Thursday, March 31, 2005

An Open Letter to Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta
and Marie Riddle, the Director of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission:

Re: Complaint Filed Against Pastoral Letter of Bishop Henry of Calgary

Human Rights Tribunals depend for their ongoing credibility upon their occupying an appropriate role within a free and ordered democracy. Should human rights Tribunals and Commissions, and those who work within processes related to them, lose sight of what necessarily unites citizens in terms of essential freedoms then they will imperil their very role within society.

In Canada today, there are many examples of Human Rights Tribunals and Commissions failing to keep the principles of a free and ordered society in view. The increasingly expressed concerns of religious groups (and other concerned citizens) about Human Rights "over-reaching" their proper role to force particular conceptions on the population, signal an important and dangerous development in recent years.

The complaint against Bishop Henry of Calgary, which I understand is now before the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission in Alberta, raises concerns for all citizens regardless of their personal views respecting contested sexual practices - - in this case homosexual and lesbian conduct.

As one who has acted before and on behalf of Human Rights Tribunals in the past in my capacity as a lawyer, who has been on the National Executive of the Civil Liberties Section of the Canadian Bar Association and who now watches developments and consults internationally with respect to human rights, I urge you to recognize that the processes of human rights are being misused in this instance.

The public expression of dissent with respect to homosexual conduct is a perfectly valid, if controversial, view and no valid human rights concern can possibly be raised by such public expression of belief by a leading religious figure.

The very future of human rights depends upon a firm message to citizens that such rights are important and must not be trivialized. The human rights complaint processes carry with them an onerous responsibility to use them well: subjecting citizens to expensive and often protracted proceedings is a misue of power and statutory authority and can only bring the administration of such systems into disrepute.

You need to develop, advertize and use, as quickly as possible, a speedy procedure to summarily dispose of vexatious threats such as this one.

It is essential for the sake of human rights themselves, so long fought for and at such cost, to make it widely known that Canada in general and Alberta in the context of this case in particular, will not tolerate attempts to suppress or cast a chill upon the freedom of public debate on contested matters.

For it is only upon such a basis that a culture of respect can be built at all.

I write this in my capacity as a lawyer and a Canadian citizen and not on behalf of any particular organization.

Iain T. Benson
Barrister & Solicitor
Former National Executive Member of the Civil Liberties Section of the Canadian Bar Association
Executive Director
Centre for Cultural Renewal (Ottawa)

CENTREBLOG: Volume 70

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Why the State Should not be in the Marriage Corruption Business:

Many people strenuously believe that heterosexual marriage is best for children and that it is simply wrong (and selfish) to deliberately start out to deny a child a mother and a father. Support for traditional heterosexual marriage is strong in Canada. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for either the Courts or Parliament. This means that those who support a traditional definition of marriage need to be realistic about what is likely in Canada now that the Courts and Parliament are against them: they must resist the temptation to simply focus on what they wish were the case rather than what is actually the situation in Canada (it is different in other places due to a variety of factors).

Use of a Constitutional override (Section 33), while possible in theory, is not going to happen politically under the present Liberal government (with its minority supporters). Constitutional amendment, again possible in theory, is not likely. The numbers required (six provinces making up two thirds of Canada's population) are just not there.

This means that something else must be done. Who is arguing for that? Note this well: Spelling out a workable alternative is not the same thing as saying this is the "best" thing for Canada but, rather, this is the "best thing in the circumstances" which is a very different matter

Language Around “Civil Unions”

A Good Conservative Argument as to Why the State Should Get out of Marriage

Some time ago, the Centre became, as far as we know, the first group in Canada to argue publicly that getting the State out of Marriage was the best alternative to protect marriage in the long run. Several newspapers and a few discerning folks here and there, picked up this argument but, apart from that, it fell more or less stillborn, to earth.

Perhaps, however, it shall have another life? If so, a few points need to be made.

As with any discussion of new concepts a certain amount of terminological inexactitude was, perhaps, inevitable at the outset. That being so, it is certainly not desirable for it to continue.

This blog (or short article) is designed to clear up a few things that time and reflection have shown need clarification.

1) The risk of improperly distinguishing between the “civil” and the “religious.”
2) Why “Care Relationships”, “Registered Relationships” or “Reciprocal Beneficiaries” are a more accurate category than “Civil Unions.”
3) Why These Registered Relationships are not “Just the Same Thing as Marriage.”

1. An Improper Distinction Between “Civil” and “Religious”

It is frequently argued that perhaps marriage as a category should or could be left to the religions with the State only involved in “civil marriage.” This is usually accompanied by the claim that state marriages are necessary for those who do not want religious marriages. It is then said that “same-sex inclusive” civil marriages would only be “civil” and would not attempt to force “religions” to act against their beliefs. Religions could “have religious marriage” and the State would do its “civil (and gay inclusive) marriages.”

This is an argument that evolves from the religious ideology of “secularism” and should be resisted by all those who have a more accurate and fair sense of society. Only a religiously inclusive idea of the “secular” is now the law in Canada after the Supreme Court of Canada decision of Chamberlain v. Surrey School Board (December 2002).

