Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
Gleanings from the mind of a Christian Leader and Lawyer
Southside Victory Church, Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – 11:00am service
UNDER SIEGE: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)
PART I: THE FOUNDATION
PART II: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AS INTERPRETED BY THE COURTS
PART III: FAITHFUL CHRIST-FOLLOWERS ASK “HOW SHOULD WE THEN ENGAGE?”
Conclusion: Fear Is a (Strong but) Poor Motivator
UNDER SIEGE is available from a variety of booksellers in paperback, Kindle, Kobo, Scribd, Google Play & Apple iBooks.
20 minute read.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, PUBLIC OPINION OR LAW
PROFESSIONAL ARROGANCE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST
CHARTER RIGHTS vs. CHARTER VALUES
THE DILEMMA OF JUDICIAL DEFERENCE
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Perhaps no one was more surprised by the decision in Law Society of British Columbia v. Trinity Western University than the lawyer for the law society. His closing presentation in the Supreme Court of Canada consigned his case to the mercy of the Court, acknowledging his client had fractured the understood common law rules of fair decision-making. Still, the Court found its way to side with his client. How did that happen?
Beyond the headlines, 600 word media articles and headnotes (the summary notes at the beginning, or “head,” of Supreme Court of Canada decisions) there is a fuller story behind and within the decisions. It’s conceivably a more troubling story than you might have thought, and a more hopeful one.
The loss in this courtroom battle is upsetting, but not absolute. Freedom of religion has encountered an obstacle, possibly even a setback, but not elimination from Canadian life, law, or Constitution.
More than two decades ago, Janet Epp Buckingham expressed a desire, a dream, to see a Canadian law school established in which instruction would be from the perspective of a Christian worldview. The envisioned law school would teach law in a way that attracted students interested in the concepts of Christian life and service – loving God, and loving neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Dr. Buckingham (LL.D.) joined the academic faculty of Trinity Western University in 2006.
In 2010, Canada’s fourteen law societies delegated the authority of decision making for new Canadian law schools to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. They agreed on a comprehensive standard to be met by institutions seeking to educate individuals for the legal profession.
Following the Federation’s publication of national standards for law schools, Trinity Western gathered Canadian academic and constitutional law leaders to explore, and then prepare, a proposal to open a law school as a complement to its other professional schools. Meticulous to ensure the crossing of each t and dotting of each i, the proposal was submitted to the Federation.
The Federation assessed the academic standards in the proposal. Satisfied, a special committee was created to evaluate the “public interest” (a term that features in the Supreme Court decisions) in regard to teaching law at a private Christian university which has a Community Covenant. Developed by students and staff, the Covenant is a summary expression of Christian beliefs and behaviours for the Trinity Western community. The Covenant might result in some otherwise qualified students deciding not to attend the school. Of particular concern to the Federation was a requirement that students at the Christian school not engage in sexual relationships unless married, “marriage” defined in the traditional Christian understanding as between one woman and one man. A review of the relevant law, including in regard to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms right to freedom of religion, concluded Trinity Western’s proposal met with no legal or constitutional objection. The Federation granted preliminary approval in 2013. One day later, the Government of British Columbia did the same.
Trinity Western started planning for the new school.
That should have been the end of it.
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS, PUBLIC OPINION OR LAW
A small group of lawyers agitated against approval of the new school. Adding to their number several deans from Canada’s existing law schools, they advocated together in an effort to overturn the decision. Motivated by a perspective that the protection of the LGBT community from offense should be the primary consideration, they demonstrated disinterest in the results of the academic, legal and constitutional examination conducted by the Federation. Some would consider this political correctness, avoiding expression or action perceived to disturb a group of people who have experienced discrimination. Others might consider this a “general perception” (the term used by Justices Côté and Brown in their dissenting reasons at the Supreme Court) of public opinion, not relevant to legal principles for interpretation of the Constitution.
The lawyers and deans contacted media and released a letter of objection as part of a campaign to drive public opinion, and put pressure on law societies across the country.
