A Challenging Intersection of Passover, Easter and #CanadaSummerJobs

Don - "Love, Hope, Believe"This Good Friday 2018 I decided to reflect on some events of Holy Week in writing. It’s been a unique Holy Week. Passover and Easter coincide this year. And, it seems our federal government is determined to keep the Canada Summer Jobs story alive, having carried it forward into mid-week, before our Prime Minister tweeted “best wishes” to Christians today.

Here’s our brief Good Friday interaction:

Justin Trudeau @JustinTrudeau : On Good Friday, I send my best wishes to Christians around the world gathering to reflect and pray on the blessings we share. Wishing you a peaceful and meaningful day.

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : Praying for you @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau, even as we seek constitutionally guaranteed equal treatment from your government. It would mean much more to us than ‘best wishes.’ #CanadaSummerJobs #CharterOfRightsAndFreedoms #ReligiousFreedom #EqualityRights #Diversity #inclusion

Of course, it’s not the Prime Minister’s tweet or my reply that brought the story into this week but the announcement made by Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu following her meeting with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. The Minister acknowledged there is a problem with the attestation clause, and said she is prepared to review it prior to Canada Summer Jobs 2019.

That’s right. The government recognizes a problem exists today. The list of applicants for 2018 has not been finalized. No decision has been made about grant recipients. But the Minister and Prime Minister are not prepared to take the simple corrective action required now. Maybe next year?

Here was my twitter response to the announcement:

Don Hutchinson @DonH1187 : @PattyHajdu it would be simple enough to modify #CanadaSummerJobs #attestation now and open applications for a ten day period. Kids, refugees, homeless and students aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule. How about it @CanadianPM @JustinTrudeau ?

It’s not complicated. That said, the Prime Minister and his Minister have said an unequivocal “no” to respecting the religious beliefs of past recipients and potential new applicants, leaving Christian ministries from coast-to-coast-to-coast responsible to determine next steps if they are in this summer of 2018 to serve the children, those with and without disabilities, the financially struggling, those with and without homes, and the students relying on summer employment to help fund their education.

Rather than comment on the dangers of the Church’s dependence on government funding (the risks and cautions are described in chapters 14 and 25 of my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)), here are a few words on how we the Church – for the Church is the people who comprise the Body of Christ, not a building or collection of buildings large and small – are called to respond to the needs of … the Church.

First, we pray. We pray intelligently, knowing that there is a need and what that need is. We ask God, with whom prayer is conversation, about our part in responding to that need. He may well encourage us, individually and/or congregationally, to do something in addition to prayer.

That brings me to Passover and Easter. The two also coincided in the year that Jesus was crucified.

The night before the Feast of Passover was to begin was the same night on which Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Before that late night betrayal took place, Jesus made arrangements to partake in what He knew would be a last supper with His closest followers. During the private dinner, Jesus shared with His disciples through example, washing their feet as their Servant, through discourse, communicating what the events that would unfold over the next few days would mean for their future, and in prayer, a prayer for unity among those at the table and for all of us who believe because of the historic record of His life and their testimony. You can read the true story for yourself in the Gospel of John, chapters 13 through 17.

Jesus knew that His prayer for unity was not a call for uniformity, either uniformity within the Body of Christ today – Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant – or with the diverse twelve around the table with Him.

Jesus knew it would only be after His resurrection that His disciples would understand the significance of His example and His heart-to-heart exchange with them.

And, Jesus knew that, in time, we would be the beneficiaries of what was chronicled from that evening.

Without discounting the two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with all we are and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, Jesus added a third for those of us who follow Him.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35, ESV)

The writers of the New Testament extended repeated challenges to us about how to love one another. They did so writing to a Church that had not yet found favour with the government of Rome and was out of favour with the governors of Jerusalem.

We tend to read New Testament comments on “love one another” as applicable to the second command, to love our neighbours as ourselves, when they were recorded as practical application of the third command, to love our brothers and sisters in the Church. The third might even be regarded as instruction on the “love ourselves” part of the second.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. (Romans 12:4-13, ESV)

At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. (Romans 15:25-26, ESV)

Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2, ESV)

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV)

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27, NLT)

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. … By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:14, 16-18, ESV)

When we consider Jesus’ new commandment, the message of the New Testament authors is compelling for you and me today when Christian ministries that serve other Christians and/or serve people in need find themselves to be in need. Those ministries are part of the Church, as are we. It’s time for us in the Church to assess what we can do to supplant the absent federal funding that was vital to the congregational and para-congregational ministries expressing the heart to serve “kids, refugees, homeless and students [who] aren’t on a “wait ‘til next year” schedule.”