You folks who speak as if the world were divided between a so-called “secular” realm and a realm of religion, have to think again.

This setting up of the options as between “civil” and “religious” poses a serious threat to the structure of society because it places a sharp wedge between religion and the state in a place that is inappropriate (some divisions are, of course, appropriate for the proper protection of religious communities and the State). Marriage is not rightly divisible between “religion” and “civil” and the “civil” is not the place to give a trump right to atheist and agnostic ideas. There is no reason, if atheists and agnostics wish to “marry,” that they cannot do so through civic associations (the Canadian Humanist Association for example, or Rotary or, for that matter, 4-H). They do not need the State to provide facilities any more than say, a Catholic ought to claim that the State should provide a Catholic model of marriage.

Atheism and Agnosticism are, after all, belief systems (and worldviews) just as much as religions are.

However, to attempt to “solve” the vexed question of differing conceptions of marriage by giving governmental priority to a “same-sex inclusive civil marriage” is hardly “content neutral” and gives a trump to one side of the public debates.

To give governmental priority to a model that large numbers of a country’s citizens do not accept is hardly the way to resolve the dispute. It would seem to set the stage for a long succession of further litigations and political bickering. “Civil marriage” that is same-sex inclusive alongside “religious marriages” that may or may not be, is not a “neutral” approach to marriage and society.

The clearest and most principled (and creative) way for a government to indicate that it favours no particular position is to leave marriage recognition to religious and civil associations that may wish to perform marriages (including same-sex marriages of a religious or non-religious sort) and leave the question of benefits and dissolution to turn on a genuinely neutral form of civil registration that does not focus on sexual relationships at all.

2. Civil Unions or Registered Relationship Models:

The key thing with these models is that they avoid (or can avoid) marital language (“spouse”, “conjugal” etc.). They can be a means by which a society conveys benefits to those who wish to register publicly that they are in financially dependant relationships. Such a model was first established in the Scandinavian countries (after much discussion with religions by the way).
In the United States (Hawaii and Vermont) both “Reciprocal Beneficiary” and “Civil Union” models have been used when it has become clear that these were a politically necessary alternative to “same-sex marriage.” The above section points out why we reject “civil unions” language.

If such models of dependency recognition are not geared to sexualized markers (that ape marriage - - i.e. require sexual intercourse or “intimacy” or that suggest a “conjugal” requirement) then they raise different concerns than those that are based on sexual conduct recognition.

If a State decides it wishes to give benefits to “any two persons” who are dependent and ought to be able to inherit, live off the other’s pension, end the relationship with financial responsibilities defined etc. then it should, arguably, be free to do so. The point is that there is no reason such a regime need depend upon a “sexualized marker” in terms of human sexual intimacy.

The argument could go like this: “why is the fact that an elderly aunt looks after her niece without having sex with her, something that the State should conclude ought to deprive her of benefits whereas someone who has simply has sex with another person gets the benefits?” We are not talking about “marriage” here after all as far as the State registration is concerned.

The fact is that those who wish to dissolve the traditional marriage concept of male and female marriages are using the question of “benefits entitlement” as a gradualist way of getting civil recognition for their sexual conduct. Hence the importance of a “non-sexualized marker” and a proper understanding of what is “civil” and what is not.

3. Is all this Just “Marriage by Another Name?”

Some people argue that all such alternative regimes are “marriage by another name.” To people who argue this way, it might be pointed out that the Courts and politicians have, in many cases, forced this result so there is a real danger in collapsing the ideal that one might wish for i.e. heterosexual-only marriage, into an unreal world where the courts have not said – as ours have--that such an outcome is constitutionally impermissible.

People ought to ask the question whether, in a world in which same-sex marriage is mandated if the State is in the marriage business, it is wise to leave the State in that business.

It might well be essential socially and even politically to create such a category of non-sexualized relationship recognition and it may be acceptable morally for such a category to exist provided that it not legitimize same-sex conduct as acceptable much less a constitutional norm. If the State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation, we might well ask “what are the Courts doing there?”

Of course “gay couples” will access such categories but wake up (!) the courts have already driven this in their decisions to date. Most critics are ignorant of what the courts have done - - or argue as if they are ignorant of legal decisions.

Homosexual marriage claims are all about “social recognition” and we have written elsewhere about how this claim logically precludes same-sex activists from claiming, as they do, that they only seek “civil” marriage. Nonsense. If they demand recognition at the point of a gavel, they must eventually, even if they do not do so now, demand it from all of society, including the majority of those who marry in religious ceremonies.

Before the Supreme Court of Canada in about 1994, EGALE, the most successful gay-rights activist group in Canada claimed that the Egan case was only about benefits, not about marriage and that “there was no reason to assume that same-sex couples want marriage at all.”

That was then, this was now. But we ought to be more than a little sceptical of the current claim that what is sought is simply “civil marriage” and not “religious marriage.” Once they have claimed the “civil” they must claim the “religious” for it is religions that give more recognition to marriage than any Civil Registry office ever has.