As lawyers are wont to do, they searched for weaknesses in the legal agreements with the Federation. The law society in each province exists on the basis of provincial legislation. The governing board of a law society is called “benchers.” In three provinces, benchers were prepared to interpret broad language in their provincial legislation in a way that allowed them to use their agreement executed with the Federation in a way that gave them overriding final say on the school. British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario eventually refused to add Trinity Western to the list of approved law schools in their province.
Having considered it in the public interest to enter the agreement with the Federation, less than three years later these three decided it was in the public interest to step away from their agreement.
When the B.C. law society pulled its endorsement, the B.C. government did the same. The school would either close before it opened or have to go to court. Trinity Western was successful in the Nova Scotia courts, and the provincial law society chose not to appeal. Trinity Western was not successful in Ontario, and chose to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Trinity Western was successful in B.C., where the law society chose to appeal.
The Trinity Western law school cases (B.C. and Ontario) were the final cases Beverly McLachlin would preside over as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and the final decisions in which she would participate. Her retirement on December 16, 2017 necessitated any decision with her as a participant be issued by June 15, 2018.
PROFESSIONAL ARROGANCE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST
The following comments from now retired Chief Justice McLachlin reflect an attitude about the supremacy of law which is widely held in the legal profession. In October 2002, McLachlin stated,
…it is the responsibility of the courts to find somewhere “in the comprehensive claims of the rule of law, a space in which individual and community adherence to religious authority can flourish.” The Chief Justice recognized that in the claims of law and religion, “two comprehensive worldviews collide. It is at this point that the treatment of religion becomes truly exigent… both lay some claim to the whole of human experience.” – Don Hutchinson, Under Siege: Religious Freedom and the Church in Canada at 150 (1867–2017)
There were several decisions of the McLachlin Court that respected the space for religion she had spoken of, including the 2001 decision in Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers, that approved of Trinity Western’s school of education despite objection by the teacher’s “society” on the marriage issue, and the 2004 decision in Reference re Same-Sex Marriage, in which the Court noted a civic change in definition of marriage could not be imposed on religious individuals or communities that held to the traditional definition. There was hope the two final decisions of McLachlin’s Court would demonstrate similar understanding for the ‘comprehensive worldview’ of Christianity that lays ‘claim to the whole of human experience’ in the context of a Christian school of law.
McLachlin’s words from October 2002 echo a professional arrogance that asserts lawyers hold a special place in Canadian society as ‘protectors of the public interest’ (as if Canada was not a democratic society with elected officials to fill that role. At best the legal system and the legislatures are a balance to each other in protecting the elusive notion of public interest.). Law societies, authorized by provincial and territorial governments to regulate the legal profession, tend to exhibit a similar attitude of superiority about the profession. The result of this professional arrogance is, at times, lawyers seek ways for the law not to apply to them in the same way the law applies to others. Although it was hoped the lawyers-now-justices of Canada’s Supreme Court would rise above that particular vanity, most did not.
As mentioned above, in his closing presentation before the Court on McLachlin’s final day on the bench, counsel for the law society placed his client at the mercy of the Court, admitting the benchers bungled the decision-making process. He asked that the decision made in Ontario be effective in B.C. in order to preserve consistency. It seemed a desperate request.
I don’t think anyone on the South side of the bench (the judges sit on the North in that courtroom), or anyone watching the internet broadcast (as I did), expected the law society to receive either the mercy of the Court, or a decision in its favour. By admission of its counsel, the benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia had:
The B.C. decision of the Court is more detailed than the Ontario decision. The Ontario decision often refers often to the rationale in the B.C. case. There are two decisions because the provincial legislation and action of the benchers was different in each province. The twinned decisions each feature four separate sets of written reasons, with five judges sharing one set of reasons in each (Justices Abella, Moldaver, Karakatsanis, Wagner and Gascon, collectively referred to here as “the majority”), Chief Justice McLachlin another, Justice Rowe another, and, in both cases, Justices Côté and Brown coming to a different conclusion than the other seven.