#CanadaSummerJobs: What’s Next? Hard Choices.

People have connected with the issue of the #CanadaSummerJobs attestation clause. Those who oppose the Government’s position and those who support it want to know what’s next.

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Opponents desire to stop such imposition on freedom where it stands.

Supporters wish for this reshaped interpretation of rights by the Government to multiply. The first glimpse of their wishes being granted is found in the attestation requirement for participation in the Canada Service Corps youth initiative. And, there are rumblings about implementing a similar attestation requirement for registered charities.

Let me use the next thousand words or so to paint a thorough picture for the Church, one that depicts where we’ve come from on this issue and where we might be headed.

First, the issue of a government changing funding requirements is not new. Neither is the issue of government expanding funding requirements beyond expectations detailed in human rights legislation and decisions of the courts. That doesn’t make such behaviour acceptable. Although also addressed elsewhere in my book, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017), there are two chapters directed toward the topic, Chapter Fourteen ‘The Church Likely Cannot Serve Both God and Government without Trouble’ and Chapter Twenty-Five ‘The Church as Charity.’ It’s important we enter government funding opportunities with our eyes wide open, aware that over time:

Christian ministries and government bureaucrats have entered into agreements in good faith, knowing that the ministries were doing a better job than the government because of the heart behind the work. It was ministry unto Him, not simply unto them. Times changed, representatives on both sides of the negotiating tables changed, and government spokespersons increasingly pushed beyond the focus of serving people in need to challenging things they didn’t understand or accept about the Christian ethos of the increasingly government-dependent organizations. (Under Siege, page 122)

Second, despite what you may have read or heard, Canada remains a democracy. The next federal election is scheduled to take place in October 2019. In Canada, governments change.

Third, although much attention was given to the issue of pro-life anti-abortion activism, the concern with the attestation clause is about much more. The requirement to tick the box of agreement is a violation of constitutionally enshrined freedoms of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression that are guaranteed to all Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The clause reads:

Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression

If the clause only stated, “Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada” it would comply with the Charter and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. It would be a non-issue.

Problems arise with the following:

  • The undefined nature of “the values underlying the Charter. Do you have any idea what those values are? Neither do I.
  • The unidentified extent of “as well as other rights.” What exactly are these other rights that are not included in the words “individual human rights in Canada”?
  • One example given as an other right isreproductive rights.” Reproductive rights don’t exist under the Charter or in Canadian human rights law. Any wonder that asserting a non-existent right became a point of contention?
  • The list of bases on which the job and core mandate of an applicant organization are to be free from discrimination imposes commitment beyond the requirement to “respect individual human rights in Canada.” As I have noted previously, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized a positive right for religious organizations to be selective in employment based on religious requirements of belief and practice (and other organizations based on culture, heritage, etc.).

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the protections provided to Canadians in the Charter require government action to be neutral in the treatment of Canadians. The attestation clause steps away from government neutrality, requiring from applicants a form of compelled expression that goes beyond constitutional or legal requirements in order to secure an otherwise neutral funding grant.

Fourth, the dispute over the attestation clause is about something more significant than money or jobs. It is about constitutional freedom. However, it is also about money and jobs.

With the support of the Official Opposition, MP Karen Vecchio presented a way out of the conflict with this motion.

That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.

The motion was not politically tainted, as some can be. It aligned with statements made by Minister Hajdu and Prime Minister Trudeau. It even left space to exclude anti-abortion activist organizations.

When the vote was called, it was encouraging to see pro-choice NDP Member of Parliament David Christopherson, Bloc MPs Xavier Barsalou-Douval, Marilene Gill and Mario Bealieu, Green MP Elizabeth May and Liberal MP Scott Simms break party ranks to stand in favour of the motion with Conservative MPs. It was also encouraging to watch MP John McKay stand for the roll call and then depart the House of Commons prior to the vote. Christopherson stood knowing his party had earlier chastised MP Nathan Cullen for commenting that the attestation clause was problematic. Simms and McKay understood full well their party leader’s requirements to vote with him on this issue and will likely face retribution from the Prime Minister.

