Ryan Mallough

Silhouette Staff

 

Freedom of religion is one of the most fundamental tenets of a Western democratic society.  It is so vital that in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, freedom of conscience and religion is listed first before freedom of speech and expression.

Within the right to freedom of religion is the implied separation of church in state – the idea that one’s religious practice is a private affair and will not inform public policy. However, in the practice of so-called “secular” Western democracies, particularly American democracy, this is rarely ever the case.

Last week Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister Dean del Mastro (Con. MP – Peterborough) called out Liberal MP Justin Trudeau (Lib. MP – Papineau) on his Catholic faith, asking if “there [are] any tenets of Catholic faith that Justin supports?”

Trudeau was justifiably outraged, as were many members of the public. After all, Canada is a secular society and in a truly secular government the religion of politicians – religion in general – should not play a role in policy making or the public life.

What came as a surprise to no one is that these comments came from a conservative.

At some point political conservatives co-opted religion; they made themselves the champions of God, and at the same time marked political liberals as the heathens. Furthermore, they made it policy to run on their faith.  The message is that conservatives are Christians with Christian values and therefore are good, moral people. They are members of good, moral parties.

It is logical that orthodoxy or extremists would support a party making conservative policy decisions; however, the moderate believers, the “modern” Christians or Muslims, Jewish and others who practice religion but do not centre their lives on it, what about them? Why does their worship in a church, mosque, or synagogue assume the perception of social conservatism?

Are there no gay Muslims? Are there no pro-choice Christians? Are there no Jewish persons who fight for women’s rights?

Why does practicing and legislating acceptance of all people or believing in a woman’s right to choose brand you a person of bad or no faith? It is the 21st century. As a people Western civilization has overcome slavery, tyranny, and the brink of global nuclear destruction, yet 2,000 years later we still cannot separate ideology from public policy.

It is not impossible for a secular society to be formed by people of faith. Such a society was what the founding fathers of America – the pinnacle of democracy – envisioned. It was never intended to be “one nation under God,” but a society where the policies are informed by the people.

And yet it has become difficult to categorize modern America, be it under a Republican or a Democrat, as a secular nation with a secular society. Lost in the fanfare of having elected the first African-American President was the fact that Joe Biden became only the second non-protestant (a Catholic) ever elected on the presidential ticket— the first was John F. Kennedy.

It is therefore hypocritical for a nation whose leaders have all been of a single faith, save the one exception, to flare up at the lack of secularism in a nation like Libya founding their constitution on a religious doctrine.  Is there really so much difference between “one nation under God” and “one nation under Allah?”

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we view and practice our politics. If the United States, Canada, and the rest of the Western world truly want to set an example for fledgling democracies, then the separation between church and state must be enforced. That we automatically associate the Canadian Conservative Party or the Republican Party with religion is a perception that desperately needs to change. Conservative values should not be associated with religious ones; liberal values should not be perceived as unreligious ones.

Religion is an important tool in shaping many people’s moral values; however, it should remain a private, personal matter far outside of public policy making. Religious or not, we are all entitled to our beliefs under the same government. It is time that our political parties agreed.

 

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