Should the State rearrange its affairs so as to give benefits to “any two persons” who wish to show up at the Registry office for Registration (not marriage) it would be giving “registration benefits” and nothing more. It would not inquire (for the State has, we were told, “no place in the bedrooms of the Nation”) as to whether two people are having sexual relations together. They are simply “registrants” not “man and wife” in the traditional (or untraditional sense of that).

Consider as well that merely “shacking up” would no longer have State recognition as “marriage” either. Those who marry before religious leaders or civic associations (for atheists and agnostics would no longer have access to State marriages) would then register for State benefits the same way “any two persons” would register. Ascribed or “de facto” pseudo marriages would cease to get any benefits if things are done correctly.

The difference, however, would be that those who are married are married within the meaning of that category. Over time the State could keep data on how “marriages” fare in relation to other categories and what difference religious marriages show in relation to the atheist and agnostic marriages (should this data be actually kept and not suppressed).

Imagine how useful and powerful such an arrangement could be over time?! Is it “against marriage” to get the State out it? Hardly. It might be the saving of marriage from the corruptions of the State.

That is why I, and a growing number of other people, am beginning to support removing marriage from the State.


CENTREBLOG: Volume 69
Iain T. Benson©

Freedom of Conscience, Tudor Style

"Thomas, I’ll have no opposition," warned Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons.

The scene in Robert Bolt’s play takes place in Sir Thomas More’s garden. Henry has just learned that More does not support his plans to unmake his marriage.

"No opposition, I say!" he roared. "No opposition! Your conscience is your own affair, but you are my Chancellor!"

"I’ll leave you out of it," growls the king. "But I don’t take it kindly, Thomas, and I’ll have no opposition!. . . Lie low if you will, but I’ll brook no opposition - no words, no signs, no letters, no pamphlets - mind that, Thomas - no writings against me!"1

Freedom of conscience, Tudor style.

Sound familiar? In Canada, we call it "party discipline" and "cabinet solidarity."

A Man for All Seasons follows More as he resigns his office and retires to private life, avoiding comment upon the King’s marriage. But, ultimately, ‘lying low’ isn’t enough. More’s silence, complains Thomas Cromwell, "is bellowing up and down Europe,"2 and, what’s worse, Henry can hear it. "The King’s a man of conscience,"says Cromwell, "and he wants either Sir Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed."3

It took three more years to accomplish More’s destruction, for new laws were needed to indict such disturbers of the king’s conscience. Unlike Canadian superior court judges, even Henry VIII could not ignore parliament or single-handedly make and unmake the law of the land.
Though still married to Catherine of Aragon, Henry had a private wedding ceremony with Anne Boleyn in January, 1533. The Archbishop of Canterbury later declared the marriage of Henry and Catherine invalid, and the Act of Succession was passed in March, 1534, to ensure that their progeny could legally succeed to the throne.

But the Act of Succession also asserted that Henry had not been truly married to Catherine and declared his marriage to Anne Boleyn valid. It made it treason to question or speak against the marriage of Henry and Anne, and almost treason to criticize the Act itself. Finally, citizens were required to swear an oath to defend the full contents of the Act, including its statements about marriage. "Almost immediately," wrote Richard Marius, a biographer of More, "the English people were subjected to a swarm of commissioners buzzing through the country to administer the oath to everyone they could find."4

In April, 1534, More refused the oath and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Thomas Cromwell and his minions closed remaining legal loopholes with the passage of three more statutes, among them the Act of Supremacy, which pronounced Henry the "only Supreme Head on earth of the Church in England." The law claimed its first victims in May, 1535. More was beheaded two months later, and others followed.

All of this to serve the personal dreams and aspirations of Henry VIII. He wanted recognition of his children by Anne as his legal successors, but he also demanded public and universal affirmation that his relationship with Anne Boleyn was worthy of the same respect and recognition as his marriage to Catherine. He got his way by having parliament pass statutes that not only defined marriage in his terms, but punished any expression of opposition.

Jay Budziszewski ascribes this frantic effort to silence all opposition to ‘the revenge of conscience’. The law written on the human heart cannot be obliterated. It can be denied, but the reproach of conscience at the deepest levels never, ever stops.5 That is why even More’s silence was, finally, intolerable; it was less than acceptance, less than approval. "If you cannot convert your critics by argument," writes historian John Thomas Noonan, "at least by law you can make them recognize that your course is the course of the country." 6

Canada is following in Henry’s footsteps. Judges tell us that to deny persons of the same sex the right to ‘marry’ would be "a rejection of their personal aspirations and the denial of their dreams."7 They assert that same-sex couples may not be "excluded" from marrying because that would mean their relationships are "not worthy of the same respect and recognition as opposite-sex relationships."8 Citing the ‘rule of law,’ these judges are demanding public and universal affirmation that there is no moral difference between homosexual and heterosexual conduct, that both are "worthy of the same respect and recognition," and they are demanding that all citizens unconditionally accept their definition of marriage.

Canadians who oppose the marriage bill need not fear imprisonment or execution if Martin’s bill passes, and there are no plans to compel us to swear allegiance to the new order. But there is good reason to expect the kind of pervasive legal persecution and oppression visited upon Tudor England. It will look different in 21st century Canada, for when history repeats itself it adopts the costumes and customs the age.