Each decision hinged on the role of the law society, as a government authorized self-regulating body for the legal profession, in regard to the responsibility of lawyers to ‘protect the public interest.’
In 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada concluded, in R. v. Sparrow, a case about federal government regulation of aboriginal fishing rights,
… the “public interest” justification is so vague as to provide no meaningful guidance and so broad as to be unworkable as a test for the justification of a limitation on constitutional rights.
Little has changed in terms of understanding the concept of public interest. It is a broad and vague term that has been interpreted in a variety of ways by the courts. As you might expect, Sparrow wasn’t referenced in the law society decisions. Instead the majority relied on the rationale stated in the law societies’ legislation that requires law societies act in the “public interest” as the justification for limitation on the Constitutional right at issue, noting the public interest in “regulating the practice of law” and, in particular, the law societies’ responsibility to “uphold and protect the administration of justice” and for “preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons.” Deference was shown to law societies because of the unique nature of public interest considerations in the regulation of legal professionals.
The majority, as well as the Chief Justice and Justice Rowe, found that law is a special profession with special responsibilities, deserving of special protection, including preventing academically qualified teaching at a private Christian university that has a mandatory Covenant. There will be more on why this is problematic in the following sections.
However, as Justices Brown and Côté stated in dissent,
While ensuring the competence of licensing applicants clearly falls within the LSBC’s mandate, this purpose does not rationally extend to guaranteeing equal access to law schools. The fact that the Rule sets out minimum requirements for licensing confirms that the LSBC is properly concerned with competence, not with merit. Setting admissions criteria to select the “best of the best” is up to law schools. To be clear, the selection of law students does not in any way fall within the LSBC’s mandate, which is confined to the narrow task of ensuring that those who have graduated from law school and who apply for licensing meet minimum standards of competence and ethical conduct.
The 2001 decision in Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers was not overturned. It was barely mentioned. The Court repeatedly distinguished the practice of law from other professions, stressing the legal profession’s unique role in “preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons” and protecting the administration of justice. Combined with not overturning the 2001 ruling, the Court’s emphasis on the unique nature of the practice of law may narrow application of the law school decisions in a manner that suggests no impact on education and practice in regard to other professions carried on in the public interest (e.g. doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, etc.) that do not have the same responsibility to “protect” the public interest.
Additionally, the majority noted about Trinity Western’s proposed law school,
…the LSBC’s decision does not prevent any graduates from being able to practise law in British Columbia. Furthermore, it does not prohibit any evangelical Christians from adhering to the Covenant or associating with those who do. The interference is limited to preventing prospective students from studying law at TWU with a mandatory covenant.
Similarly, in the Ontario decision, the majority noted,
… it is important to identify what the LSUC actually decided when denying accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school. The LSUC did not deny graduates from TWU’s proposed law school admission to the LSUC; rather, the LSUC denied accreditation to TWU’s proposed law school with a mandatory covenant.
Except for the interference identified above [the Trinity Western law school with mandatory Covenant], no evangelical Christian is denied the right to practise his or her religion as and where they choose.
The Court agreed that the competence of Trinity Western law school graduates was not in question. That raises questions, such as, whether TWU law graduates might:
The decision is unequivocal that Christians who adhere to the Covenant, or a similar expression of belief and practice, are not ineligible from practicing law, not even graduates of Trinity Western’s law school.
CHARTER RIGHTS vs. CHARTER VALUES
Law societies are government regulatory bodies that operate under the authority of provincial legislation. As such, each law society is subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which applies to government and government bodies to protect the rights of Canadians.
The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed s. 32 of the Charter confines the Charter’s application to government. It reads,
(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 simply does not apply to a private university. In decisions of lower courts in other cases, it has been found that the Charter does not even apply to public universities.
