St. Paul and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Do you know your rights as a Canadian? As a Christian living in Canada?

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The apostle Paul knew his rights as a Roman citizen. It saved his life. And, that gave us over half of the New Testament.

At Antioch, the Holy Spirit chose Barnabas and Paul for missionary service. (Acts 13:2) Paul’s Roman citizenship was his passport to travel throughout the Empire. He used that passport to preach the gospel; with Barnabas on his first journey, then on a second trip with Silas, then on a third, some suggest with his spiritual son Timothy as Paul was not in the habit of travelling alone.

While in Jerusalem following his third mission tour, Paul was arrested. (Acts 21:30-33). When the crowd rioted against him, Paul informed a Roman officer that he was a Roman citizen who knew his rights. (Acts 22:25-29)

The crowd was determined to kill Paul. The Roman officer, because of Paul’s citizenship, protected him and saved his life. While in prison, word reached Paul there was a plot to kill him when he was being transferred from Jerusalem to his hearing in the court of the governor, Felix, in Caesarea. Again, knowing his rights saved Paul’s life. He alerted his jailers to the plot and, as a Roman citizen, was provided a military escort to ensure his safety to appear before the Roman governor’s court. (Acts 23:16-33)

If Paul had not known his rights, he would not have made it to prison, or to trial – or to subsequent hearings based on his appeal, as a citizen, to be tried before Caesar.

During his lengthy imprisonment and the accompanying journey to Rome, Paul was visited by the physician Luke who took copious notes of their conversations. From his notes, Luke penned two short books. The first is known as the Gospel of Luke. The second, we call the Book of Acts. Those books wouldn’t exist but for Paul asserting his rights. Neither would the thirteen letters written from prison by the apostle – Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon – and a fourteenth, Hebrews, which is believed either to have been written by Paul or an author imitating Paul’s writing style. That’s sixteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books and letters!

In a previous blog, about the Canada Summer jobs attestation clause, I quoted from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In it, he reminds us, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

In the same blog, I quoted from the first of two letters Paul wrote from prison to his protégé Timothy. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul begins:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

How important are those two points for Christians grappling with discrimination based on religious beliefs? For those encountering anti-religious prejudice from the Government of Canada today?

One of the reasons the current federal government has been able to tread the path it has chosen is the general lack of awareness Canadians have about our rights and freedoms, let alone how those freedoms have been defined by the courts. Bold assertion has been made about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on both sides of the dispute, much of it inaccurate and uninformed. Reasoned argument in support of well-defined rights has been met with response akin to close-minded mob mentality against. Many Canadians, including many politicians, simply do not understand our rights.

What the current “kerfuffle,” as the Prime Minister called it, has done is encourage numerous Canadians to read what the Charter says. That’s good, but reading the Charter only scratches the surface of how the listed rights and freedoms have been defined and applied by the courts. Canadians who browsed as far as section 32 found out the Charter is intended to protect us from government actions that violate our freedoms, not to empower government to demand we sign on the dotted line in agreement with its ideological whims.

The apostle Paul knew the rights of his citizenship applied equally for him, even as a Christian, as much as for any other citizen of the Roman Empire. He knew his rights. And, he knew how to exercise his rights.

under siege HROne of the reasons God stirred me to write Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 is so that Christians in Canada might know, understand, and be equipped to properly exercise our rights in the twenty-first century, as Paul did in the first.

Here’s what Pastor Jason Boucher had to say about the book:

In Under Siege, Don has written an outstanding resource-driven book which outlines not only our religious freedoms in Canada, and how our culture has arrived at this point, but how we might best engage today. Under Siege is recommended reading for all followers of Jesus, not just leaders.

John Pellowe of the Canadian Council of Christian Charities said:

Don Hutchinson has that rare combination of gifts: a deep thinker, an excellent writer, and able to make complex subjects easily understood. Under Siege is a must-read for Christians who care about the mission Christ gave His church but feel hindered by the current Canadian legal and social environment. Hutchinson puts it all in perspective and gives suggestions for how we can continue to undertake the church’s mission in Canada today.