Sir Thomas More was jailed because he was suspected of ‘misprision of treason’ - of having treasonous intentions. Some human rights laws now make it unlawful to ‘indicate an intention to discriminate.’9 BC teacher Chris Kempling ran afoul of this when he spoke publicly against homosexual conduct in response to others - including other teachers - who were speaking in favour of it. He was charged for professional misconduct and is threatened with suspension for ‘indicating an intention to discriminate.’ Call it ‘misprision of discrimination.’

The judge who rejected Kempling’s appeal clearly holds that authentic Christian teaching that proscribes homosexual conduct is a lie; that it is not merely derogatory, but harmful and damaging; that it is wrong, and that those who articulate such teachings deserve to be punished.10 It is reasonable to expect that the same accusations will be hurled by judges against Christian teaching on marriage.

If we will not be allowed to speak publicly, what about conscientious objection?

Ask the Catholic high school principal ordered by a judge to let a homosexually active student bring his ‘date’ to a school dance.11 Ask Scott Brockie, a Christian printer fined and ordered to serve Gay and Lesbian Archives of Canada,12 an organization that not only promotes homosexual conduct but promotes pro-paedophilia literature.13 Ask the marriage commissioners who have already been ordered to resign if they will not perform services for persons of the same sex.14 Ask the Knights of Columbus, sued by lesbians because they refused to rent their hall to them for a ‘wedding’ reception.15

Judges are demanding that every citizen submit to their ideas about sexuality and marriage. Like Robert Bolt’s Henry, they will brook no opposition to the new order. They will not send objectors to jail or to the scaffold, but they will fine them, award monetary judgements against them, see them suspended or fired, force their schools to close, and order that all children be taught their new doctrines. And this government applaud, because Paul Martin has chosen to serve these judges rather than the people who elected him: to play the part of Thomas Cromwell rather than Thomas More.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 68
By Sean Murphy
Director, CCRL Western Region
Catholic Civil Rights League Catholic Civil Rights League
301 – 46 St. Clair Ave. E, Toronto, ON M4T 1M9
Phone: 416-466-8244
Fax: 416-466-0091
ccrl@ccrl.ca http://ccrl.ca

Notes
1. Bolt, Robert, A Man for All Seasons. Act One. Scarborough, Ont.: Bellhaven House, 1968, p. 33
2. Ibid, Act Two, p. 58
3. Ibid, Act Two, p. 70
4. Marius, Richard, Thomas More. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, p. 459
5. cf. Budziszewski, J., What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide. Dallas, Texas: Spence Publishing, 2003
6. Noonan, J.T., A Private Choice. New York: The Free Press, 1979, p. 82. Quoted in Budziszewski, supra, p. 154
7. Barbeau v. British Columbia (Egale Canada Inc. v. Canada) BCCA (1 May, 2003), para. 130
8. Halpern v. Attorney General of Canada Ont CA (10 June, 2003), para. 94
9. Human Rights Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 211, Section 7(1)
10. Kempling v. The British Columbia College of Teachers, 2004 BCSC 133
11. Hall (Litigation guardian of) v. Powers [2002] O.J. No. 1803 Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Court File No. 02-CV-227705CM3. Judgment: May 10, 2002. Most relevant to this paper, the judicial suppression of religious freedom in the Hall case is supported by Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples: http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/advocacy/marc_hall_injunction_decision.htm (Accessed 2005-03-24)
12. Ontario Human Rights Commission v. Scott Brockie, Ont. Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court (2002) O.J. No. 2375, Court File No. 179/00 [17 June, 2002]
13. For example: Gerald Hannon, "Men Loving Boys Loving Men", The Body Politic, Issue 39, December 1977/January 1978. "This is an archived ‘original web site’ brought to you by the: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, © 1997-2004. Contact information. This page is: http://www.clga.ca/Material/Records/docs/hannon/ox/mbm.htm. (add to Favourites). Last revised: December 14, 1995." Accessed 9 July, 2003, 14 April, 2004, and 23 March, 2005.
14. "In a letter Tuesday, B.C. Commissioners were given an ultimatum from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency, which stated that any Commissioner ‘who feels that they cannot solemnize same-sex marriages’ must ‘resign their appointments’ by March 31. The letter gave no details about what would happen if a Commissioner refused to step down." VANCOUVER, January 23, 2004 (LifeSiteNews.com)
15. B.C. lesbians fight to hold wedding reception in Catholic hall (25 January, 2005) http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/01/24/lesbian-wedding-050124.html Accessed 2005-01-27

Monday, March 14, 2005

Why I support the Centre for Cultural Renewal

Any parent hopes that his or her most cherished beliefs and principles will somehow seep into the minds and hearts of his children before they are old enough to reject the ideas as just hogwash. That is why this past summer my wife and I took our young children on vacation from Vancouver to Ottawa. Now Ottawa can seem a strange place to reinforce the beliefs and principles one upholds. One can understand going to the cottage at a lake, a monastery, an art gallery, heck, just about anywhere else than Ottawa. But for me, Ottawa can represent the best of what a citizen should strive for, and what a Christian must pray for.