The Human Rights Code of British Columbia does apply to Trinity Western, as human rights legislation in each province applies to government and to private actors. The Human Rights Code recognizes the right of religious organizations, among others, to establish rules of conduct for members, such as the Community Covenant at Trinity Western. This is acknowledged by the Court in the law societies cases. (Note: In other decisions, the Court has found that Human Rights Codes are required to comply with the Charter, under s. 32, because they are established by government legislation. The Court previously agreed with human rights codes’ provisions for religious community membership rules.)
The Charter lists rights and freedoms. There are no Charter “values” stated.
The Supreme Court of Canada created the unwritten concept of Charter values in a 1986 decision, R.W.D.S.U., Local 580 v. Dolphin Delivery Inc., a case about a union/employer dispute. Because the Charter only applies to government and does not apply to or between private actors, Charter values were devised as a tool to ensure the understanding of law generally would be consistent with constitutional principles.
Charter values language has, however, taken on a life of its own. Charter values, as a concept, have become a poorly defined and vague form of parallel protection to the actual constitutional rights of Canadians that are stated in the Charter.
As Justices Côté and Brown wrote,
First, Charter “values” — unlike Charter rights, which are the product of constitutional settlement — are unsourced. They are, therefore, entirely the product of the idiosyncrasies of the judicial mind that pronounces them to be so. … What is troubling, however, is the imposition of judicially preferred “values” to limit constitutionally protected rights, including the right to hold other values.
Secondly, and relatedly, Charter “values”, as stated by the majority, are amorphous and, just as importantly, undefined.
The four judges not participating in the majority decision agreed, when courts are reviewing a decision for compliance with the Charter, Charter rights should be the focus of deliberation.
The majority’s decision, however, presents a commentary on the consideration of Charter values, including their application to the regulatory decision-makers in these cases.
The majority rooted their decision in consideration of the value “diversity” in regard to the legal profession. The majority embrace a politically correct (or as Justices Côté and Brown called it, “general perception”) position, not a legal or constitutional one, concerning the 60 potential students who would study at the proposed law school (20 in each year of a three year program).
B.C. has three existing law schools with a total enrollment of 1,100 students. There are more than 10,000 common law students in 19 schools across the country. Academic study at Trinity Western in preparation for the teaching profession was recognized by the Court in 2001 as supported by a Charter right to freedom of religion for the Trinity Western community. Application of the Charter in consideration of rights as in the 2001 decision, not vague and at times ambiguous Charter values concepts, should have brought the Court to a different conclusion than the one it reached. Either the Court should have confirmed the 2001 decision, by protecting the right of this religious community to establish a law school within its community, as it had for a teachers’ school, or the Court should have overturned the earlier case. The 2001 decision was left untouched.
The Court used the nebulous concept of Charter values (in this instance the responsibility under the undefined value “diversity,” which it found required the law societies to not be seen as embracing the Covenant, “discriminatory” in regard to marriage) to shift the onus from the law societies’ constitutional responsibility (as government actors) not to violate Charter rights to Trinity Western (a private actor), mandating it with responsibility to not engage in behaviour that could be considered contrary to the law societies’ mandate in regard to diversity in the legal profession.
The majority made an odd comment on protection for LGBT students forced to attend Trinity Western against their will:
The LSBC’s decision ensures that equal access to the legal profession is not undermined and prevents the risk of significant harm to LGBTQ people who feel they have no choice but to attend TWU’s proposed law school.
“LGBTQ people” are the same students the early McLachlin Court found not likely to attend Trinity Western University in its 2001 decision, when the Court protected the religious integrity of the Christian community. LGBT students have enrolled at Trinity Western, voluntarily. It’s hard to imagine any Canadian adult having “no choice but to attend” Trinity Western’s law school. The statement illustrates the kind of future potential harm the Court had concluded disqualified it from arriving at a decision on parents’ challenge to a Quebec curriculum change, in the 2012 case S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes, because the curriculum had been finalized but not implemented so no actual harm had occurred when the case was started.
Might the majority have been creating a way to bring Charter s.15 equality rights into the equation?