Paul knew his rights, and he understood them. He also understood that, as Christians, our rights and freedoms are not for our personal advantage. Our rights and freedoms are to be used for the benefit of the gospel, which is “nested in the great Story of all that God has done and said,” writes John Stackhouse, including the life witness of every Christ-follower.

Don’t just know you have rights, know your rights. Understand them. Be prepared to use them when necessary. And to do so, as St. Paul did, as an ambassador of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what former Member of Parliament Preston Manning had to say:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

 

Canada Summer Jobs: headed to a courtroom near you?

These have been an interesting seven days for those with interest in Canadian religious freedom. Two important decisions in regard to violations of religious freedom demonstrated that decision-makers are not necessarily listening. A third suggests, it is possible.

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Hope – adventus as Jürgen Moltmann referred to it, the need for something new to come from outside to change the situation, like the advent of Christ, the Hope of the World – was high that the Canadian government would hear the united voices of over eighty religious leaders and thousands of calls, emails and letters to Members of Parliament, Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about problems with changes to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program that bar participation for many religious organizations.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister posted photos of himself observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Surely he would hear the pleas of Canadian rabbis in regard to CSJ. Any concern for the marginalization and exclusion of an identifiable group of religious Canadians, including Jews, precipitated by the CSJ attestation requirement did not, apparently, change his mind.

Two days later, the Prime Minister attended the ceremony observing the first anniversary of the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy where six Muslim men were killed and nineteen seriously injured while participating in worship. Surely the Prime Minister would listen to the pleas of Canadian imams in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? Not yet.

The next day, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada will officially recognize the International Decade for People of African Descent. The day after that, he issued a statement celebrating Black History Month. The significant and continuing contribution of Christian black leaders, including congregations and ministries that have a history of accessing CSJ funding to benefit vulnerable communities must have come to mind. Perhaps, he would hear these leaders in regard to the CSJ attestation requirement? He did not.

Having committed to be in the House of Commons for Question Period each Wednesday when Parliament is sitting, it was reasonably anticipated we would that day get answers from the Prime Minister to the questions with which Canadians have inundated Members of Parliament since the CSJ announcement in December. This week, however, the first week Parliament is sitting after the government’s announcement of the revised CSJ attestation clause, Prime Minister Trudeau opted instead to leave Ottawa following his morning caucus meeting, skip Question Period, and fly to Winnipeg for a town hall Q&A at the University of Manitoba.

The response of Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau to the repeated efforts of Canadian religious leaders, from across the spectrum of faith communities, has been to repeat government talking points, like the tourist speaking slowly, louder and more assertively in a foreign land, as if religious leaders did not understand them the first time. Core mandate and student hiring conditions as defined in the new for 2018 requirements from the federal government for CSJ funding insist religious leaders and communities must compromise their beliefs, surrender the constitutional right to ‘freedom of conscience and religion,’ and relinquish the right granted under provincial human rights legislation to observe religious beliefs and practices in the hiring of co-religionists, even summer students, for their work.

Each summer, many CSJ summer students have worked with religious charities to serve, among others, the needs of those with disabilities, or identified as underprivileged, or the most in need and at risk in our society. Without question, they have also provided services that benefit co-religionists, equally Canadians.

The mandated checkmark may have seemed innocuous to government officials, but the response of religious leaders made it clear the attestation statement to which that checkmark is affixed was a demand to betray their beliefs. In addition to calls, letters and emails, the concern was expressed at town hall after town hall. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s response at those town hall gatherings suggest he is more concerned about talking than listening.

Thursday, the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage issued its report Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination including Islamophobia, in which it recommended consultation with religious organizations on government action that affects them. (There is some good stuff in the report, for a later blog. There are Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs who consider listening to religious perspectives by government to be both possible and beneficial.) On the matter of Canada Summer Jobs funding, such consultation might have prevented the current predicament. Actively listening to after-the-fact communications from religious leaders and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast would also have led to a solution.