In our society where the Us/Them mentality pervades the politics we argue, the religion we practise, the newspaper we read, and the art we enjoy, Ottawa, perhaps unwittingly, reaffirms the need for and the benefit of engagement and respect. In Ottawa we can see that the divisions we put up in society can’t withstand the power of respect and reconciliation.

Many of you will be wondering what decade I stopped reading the newspapers or if I am still stuck in some horrible Grade Ten civic class paper writer’s block. Not so. I see many things that disturb, disappoint and disgust me in Ottawa. But it is one of the few places where our society has made the effort to bring together people of different regions and ideas and ask them to work out how we are going to live together as a society. Today, we don’t see that attempt made very often. Interest groups of every stripe simply complain about any perceived slight or injustice and demand cash or laws to make them happier, without regard for our fellow citizens. Even the one aspect of society I would assume understands the need to surrender the desires of the self for the betterment of all, religion, often fails to reflect the reconciling and healing teachings it proclaims. Many religious groups demand their “rights” and use the political process only with the desire to gain the power necessary to force upon the nation laws that will somehow “save” the society.

I’m tired of the childish behaviour surrounding our representative democracy. Don’t get me wrong: I love the debate and I love to win. I belong to a political party and had worked in Ottawa for that party in the 1980’s. But when our country’s founders set out to create a representative democracy, they expected debate, not demands, and participation, not whining. With the number of citizen’s voting declining as a percentage every election and leaders who undermine the democratic nature of our Parliament, I wonder why we as a citizenry don’t “grow up”. Our country was made for better, and the principles that built Ottawa can still be drawn upon to make this country what it ought to be.

As I took my children on a tour of the Parliament buildings, I made sure that they saw that those principles, which I hold dearly, were also the founding principles when Ottawa was established. I pointed above the Western portal to the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings, and had them read aloud the inscribed words of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. I slowly walked them around the Peace Tower and had them read the other two inscriptions, from Psalm 72:8 “And He shall have dominion also from sea to sea” and from Psalm 72:1: “Give the King thy judgments O God and thy righteousness unto the King’s son”.

In the Parliament Buildings I showed them the Books of Remembrance of deceased soldiers of Canadian battles located in the Peace Tower (one ringed by the carved stone which I believe paraphrases Pilgrim’s Progress Part Two, Chapter 26-“be my Rewarder so he passed over and all the trumpets sounded”), to show them that sacrifice was a necessary part of being a citizen, and that there were principles worth dying for. I then took them to the Office of the leader of the Opposition and pointed out the carved words above the two doors to the large meeting room: “Fear God” and “Honour the King”. How many of us can claim to do both? How many are willing to do it to the death?

But perhaps most telling for me was the award given out to the leading citizens of our country, the Order of Canada. On display was a medal for the Order of Canada which has the motto “They desire a better country” taken from Hebrews 11:16. And it is that text (which starts with the principle “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”) which describes the great citizens of the Judeao-Christian faith and how “now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Can we, like our spiritual forefathers, desire a better country rather than wish that it would all, literally, go to Hell? Can we believe that God wishes to prepare such a country for us, if only we would participate with Him and one another? All of those spiritual ancestors suffered, had long periods of disappointment, and many did not see the fruit of their labour. And yet we tire if we cannot get our political rights in a drive-thru.

Canadians are looking for that vision called for on the Peace Tower-not a delusion as is being offered by many interest groups, including several religious charities, but a vision that squares with the world they know and the religious faith they have. They want to have a vision that satisfies the two other scriptural quotes on the Peace Tower that proclaim God’s dominion and pray that God will give the King and his son judgments and righteousness. But how to do this without coercion? How to do this with the respect and freedom God gives each one of us who deny him continually?

This is why I support the Centre for Cultural Renewal. It is the one charity that takes both religion and society seriously and believes that there should be no cultural or political wall to divide the two. CCR fights to recover what has been lost and finds it again-often in the most unpropitious conditions, with shabby equipment of logic, dialogue and a sense of respect for the other. But CCR does this not to reign over those who think differently but rather to satisfy the need for a vision by which the people will not perish, the need for us to acknowledge God’s dominion from sea to sea, and with the hope that the King and his son will willingly receive God’s judgments and righteousness. And CCR does it not knowing if it will succeed, or what this success will look like. CCR does it because, as in the words of T.S. Eliot, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” CCR does it because “in my end is my beginning”. There are faster, more obvious ways to push for religious rights in Canada-but in the end they are all self-defeating. Only CCR wishes to engage culture in a dialogue of renewal: it is difficult and the fruit may not be seen for generations. But as the writer of Hebrews wrote of the giants of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, they did all that they did because they desired a better country. May we also join them in that endeavour.

CCR is the only organization I know that instills a broad and deep vision of a society where religion matters, where it participates in and influences the daily lives of politicians, academics, professionals, trades people and artists, and where these people can in turn influence religion itself.

That’s why I give my support to CCR, and I expect that is why you might as well.

