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Religion in Canada

Concerning the freedom of religious
groups & individuals to discriminate

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Conflicts over religious freedom in past centuries:

In western Europe and colonial North America, conflicts used to involve prohibiting:

bullet Minority faith groups from teaching their beliefs and practicing their rituals, or
bullet Individuals from holding unorthodox beliefs or performing unauthorized religious practices.

The church and state once burned people at the stake, hanged them, pressed them to death, and used other punishments to wipe out heresy and enforce religious orthodoxy. Religiously motivated wars wiped out up to a third of the population of some countries in Europe after the Protestant Reformation. Over about three centuries, in excess of 50 thousand innocent people -- mostly women -- were accused of Satan worship and executed as heretics.

Religious freedom achieved:

The scene changed. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ended the religiously-motivated Thirty Years' War in Europe and created a degree of religious freedom there.

During the latter half of the 20th century, Canadian individuals and religious organizations have been able to use the federal constitution to widen the area of religious freedom.

In recent decades, due to legal challenges in Canada:

bullet Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Quebec has ended,
bullet First Nations (Native Canadians) have been allowed to practice their Potlatch and other rituals freely, and
bullet Inmates have been allowed relative freedom of religious practice in penitentiaries.

A new type of conflict over religious freedom:

Recently, a series of disputes have surfaced in North America relating to conflicts between:

  1. Religious groups' freedom to:
    bullet Discriminate in their employment policies on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc.;

    bullet Mount campaigns to limit the human rights of groups within society, including those with minority sexual orientations and identities;

    bullet Limit women's options in sexual health, including abortion access.

    bullet Preventing women from attaining of positions of authority in the family, church the military and business; and

    bullet Promote specific political candidates and parties by name and denigrating others, while still retaining their tax exempt status.

  2. Individuals' freedom to not be discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, degree of disability, etc.

In Canada, faith groups are generally allowed to discriminate against individuals in employment, in ordination, hiring of staff, performing marriage ceremonies, etc. For example, fundamentalist and other evangelical denominations, the Roman Catholic Church, and some other faith groups freely discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in ordination and employment, with little or no opposition from the state. The more liberal faith groups, including the United Church of Canada and Unitarian fellowships and congregations, do not discriminate. The Anglican Church of Canada has ordained female priests for decades and is now debating whether or not to bless the relationships of loving, committed same-sex couples. There is little doubt that in the near future, they will experience a major internal conflict over whether to actually marry same-sex couples. Other more conservative denominations have not yet seriously engaged in debate over these matters.

Conflicts also surface with para-church organizations. These are typically charities identified with a specific denomination or group of denominations who wish to continue to discriminate in hiring and retaining its employees, providing services to the public, etc.

This section will describe some recent conflicts in Canada involving allegations of hate and discrimination by individuals and para-church groups.

Topics covered in this section:

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Copyright 2008 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2008-APR-29
Latest update: 2017-NOV-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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