It was disappointing to watch my MP, Andrew Leslie, vote against the motion. A pastor from our riding who had addressed the unnecessary but very real difficulty of this situation directly with Mr. Leslie was in the gallery. If the government does not relent, Mr. Leslie knows that lost to our riding will be student summer employment opportunities to serve in day programs for children with disabilities as well as children from financially challenged and middle class families, service opportunities working with individuals and families who are struggling financially, service for seniors, and more. This will be multiplied for students, children, people in need and senior citizens across the 338 ridings from coast to coast to coast.

Mere moments following the 207 to 93 vote against the motion, social media was aflutter with the question, “What’s next?”

First, the number of applications rejected at the initial stage jumped to 1,561 in 2018 from 126 in 2017. (That number does not include organizations that received #CanadaSummerJobs funding in the past but opted not to apply this year because of the attestation clause.) Many of those 1,561 are organizations that provided written explanation as to why they could not “tick the box” when submitting their applications. Having received notification as to what is required for an acceptable application, a number are awaiting reply from the second round. It is possible that, the point having been made in the House of Commons by defeating the Opposition motion, the Government will approve the applications. Not likely, but possible.

Second, there are active pieces of relevant litigation. The Trinity Western University law school cases were heard November 30 and December 1, 2017. Now retired Chief Justice McLachlin took part in the hearings and then retired on December 16. If she is to participate in the decisions then they are to be issued within six months of her retirement date. Keep praying and pay attention to whether there is content in the outcome that may impact this situation. The other piece of litigation to watch is a direct challenge to the attestation clause initiated by the Toronto Right to Life Association, scheduled to be heard by the Federal Court on June 19, 2018.

Third, the Toronto Right to Life litigation is about the attestation clause but the situation differs from other organizations denied funding because they engaged their Charter right to protection from this government action. Those organizations will have to make some difficult choices. Will they seek alternate sources of funding to operate programs such as day activities for children with disabilities, fresh air camps for city kids, summer outreach to those living on the streets, and other summer employment opportunities? Or will they cancel for lack of funds? Can they afford to put money into litigation, even if subsidized by lawyers working for little or nothing? These organizations will need your support. Your prayer support. Your financial support. Your volunteer efforts. If you know of Christian organizations that have in the past hired summer students for these efforts, don’t wait. Contact them now and let them know how you can help.

Organizations in a position to litigate will have to determine process. One litigant or a group. Even if successful, will it be of any benefit this summer? Will it benefit those organizations not part of the litigation? What about the organizations that opted not to apply because they thought the situation overwhelming? This is best coordinated with those experienced in Charter litigation for the Church. Encourage organizations you know of to contact the Canadian Council of Christian Charities or Christian Legal Fellowship for advice. And, be prepared to support them.

By the way, Government uses our money to fight these court battles, just as it knowingly excluded us from equal access to our money to employ our students to offer services to our children and our neighbours. Governments have no money of their own. They have only the money of the people they serve, and money borrowed on our behalf.

Fourth, pray for students who planned on returning to or commencing previously #CanadaSummerJobs funded positions who find themselves in limbo because of this situation. Do they look for another job? Do they wait to see if the organization they want to work with finds funding? How will life plans change if they can’t find a summer job?

Fifth, after the final list of approved #CanadaSummerJobs applicants is released, Christian organizations will likely be on the list. Not everyone paid attention to the attestation clause. Not everyone objects to the attestation clause. Others, decided the #CanadaSummerJobs funded work done by summer students to serve children and other clients in need was more important than the disputed clause. The Body of Christ has many parts. If we all agreed beyond acceptance of the Trinitarian creeds we wouldn’t have multiple expressions of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianity. Love one another.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26)

Sixth, consider signing this petition, E-484 (Discrimination). It is on the parliamentary website, so your personal data will be required but not collected. Remember petitions that are not on the parliamentary website may be used to collect your personal data, which may result in other use. Petitions are regularly presented in Parliament and help to keep debate alive on the issue. It’s important to continue efforts in Parliament even after the news cycle has moved on to other things or some have entered the courtroom. This petition is open for additional signatures until June 6, 2018. Inform your friends so they can sign too.

