Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Canadian Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Religious Liberty

As their US counterparts fight the battle for religious liberty, so these North American bishops have also issued a pastoral letter on the subject. The CCCB's website states:
“Legitimate secularity draws a distinction between religion and politics, between Church and state,” the pastoral letter states, but is open to the engagement of religious beliefs and faith communities in public debate and civic life. “Radical secularism”, however, excludes religion from the public square “and from freely engaging in the public debate necessary for shaping civic life.”
The letter is liberally footnoted with references to the Magisterial teachings of Pope Benedict and Blessed John Paul II.

In a section entitled "Concerns in our own Nation" the bishops write:
In the past decade in Canada there have been several situations that raise the question whether our right to freedom of conscience and religion is everywhere respected. At times, believers are being legally compelled to exercise their profession without reference to their religious or moral convictions, and even in opposition to them. This occurs wherever laws, which most often deal with issues linked to the dignity of human life and the family, are promulgated and which limit the right to conscientious objection by health-care and legal professionals, educators and politicians.

For example, some colleges of physicians require that members who refuse to perform abortions refer patients to another physician willing to do so; elsewhere pharmacists are being threatened by being forced to have to fill prescriptions for contraceptives or the “morning after” pill; and marriage commissioners in British
Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan must now perform samesex marriages or resign.

Conflict and confrontation occur between the rights and freedoms of some citizens and others: for example, when anti-discrimination laws – which, properly understood, include religion – clash with the right to religious freedom. Besides the courts, the Human Rights Tribunals of each province strive to strike a balance or reconcile conflicts between different rights.

All too often, however, advocacy groups use these bodies to promote new individual “rights” which often take precedence over the common good. The legal proceedings that these lobbies initiate force the defendant to become involved in lengthy and expensive court battles and thus weaken the common good.

Such acrimonious procedures would be better replaced by a civilized and respectful debate enriching to everyone, provided it gives a voice in the public forum to religious believers. If that voice is suppressed in any way, believers should view this as a restriction on their right to freedom of religion, one which should be forcefully challenged. In a constitutional democracy such as Canada’s, the system of justice must strive to protect more effectively freedom of religion and of conscience as key elements of our free and democratic society.
 The letter can be downloaded here.

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