The last time I was as disenchanted by government refusal to hear legitimate concerns about taking action that will have damaging impact on employment opportunities and services for Canadians living on the vulnerable edge of our society was the previous government’s decision to cancel the national census. The Canadian census is internationally recognized as one of the most accurate. It is valuable to government at all levels (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards), charities and businesses for their program and financial planning. The people most impacted by the cancelled census were those who became the invisible disadvantaged, because they did not show up on the national household survey. The same holds true for those who will lose out on the benefits of summer jobs and the programs conducted by summer student employees across the country. Many are students on the edge of being able to pay for their education. Others are those living on the edge of poverty who will lose the option of supervised activity for their children during school vacation, and those caring for special needs children who will lose the one or two weeks of respite provided by summer camps or a few hours each day provided by local church-run day camps.

While the clock ticked down to the Friday midnight (Pacific Time) deadline for CSJ applications, Minister Hajdu offered her own form of compromise. To those asking for a change in the attestation clause and an extension for application, she conceded a one-week extension, but kept the clause. Is there still hope that the many voices, and more voices, might be heard over the next week and the necessary adjustment take place?

Hope had also been high that three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court would sort out the law, accurately apply the Charter, and protect physicians from being forced to choose between violating their consciences or leaving their current medical practices. Thursday, in its decision, The Divisional Court concluded the beliefs of physicians were indeed violated by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s policy requiring all practicing physicians in the province to participate in ending-life medical procedures. But, the court also found it justifiable to require this standard as a condition of patient care in the province. (Yes, patient care was defined to include intentionally ending the patient’s life.) Ontario is the only province refusing to accommodate physician’s personal beliefs on this matter.

Unchallenged, the decisions of government and court will mean those in greatest need will be those who suffer most.

The shortage of summer opportunities for those in need – whether student employees or student clients – means the vulnerable, perhaps the most vulnerable, will pay the cost Canada’s government has so far declined to fund because of an ideological transformation of a previously non-discriminatory successful program.

The violation of physicians’ beliefs will result in a different kind of shortage. Doctors have said they will retire or move on from meaningful work that was, for them, always about healing, easing pain, and saving lives.

If either or both decisions are to be contested further in the courts – the guardians of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it were– there will be a different cost. The litigation process is expensive.

If you believe these freedoms are deserving of continuing protection, i.e. equal treatment of all applying for summer employment grants (of our money from our government) and recognition of the conscience rights of those who have taken an oath to do no harm, then you will want to follow the status of these situations. In addition to prayer and writing your MP about the CSJ, or your Member of Ontario’s Legislative Assembly about the policy of the government regulatory College of Physicians, you may also want to make an encouraging financial contribution to those fighting the fight for continued recognition of our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion.

However these situations turn out, hope – adventus – is not sacrificed at the feet of Prime Minister or Divisional Court. We do need to keep praying for our Prime Minister, government leaders and the judges of our courts; appealing to Him who is our Hope, with confidence He is, in truth, the Hope of the world.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what the lawyer in Ontario’s physician rights case, Albertos Polizogopoulos, had to say about the book:

As a lawyer whose practice is largely focussed on religious freedom litigation, I read about the issues and cases referred to in Under Siegeon a regular basis. Don Hutchinson has been able to present a legal and political history of religious freedom in Canada in a manner that is not only easy to follow and understand, but also personal and engaging. It is written for lawyer or layperson and is equally accessible.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

Liberal MPs Cut and Paste on Religion test for Canada Summer Jobs

If you sent an email or letter to your Member of Parliament, you may have received a reply by now. The exercise has been fairly simple for Liberal MPs. Several I’ve seen indicate MPs just cut and paste what was given them. There are two variations on the theme. Both demonstrate a lack of basic understanding of Canada’s constitution.