The hypothetical LGBT students seem a tactic to set up competing rights deserving of the Court’s consideration. However, the B.C. Human Rights Code provision assured there were no competing rights, just the one right to freedom of religion of the Trinity Western community under both the Human Rights Code and the Charter. There were no LGBT rights at issue, so the majority pivoted to Charter values language. Using Charter values language, the Court shifted the onus of Charter responsibility from the government actor (the law society), to which the Charter does apply, to the private actor (Trinity Western), to which the Charter does not apply.
In the context of Charter values, the majority deliberated about what it explicitly and unanimously decided was not its place to do just two weeks earlier in Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, commenting on the ecclesiastical issues of a religious community. Comments on the function of a private religious university included remarks about what is or is not required study in the context of a Christian university, and particularly that the decision in the law society cases doesn’t prevent Christians from studying law, or studying law in a modified religious environment, only from studying law in their “optimal” religious environment. Trinity Western was counselled by the majority to accommodate the state regulator (law society) by adjusting their expectations, and consider adjusting their practices, noting their beliefs would remain untouched. The protection from interference afforded the religious community in Wall is absent in the law societies decisions.
Perhaps, in like fashion to granting the Law Society of B.C. mercy for its self-admitted bungled decision-making process, the Court was attempting to propose a path for Trinity Western to proceed with its law school by noting the issue was not competency of graduates but the mandatory nature of the Community Covenant.
By stepping away from consideration of the Trinity Western community’s Charter right to freedom of religion (and related rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression, and equal protection and equal protection of the law, i.e. equality rights) and stepping into a Charter values analysis the majority primed their reasons to root their decision in the special status of lawyers in Canada’s constitutionally “free and democratic society,” and to provide judicial deference to the law societies’ decision-makers, the benchers.
THE DILEMMA OF JUDICIAL DEFERENCE
Judicial deference is the concept that a higher court submits itself to the decision of a lower level decision-maker if the right steps of analysis were followed, and the decision made was a reasonable outcome as a result, even if not correct. It bears resemblance to the idea of getting partial marks on a math test by showing one’s work, demonstrating the ability to follow the right steps in the process even if the final answer was wrong. Judicial deference, however, is prepared to award full marks whether the final answer is right or wrong.
The concept is designed to acknowledge that the original decision-maker receives more input than is present in their output (written decision) and to prevent appeals of every decision based on right or wrong, black and white, by allowing for the grey spaces of sincere differing interpretations and applications of legal principles. The counterbalance to judicial deference is precedent, the concept that decisions of higher courts bind the decision-makers below them in the hierarchy. However, recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada have given lower courts permission to challenge earlier decisions of higher courts. Combined with strict adherence to judicial deference, this could effectively transfer final decision-making authority to the initial decision-maker, providing insulation from reconsideration by higher courts.
In the law society cases, allegiance to judicial deference concepts outlined in a 2012 decision of the Court set up the majority to award an A as the final grade when the B.C. law society got the first part right, partial marks on the next few parts, and the wrong final answer on Charter rights (based on the Supreme Court precedent in Trinity Western 2001). Ontario’s law society received an A for showing its work in a one-step process and similarly missing the final result. Two judges awarded a B to both candidates. And, two awarded F grades to both law societies, and to their fellow judges, in a scathing, tightly-reasoned, and logical dissenting decision.
Lawyers knew there was a possibility the Court might sidestep the Charter right to freedom of religion, or minimize it. The Court could align the cases with its 2012 decision in Doré v. Barreau du Québec. Many consider Doré (and the Court’s effort to shore up its reasoning in 2015 in Loyola High School v. Quebec) a poorly articulated standard for review of administrative law decisions, one in which higher courts are required to defer to decision of the original decision-maker who follows the requisite process.
Lawyers also knew the strength of the decision delivered by the Court in the 2001 Trinity Western case, which demonstrated similar facts to the law school cases. In 2001, the professional regulatory body was found to be in the wrong by not making space for a religious institution to educate teachers in an academically sound religious environment. Canadian diversity and tolerance, as expressed in the Charter, was assessed to require making space for study in the setting of a private religious university. The Court determined in 2001 that the role of the provincially authorized, self-regulating teachers’ “society” was as gatekeeper and regulator of the teaching profession, not gatekeeper of teachers’ education. Studying in a Christian environment was found by the Court to be a matter of religious freedom.