Seventh, the Church will have to seriously and prayerfully consider disentangling from dependence on government support. Assistance from programs such as #CanadaSummerJobs may have to be regarded as in addition to rather than necessary, and caution may have to be exercised to prevent drift back into the essential funding column. Christian giving and generosity are also not the same thing as tax receipted donations. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of those receipts while we have them, but our giving must not be dependent upon them. As noted in Under Siege,

How we steward the financial resources God gives us is part of the “spiritual return on investment” Jesus expects from those who follow Him. (Under Siege, page 242)

What’s next will involve some hard choices for others, as well as for you and me. Hard choices are best made with prayer.

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.

 

Why I’m praying today for #CanadaSummerJobs

I’m praying today that tomorrow there will be resolution of the dispute between Canada’s government and Canada’s people concerning the controversial attestation clause attached to this year’s application for #CanadaSummerJobs funding.

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Why?

First, I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the power of prayer because I believe in God who answers prayer.

I find myself praying while feeling a bit like those in the group with Rhoda, the servant girl mentioned in Acts 12. They were praying for the release of Peter from prison. Rhoda answered a knock at the door to find Peter standing there. She was so excited she forgot to open the gate when she ran back to the prayer group to tell them Peter was standing there. Others in the prayer group thought she was out of her mind. They knew what a Roman jail was like! Nevertheless, God had heard their prayer and Peter was soon standing in their midst telling the true story of his miraculous release. (Acts 12:5-17)

Today is a day to pray because tomorrow presents an opportunity for our government to adjust the wording that has prevented many faith groups, and other groups, from completing the #CanadaSummerJobs application form to the satisfaction of Service Canada. Those groups – ministries, churches, synagogues, mosques, gurdwaras, indigenous peoples’ governing councils, and more – have concluded that the controversial attestation clause – it is the clause which is controversial, not the potential applicants – compels them to agree to a statement that expresses a position of the current government with which they do not or cannot agree. Equally those groups understand that under Canada’s constitution, particularly the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2, the government is prohibited from compelling such agreement either as violation of conscience, religious belief, thought, opinion or expression of citizens.

The opportunity presented tomorrow (Monday, March 19) is a scheduled vote in the House of Commons on the following motion:

That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.

The motion, although presented by the Opposition, is not politically tainted, as some can be. It is simple, straightforward, and presents occasion for Government and Opposition to agree on a helpful adjustment that aligns with statements made by the Government in efforts to clarify the intention of the attestation clause, relieving potential applicants from the requirement to agree:

Both the job and my organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability or sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression

Should the Church be dependent on Government funding for the carrying out of its work? No.

Should the Church have equal access to Government funding under a program such as #CanadaSummerJobs? Yes.

The Supreme Court of Canada has determined that, because of the protections provided to Canadians in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, government is required to be neutral in its treatment of Canadians once it implements Charter compliant parameters for a program. In this instance, the program is intended to provide funding for the provision of summer jobs for Canadian young people aged 15 to 30 who are in full-time education. Some priorities for funding are identified. Then, the Government of Canada is required to be neutral in regard to applicants. The attestation clause steps away from that neutrality.

The second reason I’m praying today is because respected Christian leaders have called us to do so. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, denominational leaders, ministry leaders and others have called for a day of prayer. There is power in individual prayer, and great benefit to praying as part of a larger community. Rhoda wasn’t praying alone. Neither am I. Neither will you, if you decide to join us.

As we pray, we are not praying for the Liberal Party or its leader, or for the Conservative Party or New Democratic Party, we are praying for our Prime Minister, our elected representatives and our government.

The same Peter who was prayed out of prison two millennia ago wrote these words:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,whether it be to the emperoras supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

Although we have an elected House of Commons rather than an emperor, and may challenge the government in the courts if necessary, we submit ourselves to Canada’s free and democratic structure. And we live as servants of God.

We have also been called to pray for the ministries, churches and other organizations that will have to find alternative funding or cancel opportunities to serve some of the most vulnerable among us: children, including indigenous children and those with disabilities, who would otherwise attend day activities or attend camps in the country; those who are homeless who benefit from the additional care provided by summer student participation in their lives; and others.

And, please pray for the students who may otherwise go unemployed if the numerous organizations across the nation are forced to change or cancel hiring plans.

Pray today, knowing it’s also not too late to pray tomorrow.

