By Wayne Litke
As a country, our role in world affairs has changed from third-party peacekeepers to active military service in order to combat a growing terrorism threat around the world. Despite our role as minor-league aggressors, we continue to enjoy a reputation as being a generous and peaceful country that respects others. However, that nationalistic trait continues to be exploited by internal forces so that long-established Canadian beliefs and customs are becoming unlawful.
In this present age of political correctness we are striving to welcome and embrace different cultures to the point of sacrificing our own values – values that helped shape Canada into the country it is today. The latest example of our national rush to appease every vocal concern occurred last week at the Supreme Court of Canada. That is when the top court in the land ruled Saguenay’s municipal council cannot open their meetings with a prayer, and it all apparently began with one complaint. There was no rioting in the streets or firebombing of the council chambers by an angry mob, but there was one individual (and a secular-rights organization) who launched a complaint nine years ago. A legal battle ensued and in 2011 a human rights tribunal ordered Saguenay’s mayor to stop opening council meetings with a prayer. It also ordered a crucifix in the council chamber be removed and damages were awarded to the plaintiff who claimed the opening prayer was offensive and violated his constitutional freedom of conscience and religion. On April 15 our nation’s Supreme Court unanimously agreed and emphasized the significance of having a neutral public space that is free of coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality.
Personally, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I have been at a lot of public meetings over the years and some had elements that I was unfamiliar with. However, I never felt coerced, pressured or judged if I did not participate or have the same beliefs. I recall feeling like a fish out of water on a couple of occasions, but I could have left at any time as it was my choice to leave or stay. I knew that any offense suffered would be due to my own shortsightedness or narrow-mindedness provided a gross indecency against people and principles did not occur.
The Saguenay case sounds more like a petty complaint by a self-centered Saguenay resident, perhaps he had an axe to grind. One thing is obvious, he certainly did not care about other people or their beliefs as he waged his own personal war to have his rights and values recognized above all others… and he succeeded. Selfish people tend to be like that – no matter what happens, it’s always all about them, their feelings and their needs.
Reflecting back, it is interesting that the tribunal’s decision was overturned by the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2013. It determined the city did not impose religious views on its citizens by simply saying a prayer at the start of a council meeting. The tribunal ruled the city’s religious neutrality had been compromised by a prayer. Furthermore, if the act was contrary to the plaintiff’s moral values, it was trivial in nature and not grievous. The argument of a vocal minority (in this case one person) was not allowed to outweigh the customs and practices that residents have embraced for centuries, but that was not the outcome when the case reached the Supreme Court.
I wonder if our top court ever considered that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was intended to allow citizens the right – the freedom – to pursue their faith without hassle or persecution from others. It was also intended to ensure people are not forced to accept or adopt a belief system that is contrary to their own values or religion. Actually, I hate using the word religion because very few people know the actual definition of the word (as defined in the Bible). As for me, I don’t believe the Charter was intended to be a soapbox for one person to rally against customs and principles that existed when Canada was formed, and long before that. Neither was it meant to be a ramrod for forcing one person’s opinion upon others.
If a Quebec atheist is steadfast in his belief there is no God, then a religious symbol or short prayer should have absolutely no impact on the guy. For truly agnostic minds, a symbol that is linked to a religious belief has no power whatsoever to influence their thoughts or actions, and words directed at God are on par with overhearing another person’s conversation with a friend (a truly boring conversation at that).
Therefore, I ask, “What is the big deal with opening a meeting with a prayer?” I have been to gatherings where it happens and meetings where it does not and I did not see people getting offended at either one. One of Canada’s greatest assets is the way it welcomes foreign workers and families and allows them to practice the customs of their homeland, so why are the top judges in the land now discriminating against Canadian citizens and the beliefs on which the country was formed? The baby has indeed been thrown out with the bathwater. Unfortunately, the judges who believe they are upholding the (charter) law have committed a huge injustice and are actually curtailing religious freedoms instead of protecting them. Shame on our Supreme Court judges.