With Trinity Western 2001 in the background, if the Court pursued the Doré route, the law school cases presented opportunity to refine the concept of judicial deference, including limiting that deference when the original decision-maker’s interpretation of a Charter right gets it wrong. If Charter rights are to have equal and understood application across the nation, getting the right wrong seemed a fitting place to limit deference.
The zeal of opponents to cast the Trinity Western University community as something other than a religious community determining its membership revealed shortcomings in the legal profession, as well as shortcomings in its respect for legal and constitutional rights, and precedent.
Based on the law alone, the B.C. benchers initially agreed with the Federation’s approval of Trinity Western’s proposal. A sufficient number of the membership disagreed with the benchers’ decision to exercise a requirement to reconsider the decision. The benchers agreed to hold a referendum of the membership. 8,000 of 13,600 lawyers voted, nearly 6,000 against the school. The benchers considered themselves bound by the referendum and reversed their initial decision.
At issue in the B.C. case was whether the law society benchers, as the legislated decision-makers for the law society, could properly have considered the Charter right to freedom of religion by deciding they were bound by the results of the referendum in which there was no reference to Charter rights.
The B.C. decision-making process was a mess according to administrative law decision-making principles. The only stage in their process where the benchers followed procedural requirements and arrived at a decision that properly considered the Charter was the initial decision. The B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal judges were unanimous on that point. The Supreme Court of Canada saved the day for the benchers by paying judicial deference to the final decision of the benchers, setting aside the procedural errors by means of recognizing the special nature of the legal profession, and by application of Charter values.
In Ontario, the benchers made one decision, opposing Trinity Western’s law school. They got the process right, application of the 2001 precedent wrong and the answer on a constitutional freedom wrong, having assessed that they were balancing freedom of religion with the equality rights of the LGBT community. On the basis of judicial deference they were successful at judicial review in the Ontario courts and at the Supreme Court of Canada.
There are two significant concerns for the legal profession as a result of these decisions.
First, the use of free-range Charter values to set aside the application of Charter rights. This isn’t just a concern for lawyers, but for Christians and Christian ministries that may unexpectedly find their rights compromised, and for all Canadians who should be concerned about the use of Charter values overruling their Charter rights.
Second, the determined adherence to the concept of judicial deference. This places a significant amount of authority in decision-makers who may have no legal training, and if they do may have little to know constitutional law training. These decision-makers range from politicians deciding how to spend taxpayers’ money to immigration review and customs officers in addition to municipal by-law review committees, provincial human rights tribunals and the thousands of provincial and superior court judges hearing cases every day, not just law society benchers. Concern with strict judicial preference is accentuated by the Court recently freeing initial decision-makers to make decisions setting aside judicial precedent.
It seems the best protection for the public interest, however it is characterized, is for a government decision-makers and regulatory bodies to be required to adhere to the stated rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how those rights have been interpreted by the courts, particularly the Supreme Court of Canada, over the last three-and-a-half decades.
Of course, one might also question whether the Court simply used the law school decisions to carve out an exception for the legal profession.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Is this the isolated outlier final decision of a transitioning McLachlin Court, uncharacteristically splintered after decades of the Chief Justice seeking consensus? Or the new direction of the incoming Wagner Court? These two decisions leave us with more questionable quotes than quotable quotes. The Supreme Court of Canada may have unsettled the law, diminished the supremacy of the Court and the Constitution, but it has not touched one whit the supremacy of God.
As I say near the end of Under Siege:
It’s a scary world out there. Knowing that, who wouldn’t think, It’s easier to just close the door and worship God in private, in my stained-glass closet, where nobody will bother me.