Like Rhoda’s friends, I’ll be pleasantly surprised if the Government members of the House of Commons agree with Opposition members to pass this motion. Still, I’ll pray. Wouldn’t it be a great surprise!

Why I said “NO” to the Law Society

In October of last year, I wrote Lawyers Won’t Bow to Law Society. The article was published a few days after the then Law Society of Upper Canada, now called the Law Society of Ontario, announced that members’ individual annual reports for 2017 would include a new mandatory declaration:

I declare that I abide by a Statement of Principles that acknowledges my obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, in my behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public.

Simply, tick the “Yes” box and all would be well. Opting to tick the “No” box would require explanation.

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In early consideration of the Law Society’s edict, I reflected on the origins of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court of Canada’s robust definition of freedom of religion, and the Law Society benchers’ (board of directors) discriminatory decision in regard to Trinity Western University’s proposal to establish a school of law. The Law Society’s resolve was akin to a determination to impose a form of ideological tick box on TWU – intruding on the religious beliefs, as expressed in the TWU community covenant, of the religious institution in order for that religious institution to be permitted by the government regulatory body to provide a private religious education that meets or exceeds the government established standards for that education.

In Lawyers Won’t Bow, my conclusion was stated as,

I expect to find myself among a group of lawyers from a variety of faith communities who consider our religious beliefs, commitment to the laws of nation and province, and obligations under existing rules of professional conduct – which is a mandatory community covenant for all who desire to practice law – as sufficient to address the Law Society’s concerns. There really is nothing more to add for purposes of an individual Statement of Principles.

Observing,

However, submitting a statement that says my faith beliefs and existing obligations are more-than-enough may fall short of the Law Society’s expectation for members to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally.” Perhaps, only because we may have different understandings of what the words “promote,” “equality,” “diversity,” and “inclusion” mean.

In the time between writing those words and this week completing my 2017 annual report, additional disconcerting government impositions on constitutional freedoms have either been established or announced.

The federal government introduced an attestation clause to the application for Canada Summer Jobs grants. The attestation required is not about adhering to the law, not about following human rights requirements, or even requiring compliance with government funding policies. It mandates that applicants endorse the position of the federal Liberal Party’s leader (currently the Prime Minister) on matters of human rights. His position is not official party policy. Nor is it a proper understanding of our constitution or the law. It is, however, the requirement to be considered by his government for funding that is otherwise generally available to public employers for purposes of providing summer jobs to high school and university students.

Despite the best efforts of religious leaders from a diversity of faith communities, as well as lawyers and members of the media from across the political and religious/non-religious spectrum, to explain to the Prime Minister and Minister of Employment why certain religious individuals and communities could not comply with (let alone be legally be required to comply with) the demand to tick the box in agreement with a stipulated ideological position that is contrary to their religious beliefs, the government persisted. Essentially the government position is, there are different understandings of the words “core mandate,” “must respect” and “as well as other rights.” The common dictionary definitions of those words do not apply. Neither, apparently, do the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada in regard to freedom of conscience and religion or freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression as guaranteed in the Charter.

The Charter states, and has been unquestionably understood by the courts, that its purpose is to protect citizens from having our rights violated by government action.

The Law Society is a government authorized regulatory body. The Charter constrains its actions. The federal government is likewise bound by the Charter. Similarly, as doctors in Ontario are engaged in a battle for their conscience rights, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is a government authorized body that is bound by the Charter. The federal government has announced a new national youth initiative, the Canada Service Corps, to which its tick box requirements will apply for partner organizations and youth applicants.

For the first thirty-five years of the Charter’s existence, the responsibility of government and government authorized agencies and regulatory bodies for Charter compliance was understood. Now, the question is “Who will next be bullied into unconstitutional confession of agreement with a statement of political ideology?”

Don’t get me wrong. In Canada, we have robust freedoms. Guaranteed by the Charter. Protected by the courts. And, until recently, respected by government, including its authorized agencies and regulatory bodies.

To maintain these freedoms, we will have to stand for them. If necessary, we will have to fight for them in the courts, both judicial and of public opinion.