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The first response is a cut and paste of the supplementary information provided by Employment and Social Development Canada as a ‘clarification’ of ‘core mandate.’ As tone deaf as the clarification is to the concerns of religious individuals and communities, it exhibits a continuing failure to grasp the most basic point of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As more Canadians find themselves driven to read the Charter, which is a good thing, it’s best to do so with that most basic point in mind.

Section 32 of the Charter informs us:

  1.  (1) This Charter applies

(a) to the Parliament and government of Canada in respect of all matters within the authority of Parliament including all matters relating to the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories; and

(b) to the legislature and government of each province in respect of all matters within the authority of the legislature of each province.

The Charter applies to government – federal, provincial, municipal, school boards and government agencies. The Charter protects Canadians from acts of government.  The Charter states the freedoms and rights of Canadians, which the government is not allowed to violate.

Section 1 notes the purpose of the Charter.

  1.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The only limitation permitted on Charter guaranteed freedoms is when government can demonstrate and justify to the courts that the proposed limitation is reasonable, i.e. prescribed by law (i.e. government action), and the least intrusive way to accomplish a legitimate government purpose in Canada’s free and democratic society. The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that for government to violate or infringe the rights guaranteed in the Charter in a manner that is considered reasonable, the government must be have a pressing and substantial purpose, i.e. it’s got to be something that is really important. Government must also prove the action proposed or taken is one that minimally impairs/infringes the right in question, and the action taken is proportional to the objective.

All of this to say, Canadians are not required to abide by the Charter, the government is. Under our constitution, Canadians are required to adhere to relevant human rights legislation in the province or territory in which they live.

The fundamental flaw in the government’s efforts to require private entities to agree to apply the Charter to themselves is the Charter does not apply to private entities.

The second flaw of the government’s required attestation clause is that, by mandating all applicants for a Canada Summer Jobs grant endorse the statement, the government may require agreement to an expressed belief that is contradictory to that held by the applicant. This government requirement violates the expressed Charter rights to “freedom of conscience and religion” (s. 2a), “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” (s. 2b).

The other party line response includes a paragraph on two decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. Having an MP send this to a constituent might seem definitive, but it is misleading. Here’s the paragraph, which has been placed in bold at the centre of a response on more than one occasion:

The Supreme Court of Canada has said that an individual’s reproductive autonomy is a right protected under section 7 of the Charter. In Blencoe v. British Columbia (Human Rights Commission) the Supreme Court commented that “Few interests are as compelling as, and basic to individual autonomy then, a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy… Such interests are indeed basic to individual dignity.” In the Morgentaler case, the Supreme Court held that certain restrictions on access to abortion violated women’s right to security of the person under section 7 of the Charter.

Let’s talk about the first part and the quote from the Blencoe decision in 2000. Blencoe was a case about a politician seeking to avoid a human rights hearing following a complaint of sexual harassment being filed against him under the British Columbia Human Rights Code. Blencoe asserted he was unable to face the hearing because he became depressed after the complaint was filed. Here’s the rest of the quote from paragraph 86 in Blencoe:

Few interests are as compelling as, and basic to individual autonomy than, a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, an individual’s decision to terminate his or her life, the right to raise one’s children, and the ability of sexual assault victims to seek therapy without fear of their private records being disclosed.  Such interests are indeed basic to individual dignity.  But the alleged right to be free from stigma associated with a human rights complaint does not fall within this narrow sphere. [I italicized the parts the government skipped]

There is no mention there of a “right” to an individual’s reproductive autonomy.

Second, the reference to the Morgentaler decision from 1988 is also misleading. Much has been written on the 1988 decision. Apparently, in terms of the government’s comments, little has been read.