(The Centre would like you to know that should you also want to support its work donations may be made by using this downloadable donor card - click here - and mailed to:
The Centre for Cultural Renewal
503 - 39 Robertson Road
Ottawa, ON K2H 8R2)

CENTREBLOG: Volume 67
David Jennings ©

Friday, March 11, 2005

Million Dollar Baby a Moral Flop: Independent Disabled Student Says Euthanasia No Answer

Having just come back to London from spring break, I found myself relaxing in front of the television Sunday night. After surfing for several minutes, I found myself watching the Oscars. As the awards were being handed out I began to feel sick to my stomach. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby was cleaning up…Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, and Best Picture. As I pushed my wheelchair forward to change the channel I accidentally knocked the remote off the table and no one was around to help me pick it up. Maybe this is the suffering that Clint Eastwood was alluding to.

So why were the Oscars making me so nauseous? No, it wasn’t the horrible fashion or the schmoozing; it was the fact that the film industry was both recognizing and commending a movie that glorifies the euthanasia, or mercy killing, of individuals with disabilities. Without delving too deeply into the plotline, Clint Eastwood’s newest movie, Million Dollar Baby, is the story of a female boxer who becomes paralyzed during a boxing match and can see no reason to continue living. The underlying message being delivered to audiences through this movie is that the disabled cannot live happy and fulfilling lives and it is our duty to mercifully end their suffering.

What is frustrating is that I have spent my entire life trying to explain to people that the disabled population is not angry and do live happy and fulfilling lives. Being born with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy, I have spent my entire life in a wheelchair. Growing up in a wheelchair was not easy. I can remember when I was younger all I could think about was becoming an NHL Goaltender, a dream that was squashed by my inability to stand. However, as I grew up I began using an electric wheelchair and a myriad of other adaptations that provided me with the opportunity to attend class, socialize, play sports, and get grounded by my parents on what seemed to be a near constant basis. As I grew older, I developed new dreams and ambitions, began dating and was eventually accepted into university. I am now a 3rd year student at the University of Western Ontario, living completely independently with the help of a dedicated staff of personal service workers.

I feel it is important that the public knows that this movie is merely a fiction that does not represent the dominant ethos of the disabled population. Million Dollar Baby is of the opinion that because Hilary Swank’s character’s disability, her life is now hopeless and desolate and the only merciful thing to do is to end her suffering. In fact, Swank’s character asked to be killed on more than one occasion, making reference to the humane killing of injured and old dogs. Never in my life have I seen death as ‘way out’. In fact, a majority of my life has been spent avoiding the Grim Reaper at all costs.

For the disabled, as with everyone else in this world, happiness comes from making the most of life with whatever abilities you have. For me, this meant calling a friend from down the hall to pick up the remote and turn off the television. Perhaps Dirty Harry should stick to fighting crime because this old dog is not in need of his 44 magnum.

Jeff Preston is a London Ontario resident.
He can be contacted through his website: www.getmobilized.ca

CENTREBLOG: Volume 66
Jeff Preston©
[This article first ran in the London Free Press, Tuesday March 8, 2005, and is on a similar important theme - - the true nature of human dignity, as Dr. Brigit Campion's piece on the Centre's website: Church ’s end-of-life teaching is a gift to be shared (click title)]
Reprinted by permission.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sharia Law Arbitration in Canada

Various writers in the popular press are concerned that a report in Ontario has suggested that the Arbitration Act should allow arbitrations to proceed under certain principles of Islamic Sharia law in Ontario. These writers have expressed a variety of concerns. Some suggest that recognizing Islamic religious categories will work against the rights of women since they believe Islam is necessarily sexist.

Others believe that due to the growth of extremist Islam worldwide, a country such as Canada should not be perceived as supporting Islam in any way. It is argued that any incorporation in domestic laws (even passively) gives a propaganda tool to extremists.

Some have suggested that any support of Islamic law is somehow inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These arguments need to be examined in order.

Islam is inconsistent with women’s rights:

There is always a tension between the beliefs of some citizens and those of others. We do not, in free and democratic societies, subscribe to a “one size or one belief fits all” philosophy. This is true, like it or not, for such things as “the role of women” in a sub-culture. If certain women in society believe, for example, that not having employment outside the home is a negative thing they are free to argue this - - they are not free, however, to impose it.

The flip side is that if a woman wants to work at home rather than in the paid labour force, for example, it would be a very illiberal State (not a properly liberal one) that would use the force of general State law to preclude this. So too, it is with religious beliefs. If a person wishes to accept beliefs that others find obnoxious, that person is free (with only very general restrictions) to do so.

If a woman wants to do something that women of another belief system think is impious (whether the particular piety is religious or non-religious) that woman (again within wide parameters) should be free to do so.

For example, let us think about arranged marriages. In some traditions it is acceptable for young people to have marriages arranged by their parents. Some within these traditions accept this practice, and some do not. Some outside the traditions cannot comprehend such a restriction to freedom and reject it totally. Should arranged marriages, therefore, be made illegal? Should they, once contracted under one set of rules, be ignored under others?

That is not the end of the matter however. What if someone does not want to have an arranged marriage and his or her family insists upon one? Could such a family who wants only arranged marriages go to the civil courts to get this recognition? No, because there is a limit to the extent of religious rules in the society just as there is a limit to the non-religious rules in society.