In 2008 I sat in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. with several Christian lawyers from China. We talked about the personal cost they and their families were paying to fight for religious freedom in Chinese courts. Many have “disappeared” since that meeting. This week, I read the news that one has made what in military terms is referred to as the ultimate sacrifice. Just as I was deeply moved by the faithfulness of twenty-one Coptic Christians beheaded on a Libyan beach in February 2015, I was touched to the core to learn of Li Baiguang’s death.

As a writer, I read. Really, you can’t write well unless you read good writing. Every now and then, I read something that causes me to move through the following progression. I wish I had written that. That is well written. Kudos to the author for writing that. It’s good to know I’m not alone in those thoughts. I’m glad someone else wrote something that is so inspiring. I need to write.

In the last few days I have read two such commentaries.

In Tearing Down the Idol of Religious Freedom, Kristopher Kinsinger reminds,

Christians should educate themselves about the challenges currently being mounted against religious freedom in Canada and around the world. Those of us who have a passion for public affairs should look for ways to engage our culture for the sake of the Gospel. In doing so, however, we must remain attuned to the pendulum of our motivations. If our primary desire is for cultural revolution – rather than seeing hearts and minds transformed by and for Christ – then our witness is a false one. Only when we are fully “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” can we truly say our fight for religious freedom is for the glory of God alone.

In Just Check the Box: the growth of statism and what’s next for Canada’s Christians, André Schutten writes of the tick boxes,

It’s so simple – by design – to affirm the State ideology of “inclusion” and “reproductive rights.” Just check the box. And yet what’s actually happening is a wearing away or a numbing of our convictions. Like the greengrocer in Communist Czechoslovakia, we fear the trouble of dissenting. We need the funds. We want to keep our license.

Schutten briefly explores the early stages of state control in several nations that descended into authoritarian communism, concluding with a series of questions relevant for today.

So where do these check boxes take us? What’s next? I can’t help but think that the check boxes are a trial balloon of sorts. If the current government can get away with enforcing moral conformity as a condition for receiving summer job grants, can it do the same for charitable status? Will the other regulated professions (medicine, accounting, engineering, etc) include check boxes? Will all charities in the next few years have to check the box each year to affirm the “Charter values” of inclusion and non-discrimination and reproductive rights in order to keep their charitable status? And after that, will our Christian schools have to check the box to keep the doors open? Will we as parents have to check the box to access medical care for our kids? What’s next?

Bearing Kinsinger’s thoughts in mind, I completed my annual report for the Law Society, dutifully noting in the optional section on religion that my religious belief is “Other” and offering the one-word explanation “Christian.” I chose this rather than ticking the pre-itemized boxes of “Protestant,” “Roman Catholic,” or “Other Christian, such as Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Catholic.” When I consider the plight of many in the Church around the world, I am compelled to define myself as simply Christian, a member of the global Body of Christ – one Body with many parts.

Bearing Schutten’s thoughts in mind, I ticked the “No” box for the Statement of Principles declaration, providing the following explanation,

The Law Society benchers have demonstrated in debate and decision that they do not themselves understand or promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally as understood in decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada concerning application of constitutional and other human rights legislation. The oath I voluntarily swore at my call to the bar, and my adherence to both the Rules of Professional conduct and the law generally are sufficient. The Law Society has no authority, constitutional or otherwise, to demand more of me. I, therefore, refuse for reasons of conscience and principle to provide such a statement to the Law Society.

There will be Christians who tick the “Yes” box. There will be others who tick the “No” box. Depending on the form being completed, there may be explanation as to why they can’t tick “Yes.”

In time, Freedom of Information requests will reveal which Christian organizations received Canada Summer Jobs funding. Also, the Law Society will take whatever action (intimidating by the lack of stipulated potential penalty) against dissenting members. Whether or not one ticked “Yes” will be revealed.

I hope and pray that a small mark in a small box does not become a great line of division.

I also hope and pray that those asserting our freedoms will help to maintain them. Those freedoms belong to all Canadians.

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 Brian Stiller, Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, had to say:

Don Hutchinson in Under Siege walks us through the critical issues of freedom of religion in a country where one might naively assume its record is stellar. His message is that there is always the need for vigilance. In a time when the secular assumption that faith will soon ebb away carries with it a belief that there is no need to protect its freedom, this book advises the opposite. A timely and wise warning.

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

I don’t know what I don’t know – how about you?