The decision of the Supreme Court in Morgentaler was in regard to the particular section of the Criminal Code that was being challenged. The issue in question was the inconsistent availability of therapeutic abortion committees across the country. The job of the committees was to assess whether an abortion could be justified on the basis of the pregnancy endangering the mother’s health. An “endangered” woman might arrive at a hospital to find there was no capacity to save her life because it lacked a therapeutic abortion committee. The Court determined that the state had an interest in determining the point in pregnancy when the child’s life should be protected, but the law had to apply consistently across the nation. Here’s what Chief Justice Dickson’s court (McIntyre, J.) had to say:

The historical review of the legal approach in Canada taken from the judgment of the Court of Appeal serves, as well, to cast light on the underlying philosophies of our society and establishes that there has never been a general right to abortion in Canada. There has always been clear recognition of a public interest in the protection of the unborn and there has been no evidence or indication of any general acceptance of the concept of abortion at will in our society. It is to be observed as well that at the time of adoption of the Charter the sole provision for an abortion in Canadian law was that to be found in s.251 of the Criminal Code. It follows then, in my view, that the interpretive approach to the Charter, which has been accepted in this Court, affords no support for the entrenchment of a constitutional right of abortion.

That’s why the Mulroney government’s Bill C-43 (defeated on a tie vote on third vote in the Senate after passing in the House of Commons and two Senate votes) did not use the Charter’s ‘notwithstanding clause’ (s. 33 of the Charter, which provides for supremacy of elected representatives in the event of disagreement with a decision of the appointed members of the courts). The Supreme Court had not found that a right existed, so none had to be overridden by Parliament.

Even if a right had been found, we return to the matter of the Charter applying to government behaviour, and the protection of Canadians from having government opinion forced upon us in violation of our guaranteed rights.

As I have noted previously, and in my letter to the Prime Minister and my Member of Parliament:

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

Guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is that government cannot force agreement with this kind of ideological position. In these matters, the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that government must be neutral to avoid violating the Charter rights of Canadians. Government action in administration of a government service/program, such as the Canada Summer Jobs Program, must treat all Canadians equally, regardless of religious or other beliefs, opinions or expression.

For Christians Only: About the Canada Summer Jobs Program

I know. I know. Another piece about the Canada Summer Jobs program. But this one’s different. This one is just for Christ-followers.

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Are you praying?

Are you praying for our Prime Minister, his cabinet, our government?

Mainstream media – the major television, radio and newspaper outlets – across the country have expressed a common opinion. Even Canada’s leading pro-abortion activist has publicly expressed her opinion that the government needs to change the now infamous attestation clause. Is there more to what’s happening?

St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us in chapter 6, verse 12 that, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Call me crazy, but this is about more than the nation learning what the word attestation means.

Stick with me.

Last November, Christian leaders from coast-to-coast-to-coast called the nation to prayer in regard to the Trinity Western University law school cases (Ontario and British Columbia) that were presented before the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30 and December 1, 2017. And, people were asked to keep praying until a decision is released. Here’s a part of that prayer request as I noted last November,

… representatives from TWU have asked for prayer that there will be a healing of the hurts revealed through this process. The request is particularly that the dialogue between all people who live together in the shared free and democratic society of Canada might continue with respect and acceptance, even when there is not agreement.

Have you ever prayed about one thing and realized your prayer was impacting something else?

As Christians in Canada have shared in the prayer highlighted above, we have engaged a request for broader dialogue than the accreditation of a law school.

Step back from the politics of the Canada Summer Jobs situation for a moment. Ask yourself why self-described atheist and feminist Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, has asked Prime Minister Trudeau to make the correction that would enable faith groups to apply for funding without being asked to compromise the holistic claims of their religious beliefs?

The Canada Summer Jobs fiasco has resulted in the media – politically left, right and centre – giving more national coverage to the true nature of Canada’s abortion situation than the best organized pro-life group could ever have imagined. CBC, CTV, Global, National Post, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and more have all run pieces written by people who cover the political spectrum in which they have shared that the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Morgentaler did not establish a right to abortion in Canada. Canadians have been informed that because Canada has no law providing protection to the child in the womb at any stage of gestation, our nation is the only outlier on this issue among the world’s democracies. The media has reminded Canadians abortion remains an active political issue.

