The impact of secularization on faith in Canada
by Jack Taylor
Is anyone really surprised? Before 1971, an Angus Reid poll reports less than one percent of Canadians identified themselves as non-religious. Within two generations that percentage had climbed to 23 percent. The consistent secularism shutting down faith in Europe has an echo in Canada. This is especially true among the younger generations.
There are resounding echoes of the crash between religion and secularism. Recent challenges surrounding Trinity Western University, Medical Assistance in Dying, women’s rights, the Ontario lawyers, the Sexual Orientation – Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum and the attestation surrounding summer job grants indicate a changing political landscape in our nation.
Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and Faith in Canada 150, in collaboration with Cardus, released their study on the Anatomy of Faith in Canada. Despite the surge of progressive liberalism’s secular agenda, there is a strong commitment to faith in Canada.
So this is the law
According to Derek Ross, Executive Director & General Counsel for Christian Legal Fellowship, “Lawyers sometimes get a bad rap (and sometimes deserve it!) but the fact is that they do a lot of good and important work. Lawyers play a crucial role in promoting justice, and facilitating healing and restoration in the midst of pain and brokenness.” Ross states, “I believe this work is very close to God’s heart and His plan for creation, and that’s why we need faithful and thoughtful Christian lawyers in Canada – perhaps now more than ever.”
Sheldon Wood, a London (Ontario) lawyer focusing on Church and Charity Law, notes that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms declares in part one of the Constitution Act (1982) that all of us have the fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion; thought, belief, opinion and expression (including freedom of the press and other media of communication), peaceful assembly and association.
He notes that “the original ‘fundamental freedoms’ have been increased over time by legislation to include the following additional protections within the Canadian Human Rights Act: prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
The impact is being seen where religious rights clash with other rights. Ross notes an ongoing case which “involves freedom of conscience and religion in the medical profession. In Ontario, all physicians are now required to provide effective referrals for euthanasia, which means that they must take positive steps to facilitate patient access to the procedure, even if the physician has a conscientious or religious objection. In Canada, there are diverse views on the appropriateness of these procedures. Not all doctors agree that euthanasia is an appropriate medical solution for suffering – in fact, many, including the World Medical Association, believe it is unethical for physicians to participate in it. A truly free society can find ways to accommodate these differing views – and in fact most places have, including BC and Alberta.
“Nevertheless, the Ontario court that heard this case in 2017 upheld the ‘effective referral’ requirements. The court recognized this violates physicians’ Charter rights but concluded that these rights had to give way to “ensuring equitable access to healthcare” – even though it acknowledged there was “no study or direct evidence that demonstrates that access to health care is, or was, a problem that was caused by physicians objecting on religious or conscientious grounds to the provision of referrals.” CLF [The Christian Legal Fellowship] also intervened in this case, arguing for the protection of doctors’ conscience rights. The decision is being appealed.”
Freedom of conscience
“Protecting a professional’s freedom of conscience and ethical judgment – their sense of what is right and wrong – is essential to maintaining a free and democratic society. Forcing physicians (and perhaps in the future, lawyers or other professionals) to do what they believe is intrinsically wrong helps no one. Reducing professionals to a means to an end, and overriding their moral agency and professional judgment, sets us on a very dangerous trajectory.”
A similar effort was made in denying more than 1,400 applications for summer job grants this year due to a controversial attestation which would have had religious organizations check off a box agreeing to abortion and other statements which would deny the charter rights of those religious groups.
Wood states that “the Canadian Summer Jobs Program ‘attestation’ requirement is just the tip of the iceberg. If the government is successful in this instance, churches and other faith-based charities themselves will be closer to being compelled to sign a similar ‘attestation’ against their beliefs in order to obtain, and even to keep, their present charitable status.”
Ross states that “there are other challenges on the horizon which CLF is monitoring, and we expect to be involved in more cases in the months ahead. Part of our mission at Christian Legal Fellowship is to equip Christian law students and lawyers who feel called to a vocational pursuit of justice. For the latest information, readers can follow our updates at www.christianlegalfellowship.org.”
Still room for hope
Ross concludes, “Despite some of these troubling developments, we have much reason for hope – God is raising up a new generation of passionate, committed, and engaged Christian law students and lawyers. In the last few years alone, CLF’s membership has grown by almost 200 law students and young lawyers.
The more I interact with CLF’s law students – who represent Canada’s future leaders, judges, and lawmakers – the more I am reminded of Peter’s encouraging words in scripture: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” It is important that we support and invest in this next generation of leaders, for their impact will be significant.
“But it’s not just lawyers who have a responsibility to engage our culture – all Christians have an important role to play in building a free and just society. We are all advocates in that sense, and as Christians who know the richness of God’s truth, we have so much to contribute to public dialogue to further the common good. Sometimes Christians feel ill-equipped to do so, but we have developed a very special training program to assist students and practitioners – in all professions, not just law – develop and articulate their Biblical worldview in all aspects of public life.” You can find out more at www.christianlegalfellowship.org/cli.