and a rejection of religious freedom as being intrinsically bound up in the common good. This state of affairs has led to a collective forgetting of what religious freedom means. It is an amnesia that is hindering the United States' ability to engage religion when it confronts it in the world of international affairs.

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