In addition, the mainstream media has championed the constitutional right to freedom of conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression (speech), found in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canadians from across the country are phoning, emailing and writing letters to their Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Trudeau.

This is amazing! Keep praying!

As Paul wrote to Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

And keep contacting parliamentarians. The application process is open until February 2.

Here are some excerpts from the letter I sent to my MP and the PM:

First, please be assured that I am praying for you, your family and the Government of Canada. Leadership of our nation is an immense responsibility.

… For many religious individuals and organizations that hold a position on the issues in question, that position has been formed based on an understanding of their religion’s sacred text. Their faith is comprehensive and all-encompassing of both beliefs and practices. There is no hierarchy of beliefs to which their practices are tied. Their core mandate includes all of their religion – both beliefs and practices – and cannot be compartmentalized into separation of one belief from their worship or community service. They cannot with integrity check a box that says their beliefs concerning abortion are not part of their core mandate, even though they may never have engaged politically on the matter of abortion or have any plans to do so.

… Both sides in this conversation seem convinced what they’re saying is reasonable and clear. However, as noted above, neither is being heard as such. Repeating the same words, a little slower and a little louder, will not resolve the situation. Movement is required. Under Canada’s constitution, that movement appears to be required of government, not the potential applicants.

A failure to correct the situation will result in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of agencies that depend on CSJ funding not receiving funding they rely on to serve the most underprivileged in our society, as well as those in the middle class. Countless community service programs from coast-to-coast-to-coast may be cancelled as a result, with the least privileged in our society suffering the most. It will likely also result in freedom of information requests in regard to CSJ funding recipients, continuing media coverage, and litigation. Many organizations have expressed a willingness to fight for the equal treatment that journalists, religious leaders, and lawyers have now publicly assured is guaranteed them in our “free and democratic society” under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Please do not take our nation down this divisive path.

Please make provision for religious organizations to have a means of application for CSJ funding without requiring them to compromise their beliefs.

There is a saying that often “when we mix politics with religion, we get politics.” Let’s keep our religion faithful. And remember – like St. Paul whose appeal to his Roman citizenship was for fair treatment, equal to any other citizen – the rights of our citizenship are to be exercised for God’s glory, not political gain.

John Stackhouse has written this concise reminder for us:

The most important message we have to tell, of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel, however, is nested within the great Story of all that God has done and said, and all that God wants for us. So we have much to say, of different sorts in the public sphere today. (Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World, page 183)

I couldn’t have said it better.

If you’re ready to dig deeper into an understanding of our Charter rights and the biblical context for exercising them in Canada’s constitutionally guaranteed free and democratic society, you may want to get a copy of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017). Here’s what Preston Manning had to say about the book:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms professes to guarantee freedom of conscience and religion to all Canadians. But in practice, freedom of religion in Canada is “under siege.” I wholeheartedly commend to concerned Canadians Don Hutchinson’s analysis of the challenge and prescriptions for engagement.

Under Siege is available in paperback from my website, amazon, Indigo and others, as well as in a variety of electronic formats.

Speaking Grace To Political Power

Originally published January 9, 2018 at Convivium.ca.

Leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church are thoughtful and selective about their direct interactions with government. On the Julian calendar’s Christmas Eve – January 6 2018 on the more widely accepted Gregorian calendar – His Grace Bishop Mina of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Diocese of Mississauga, Vancouver and Western Canada issued a statement to Canada’s Prime Minister on behalf of the Coptic Community.

UNDER SIEGE - book launch

Coptic Christians are devoted. The North African church was founded in the middle of the first century, separated from the Western and Eastern Churches in the middle of the fifth century, and has lived in the light of persecution – not the shadow, but direct persecution – since the Arab Muslim conquest of Egypt in the middle of the seventh century.

Copts in Egypt constitute both the largest Christian population in the Middle East and the largest minority religious community.

