Blog 088: Religious Privileges in Federal Legislation

David Rand


Recently we conducted a poll, among our members, about several aspects of Canadian federal legislation. The goal of this exercise was to learn their opinion of several laws and regulations which grant privileges to religions in one way or another. Here is what was proposed in the poll:

  1. The religious accommodation which the RCMP grants to members of the Sikh religion must be cancelled.
  2. The reference to the “supremacy of God” in the preamble of the 1982 Constitution must be removed.
  3. Line 17(1)b) of the Citizenship Regulations must be repealed.
  4. Article 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada which forbids so-called “Blasphemous Libel” must be repealed.
  5. The religious exception in the Hate Propaganda legislation must be repealed.
  6. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act must be repealed.
  7. All religious accommodations in public services must be banned.
  8. The tax credit for donations to religious organizations must be removed.
  9. The House of Commons must withdraw its resolution of 2016-10-26 which condemns so-called “islamophobia.”

Responses were almost unanimous (and for several of the above proposals, literally unanimous): our members replied “Yes,” federal legislation should be modified as proposed. On several of these nine points, our organization Atheist Freethinkers has already taken a position in the past. For others, we are dealing with a new issue which needs to be addressed. Let us review each of these points.

  1. The religious accommodation granted to Sikhs in the RMCP has been in place since 1990. It is thus a longstanding element of the Canadian political landscape and will not be easy to reverse. But it must be done. To allow adherents of a particular religion the privilege of an exemption from wearing the uniform which all others must wear is simply unacceptable. We know that several of our adversaries will hurl gratuitous and dishonest accusations of “racism,” “xenophobia” or whatever, thus displaying their total lack of intellectual integrity, since a religion is not a race and to oppose religious privilege is a duty, not a fault or a whim. Related to this is the case of several Canadian politicians who play a major role in government and who wear the Sikh turban. This situation is unacceptable for similar reasons—i.e., state representatives must not ostentatiously display their religious affiliation while performing their duties—and we have issued a declaration to that effect. (RPL petition against religious symbols worn by Canadian cabinet ministers)
  2. The reference to the “supremacy of God” is located at the very beginning of the Canadian Constitution and it is therefore of primary importance that it be removed. Fortunately, the scope of that phrase has been somewhat reduced by a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada (Declaration of secular associations in Quebec and Canada concerning the 15 April 2015 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada). Nevertheless, it must be gotten rid of because our opponents may very well try to use it in support of their religious views.
  3. Line 17(1)b) of the Citizenship Regulations stipulates that, during the citizenship ceremony, the judge must allow “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation thereof.” The religious beliefs or affiliation of the new citizen are utterly irrelevant in this context where citizenship, that is to say, the individual’s act of joining his or her newly adopted country, should be the priority. Remember that Zunera Ishaq, the Islamist who scored a victory before the federal court, winning the “right” to wear the niqab during her swearing-in, used this regulation in order to justify the unjustifiable. Instead of appealing the court decision (as did the Harper government at the time), this provision should simply have been repealed—as it should now.
  4. Fortunately, paragraph 296 which criminalizes “Blasphemous Libel” is about to disappear. Draft Bill C-51 would repeal it. This is excellent news, but we must continue to monitor the situation to make sure it really does.
  5. The religious exception in the Hate Propaganda law is located in article 319 of the Criminal Code. This provision grants religions impunity for hateful declarations in their scriptures or speech. It is thus a privilege bestowed on religious believers and is prejudicial towards non-believers who have no such scriptures to legitimize speech that might be hateful. This exception must be repealed. We ask you to sign the petition e-763 which we have prepared on this issue and which can be found on the web site of the Canadian Parliament.
  6. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act is very poorly understood by many Canadians. There was a time when the expression “multiculturalism” was a synonym of cultural diversity, a simple fact of life which, in general (but not always), is a good thing, and even an enrichment of society. However, over time, this simple concept has evolved into a tendentious policy, more closely related to cultural relativism, and a synonym of multiconfessionalism and communitarianism. We, of AFT, oppose communitarianism because it accords priority to the individual’s ethno-religious affiliation to the detriment of his or her citizenship, thus increasing divisions rather than reducing them. Multiculturalism has become an ideology which elevates religious practice and affiliation above human rights, leading to the prolilferation of religious symbols, even in the public service, and imposing so-called “reasonable” accommodations—which are completely unreasonable—which validate the privileges granted to those religious practices. Recall that, once again, this Canadian Multiculturalism Act was part of Zunera Ishaq’s legal arsenal. This law must be repealed because it prioritizes freedom of religion above other freedoms such as freedom from religion. If it is not repealed, it must at least be amended so as to disallow any and all religious accommodations as explained in point (7) below.
  7. This point does not apply to any one law in particular but to legislation in general. It is of fundamental importance that the law be the same for everyone. Any accommodation motivated by religious considerations is inadmissible. If a religious practice is found to be incompatible with laws and regulations, then it is up to religious believers to adapt to those laws and regulations, not the other way around.
  8. …the fiscal exemptions and advantages which religious institutions enjoy are particularly insidious and harmful for society, even odious.
  9. Among the many unjust privileges which are granted to religions, the fiscal exemptions and advantages which religious institutions enjoy are particularly insidious and harmful for society, even odious. They deprive our governments of vast sums of money, swallowed up by organizations which are little more than elaborate scams. This topic alone deserves in-depth research and total scrutiny.
  10. The adoption of Motion M-103 which condemns so-called “Islamophobia” constitutes a major propaganda victory for Islamist fundamentalism and obscurantism. It must be repudiated as soon as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Print This Page Print This Page