It is the latter kind of dominance - - that of non-religious rules, that we need to examine as there is a tension here of great importance and one that is all too often overlooked by those who fear religious recognition.

The tension, of course, is between a grinding secularistic dominance that wishes religion (and all religions save, perhaps, aboriginal manifestations which are justifiable as respect for the first nations coupled with "liberal guilt" for past treatment of those whose "land we stole") private and invisible and the inclusion of religious forms in the culture that are not consistent with appropriate conceptions of human freedom.

Islam and its Sharia law raise the spectre of the latter.

The question then is how can we get public recognition of religions but exclude those dimensions that threaten our basic civil liberties?

Isn't it just the flip side of how can we have basic civil liberties if they threaten the appropriate recognition of religious liberty?

I think it is and that, therefore, a reconcilable set of principles can and should be developed.

Let’s try an analogy here: the Roman Catholic conception of marriage does not command public consensus or definition. Nonetheless, on matters Catholic, we allow the Catholic Church to practice its beliefs and to make those beliefs effective within its area of jurisdiction.

This means that no Catholic can go to civil courts demanding a Catholic wedding. This is how it should be. The flip side is that no citizen can go to civil courts to demand a Catholic wedding and no Catholic can go to civil courts demanding a Catholic wedding.

Why do we not extend the same recognition of community religious diversity and limited religious jurisdiction to Muslims? Their Sharia law would not have any power over basic matters of the State but on matters short of that it would for those who enlisted. Should people wish “exit” from that religious set of rules they could get it by leaving the jurisdiction of the religion.

Does Recognition of a Limited Role for Sharia Principles Mean Canadians Support Islamic law Generally?

Society is made up of all sorts of communities of belief - - some of which, to be sure, do not even realize that they are “communities of belief.” Atheists and agnostics have their communities as well and command tremendous power in society since, for one thing, they pretty much control the law, medicine and public education (not to mention higher education).

They shouldn't control everything.

Let us look at the Catholic Church. It is allowed jurisdiction over certain matters particular to its faith. Well and good. But should a Catholic be subjected to civil penalties for failing to live up to the rules of his or her religious faith? No. The flip side is also true however. The civil authorities must not use their position of dominance over most things (and far too many) to restrict the proper exercise of religious principles within its own jurisdiction.

What is that jurisdiction exactly? Ah, here is the key question and one that will occupy the courts in future. Some things are clearly religious and based upon freely chosen religious duties. Other things will be an extension beyond a proper religious role. The question is how far is too far?

That can only be decided on a case-by-case basis but we have already some experience in this with court decisions involving other religious groups or institutions:

1) Jehovah’s witnesses can refuse life-saving blood transfusions for themselves as adults but not deny them to their children: the principle here is “the best interests of the child” with the state acting as the parent in terms of preserving life; see B.(R.) v. Children's Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto (1995), 122 D.L.R. (4th) 1 (S.C.C.);
2) In relation to ensuring that children are not damaged by the religious teachings of a parent, very cogent evidence of risk of harm to the child would have to be adduced where, for example, in a custody dispute, it is sought to limit the access of one parent to the children for religious reasons (again, Jehovah's Witness faith) : see Young v. Young [1994] 4 S.C.R. 3 (religious restraints removed by Court) and P. v. S. (1993), 108 D.L.R. (4th) 287 (religious restraints kept in place because there was some evidence that the father's religious discussions were disturbing his daughter) ;
3) Orthodox Jews can have their religious beliefs to erect prayer tents respected even though the erection of such tents on balconies contravenes strata-title rules at the apartment building; (Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem 2004 SCC 47). The State has a duty to respect the religious beliefs of citizens where the practice (here the establishment of eruvs - - a small wire or filament demarcating a public space as enclosed for the purpose of Jewish religious practices) can be accommodated. see: Rosenberg v. Outremont. (Rosenberg v. Outremont [City]
Quebec Superior Court File No. 500-05-060659-008
)
4) Roman Catholics can deny religious rites (such as communion) to those who live outside the teaching of the faith and, on occasion, can terminate the employment of those who deny Catholic teachings where such teaching is part of the religious framework (such as a Catholic school, Caldwell v. Stuart);
5) Evangelical Protestants can have a Code of Conduct in an educational setting that prohibits and attach consequences to breaches of such codes even though the conduct (adultery, alcohol consumption or homosexual sexual conduct) is allowed outside the religious institution - - even where the religious institution gets some benefits from the State (Trinity Western University Lex View #46).

No one should be the prisoner of a religion and all must be allowed to leave. This will have consequences and no one is free from the consequences of the beliefs held nor can everyone expect the general law of the State to preserve him or her from all such consequences.

The State on the other hand has no proper jurisdiction to interfere with the religious beliefs of citizens or to interfere with matters that are properly religious. The use of arbitration procedures to sort our religious difficulties makes sense as long as we recall the margins of where the religious beliefs encounter the beliefs outside themselves so that the proper jurisdiction of each is preserved.