In February 2015, the world was shocked by video of 21 men in orange jumpsuits being beheaded by black-clad masked executioners on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Twenty had been easily identified by their executioners by the crosses tattooed on the inside of their right wrists, the sign of Christ’s ownership and of membership in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The same sign is now often confirmed at the entrance to Egyptian church buildings as a security measure. The 21st man is said to have converted to Christianity that moment, on that beach, because of the unwavering witness of the other 20.

Faithful. And fearless.

Part of Coptic faithfulness is expressed through prayer for the political leaders of their nation in every liturgy, that is every congregational service and the daily private prayers of every priest.

Part of Coptic fearlessness, facing fear with faith, is the willingness to stand up publicly in grace for truth.

Part of Coptic fearlessness, facing fear with faith, is the willingness to stand up publicly in grace for truth.

The following message from Bishop Mina was read aloud in the Church of Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius in Mississauga, Ontario, with several federal cabinet members in attendance:

The Feast of the Nativity is a feast of Hope, Joy and Peace. We proudly say with the Prophet Isaiah “for unto us a child is born.” He is not any child and His birth is not like any birth. This birth is the very moment that our journey to salvation was re-established through a baby born in a manger. His birth is a great example of humility as He chose to humble Himself because of His love for all of humankind. Through His Birth, salvation became attainable for those who believed in His name and sought repentance.

As Christians, we are always taught to show love and pursue peace. However, we are also taught to stand up for the truth. Many of us have seen a recent picture, where the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his brother are (each) wearing a sweater that depicts Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with an emoji of a smiley face seated at the last supper. The depiction of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ at the Last Supper is a symbolic and deeply cherished image in our faith. We are all shocked and extremely saddened to see anyone, and especially the leader of our very own country, disparaging our Lord in such fashion. As a Coptic Orthodox community, we patiently waited for news that this image was fake, but it never came. We find ourselves today firstly praying for our Prime Minister, which we do in every liturgy, for God’s wisdom and enlightenment. Secondly, we understand that we all make mistakes, but when we do, we must stand up and apologize for the very mistakes we made. Thirdly, we are reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:23, where the Apostle Paul says “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”

This is the very enlightenment that we pray for God to show the Right Honourable Prime Minister. We are very proud Canadians and particularly proud of our right “to freedom of conscience and religion” that all Canadians are afforded under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, with these rights comes a responsibility to respect one another. We cannot force anyone to worship in a particular way, but we must at minimum be afforded the decency of respect of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Mr. Prime Minister, if the picture is real, we forgive you, but you should know that you hurt many of us deeply. We expect better from our leaders. Think of the example you set to many people throughout Canada. We pray that you see the error in your ways and apologize to all of us who are offended for this reckless lapse of judgment. We truly are grateful for all Canadians, Christians and non-Christians, who have shared their concern and voiced their displeasure. Without common respect of ALL faiths, we will fail as a society.

Regardless of this sad incident, we will not dismay or despair as the Feast of the Nativity is about the birth of Emanuel, which means God with us. With God on our side, we know the forces of evil will never prevail.

We sing with the angels and say aloud with all our hearts, louder than ever before, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward man.” (Luke 2:14)

May all our hearts be lifted in praise on this very special day for the wonderful gift of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the joy He brings to our lives. May God Bless the Right Honourable Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau, and each of us and fill us with Love, Joy and Peace all of the days of our lives. Merry Christmas.

The message is respectful, honouring of the Prime Minister’s position, and unhesitating in challenging an insult to Christianity, without returning insult for insult. Bishop Mina’s words, like those of St. Paul when he stood before Governor Felix and King Agrippa declaring his Roman citizenship, are shared by Bishop Mina as a Canadian and with conformity to the message of God’s grace and God’s truth in Jesus Christ.

Several statements on the Trudeau sweater from other Christian leaders have made me cringe. Their remarks reminded me of the comment, “When you mix religion with politics you get politics.”

Bishop Mina’s words, however, remind us Canadians can mix sincere religion with loyal citizenship. Christians can speak truth to power without compromising the humility, grace and love that are the hallmarks of the gospel of Jesus Christ.