“For people who don’t know, they don’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know.” My pastor said this on Sunday. I know he will appreciate that it’s not the only thing I remember from his message. But that sentence stood out because of some recent commentary I’ve read online from Canadian Christian leaders.

UNDER SIEGE - book launch

There have been some seriously off-the-mark statements made about the state of religious freedom in Canada, the federal government, a few provincial governments, and the response “demanded” of Christians.

Please consider the following as measured advice; my understanding of what is demanded of us.

First, the response demanded of Christians begins with prayer. There’s no way around it. Jesus said it. Peter repeated it. Paul wrote about it. Luke recorded it in both of his books. Here’s a concise summary written by James:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. (James 5:13 NIV)

Start with prayer.

Pray for understanding. Pray for government leaders. Pray for the God of all creation to intervene. Pray to know what God wants you or me to do, if anything, in addition to prayer.

The second response demanded of Christians is to conform our behaviour, including our comments, to the pattern found in Scripture. As Henri Nouwen wrote in his book In the Name of Jesus:

Christian leaders cannot simply be persons who have well-informed opinions about the burning issues of our time. Their leadership must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source for their words, advice and guidance.

Prayer and biblical insight go hand-in-hand.

Drawing from Nouwen’s first sentence above, the third response demanded of Christians is to “have well-informed opinions.” There’s a lot of stuff circulating on the internet, and sometimes we post things on social media that we think are (or maybe just might be) true, but we don’t really know. If we don’t know, it’s probably best not to post. Even if we saw it in a trusted friend’s tweet, if we don’t know and have confidence in the reliability of the initial source, we actually don’t know, and it’s best not to post, retweet or quote tweet.

What I have read online suggests there are drastic misperceptions about the Canadian situation. They are being widely shared by a number of leaders in the Canadian Church. Among those misperceptions are misunderstandings (and thus, misstatements) about the extent of our religious freedom in Canada. As stated in Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017):

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… we need to be prepared in our relationship with Christ, and the nation in which we live, to stand publicly in our faith as witnesses to Him whom we live for. One key to that preparation is engaging fully our commitment to Christ, His Church, and His Word (the Bible). Another is being accurately aware of how Canadian courts are defining what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to as the “fundamental freedom” of freedom of religion.

One of the many things I appreciate about my pastor is the knowledgeable simplicity of his biblical teaching. Some preachers complicate the understanding of Scripture. My pastor makes it straightforward and down-to-earth. Of course, with understanding comes the challenge of meaningful and genuine life application. He explains that simply, too.

That’s the manner in which I wrote Under Siege. As someone who has been a pastor and focused on constitutional freedom of religion as a lawyer, the book is written for pastors and pew-sitters, all of us Christ-followers together. The uniquely Canadian context is established through a brief look at relevant history, a little political insight, and key decisions of Canadian courts on Canadian religious freedom. The application of that content to our current situation is then set in the framework of Scripture and contemporary culture.

As I cringed my way through some of the last month and a bit’s commentary on the church-state relationship in Canada, what repeatedly came to mind were various chapters and thoughts in Under Siege that would have been helpful to those authors, whether writing 140 characters, 140 words or more.

As awkward as I find it to recommend my own book, it would be more awkward if I didn’t trust that I could.

I know a journalist who keeps Under Siege by his desk as a reference book. A lawyer informed me that he gained an appreciation of the overarching context for religious freedom that he had not previously grasped. A pastor who moved to Canada from Nigeria suggested the book should be required reading in Canadian seminaries and for immigrating pastors. One amazon reviewer noted the book is written “in a way that makes the subject easy to understand and fascinating.”

You can assess for yourself. Take a look inside the Kindle edition at amazon.ca. If you’re looking for paperback, there are fewer than 140 of the special Canada 150 logo edition covers left in stock at donhutchinson.ca. There may also be some left at Chapters/Indigo and local Christian booksellers. These were produced under limited license from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage. The second printing does not have the Canada 150 imprint on the cover (although the content is just as good!).

Here’s what my pastor had to say about Under Siege.

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.
– Jason Boucher, Lead Pastor, Lifecentre, Ottawa

You can read what others have said here. And you can check out some of the media reviews and interviews here. Thank you to those of you who have benefited from securing a copy of Under Siege. Let your friends and colleagues know this book is a useful and timely resource for today’s Canadian Church.

We still may not know what we don’t know. But about this, now you know.