Thus, in a free and democratic society, a limited arbitration model for matters properly within Islamic faith is perfectly acceptable and ought not to give any good propaganda value to extremist Islam.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

This document assures a variety of rights for beliefs of all sorts. Every category of the “fundamental freedoms” in Section 2 involve the beliefs of citizens – beliefs that can be either religious or non-religious in origin.

Freedom of conscience and religion is stipulated in Section 2(a) and the freedom of “thought, belief, opinion and expression…” in Section 2 (b) and “the freedom of peaceful assembly” in Section 2(c) while Section 2 (d) guarantees the “freedom of association.”

Obviously, recognition of and protection for conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association that have a religious basis are guaranteed by the Charter.

Those who argue otherwise are simply ignorant of the Charter and the nature of the free and democratic society it claims to affirm.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 65
Iain T. Benson ©



Tuesday, March 08, 2005

We might wish to consider a few points made in the following piece by a Pat Adomnan recently submitted to the Centre for Cultural Renewal. While the expressions may be stronger than those usual to this blog site, we feel that the perspective is one that should be more widely discussed.

Post-Feminism and the "Wimmin's" Movement

Today is International Women's Day, but before we clank our flagons of Baileys and uncork the baby duck, let's make a few points that need making. Let's celebrate the joy of women and their achievements, but while we do so let's consider a bit why we have no corresponding day for men and some of the darker, very dark, aspects of some of what hides within the 'wimmin's movement.'

The fact that we have no International Men's Day is a sign of the times but there is something much, much more serious than this lack of a particular day for men going on in all our societies and through international movements. The asymmetries exist in far more dangerous ways than simply a missing day of recognition for the other half of the human species.

First, it has to be said that I have spent my entire adult life imbued, bathed, soaked, permeated, drowned, steeped, force-fed, stuffed, gorged, choked, clogged, glutted, congested, oppressed, loaded down with, preyed upon by, weighed upon, taxed, despotized and tyrannized by feminism. An experience is common to many men and women.

Note this well: there were, along the way (and still are thankfully) certain women who carried their righteous causes well and did great things, genuinely accomplishing moves towards fairness and equity for women (and others) who were genuinely being treated unfairly. To them we bow with thanks and ongoing appreciation.

Now a word to the others - - some of you know who you are and some others won't care. All of us know the type I am now going to address.

Well, you have messed up the lives of countless men, women, children, killed millions of unborn human beings with your false ideology, duplicitous tactics, fear-mongering, lies, false statistics, even falser reports, committee stuffing, rule bending, terror-tactics, false complaints, back-biting, career ending, queue jumping, ability avoiding and negating activities: the list could go on and on.

We have seen your work up close and listened to the Siren song you have been working on societies around the world as you have blamed men for what are human problems, as you have treated the exceptional crime as the normal occurrence and as you demonized the normal family as the root of all evil. And yet, more than Harpies and Sirens, you have also acted like a myopic Cyclops, ignoring and devaluing so many women yet, all the while, claiming to speak for all of them. Was there balance on the governmental bodies you erected in all women’s names? Hardly.

For example, and it is a big, big example, you have systematically (and oh so carefully) ignored the many women who want to stay 'home' with their children and, with your one-sided policies, in effect, forced them out from where many of them would choose to be to the only kind of 'work' you really value. For many of them it is a misery and a heart-breaking drudge that, had you bothered, could have been relieved by better governmental policies in tax and benefits. But you did not lift a finger, call a committee or militate for them did you? So what was all that stuff about 'choice'? Lies. You have spoken for elites and generally ignored the marginal and you do it still. Shame.

We have watched how you devalued family life, changed tax laws to make family life more and more difficult, laws to make divorce more unfair and school curricula to reflect more and more divisive conceptions of human being, mangled theology to turn men against women and women against men by basing everything on power relationships. Shame.

We have watched you corrupt hiring policies. We have seen a generation of excellently qualified men passed over or precluded from employment in the academy. Shame. We have watched as men of excellence who have spent a lifetime preparing for judicial appointments have been passed over so that 'a woman' (it sometimes seemed as if it didn't matter who) got the job, casting a shadow over the many excellent women who deserved their appointments. Shame.

We have watched as you blamed men (all men) for things that most of them never did and do not do and your blaming made many of them afraid to be themselves. You have shut down discussions in offices, schoolrooms, and streets, in a hundred studios, newspapers and other places. You are the great censors of the age.

The psychic fall-out from this has caused and is causing untold sadness and pain (for women as well as men) in today's world. Some of you hate men and mask your own psychosis in 'the movement' when, instead of marching, you should have been under a physician's care, getting lots of rest and doing genuinely good works. Shame.

Not all women are victims, not all men are oppressors, all intercourse is not rape and, thank God, your days are over or nearing their end. Communism collapsed under its own lies and so will radical feminism of the sort I am critiquing. Listen, you can hear the walls of your fortresses falling and, nearby, everyone else laughing for your blight is passing as a dark cloud that has obscured the sun for far too long. Slowly, people are beginning to wake up, stretch and get on with their lives again.

So here's to you good women - - a toast. And to the rest, all your movements and plans, a loud resounding raspberry! Shame upon you and all your works and may your names live to be remembered accurately for what you did. The interesting thing is, some of you are men.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 64
Pat Adomnan©