However, fear is a poor motivator. Decisions made based on fear tend to lack the wisdom and effectiveness of decisions founded in faith. …
Christian faith is personal, intimately personal. And Christianity was always intended to be public, engaging, and sincere in its expression—not just private. Being a Christ-follower is a both/and experience, not an either/or one. We need to have the private devotion to follow and the public expression to convict us if we are ever on trial for being Christian.
Decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada do not change what it means to be a Christian. Our challenge is to in fact and deed be Christians. The current trial for our faith in Canada is whether we will exhibit our faith, not whether we will be imprisoned for it.
Canada continues to have one of the most robust expressions of religious freedom of any country in the world.
We know that we live with an advancing secularism and a “general perception” that thinks little of religion, Christianity in particular. Now is a time for Christians and Christian leaders to pray, to strategize about engagement with other Christians, other faith communities and Canadian society, to engage our fellow Canadians in a way that honours our faith, and organize finances for the costs incurred by those who stand for Christ before governments and before the courts.
And the law school? It started with a dream. Enough people now share the dream that it has become a vision. Historically, such vision has a way of finding fulfillment.
The week of Canada’s National Prayer Breakfast is a yearly jam-packed adventure for those with an interest in the intersection of religion and politics. Established in 1964, the NPB is the longest running annual event on Parliament Hill. The side events that pop up around it are significant in themselves.
For those in Ottawa a day early, the week started with the NPB Leadership Dinner on Monday. Kim Phuc, the nine-year-old girl from the infamous Vietnam War napalm photo, shared about that day, her later acceptance of Jesus Christ as her Saviour when a young adult, and her escape from communism to Canada, to live out her life of faith in freedom. Freedom and faith would be recurring themes throughout the week.
Intrigue was piqued for Tuesday’s main event, the Breakfast, when the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Honourable Geoff Regan (Liberal, Halifax West), broke with tradition by withdrawing from co-sponsorship of the breakfast with the Speaker of the Senate, The Honourable George Furey (Newfoundland and Labrador), who went it alone. Regan has previously co-sponsored and participated. No explanation was given.
One topic of conversation leading up to the Breakfast each year is whether the Prime Minister of the day will attend. Delayed opening of the doors until after exit of RCMP officers with sniffer dogs was a sign that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau) would be present. In 2016, Mr. Trudeau read Romans 12:3-18, a passage about humility and living peaceably with all. On this morning, however, his reading would end with an awkward silence from the assembled crowd. One person near me quietly asked aloud, “Did he just read a poem instead of the Bible?” Yes, he did.
The poem had been shared with him in a meeting with Cardinal Lacroix, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Quebec.
Lord, When I am cold, send me someone to warm. When I am grieved, send me someone to console. When my cross grows heavy, let me carry another’s cross too. When I am poor, lead me to someone in need. When I have no time, give me someone I can help a little while. When I am disheartened, send me someone to cheer. When I need understanding, give me someone who needs mine. When I need to be looked after, give me someone to care for. When I think only of myself, draw my thoughts to another. Amen.
Several versions exist of this poem, translated from the original in Japanese, written by an unknown author. It is a thoughtful Christian sentiment. As evidenced by the hushed crowd, it is not Scripture.
Mr. Trudeau was the first reader. I was not alone in feeling uncomfortable at the spontaneous applause following comments and Scripture readings from Andrew Scheer (Conservative, Regina—Qu’Appelle), Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and David Blakely (NDP, Elmwood—Transcona).
I hope the Prime Minister understands the silence, as well as the appreciation that he made time to be present. Applause had greeted his introduction. It took some courage for Mr. Trudeau to stand before that crowd, knowing many were from organizations denied Canada Summer Jobs funding because of refusal to agree to the attestation clause introduced by his government. That courage would, no doubt, have been tempered somewhat by ongoing reassurance that those same leaders are praying for him in accordance with 1 Timothy 2:-3.
Uncharacteristically, there were two keynote talks. The first, shorter, was from Rev. Sean Brandow, who went quickly from being chaplain to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team to chaplain to a city, a province, and a nation in mourning. Brandow opened his heart to the room, sharing his struggles and his solace in Christ in light of the sudden tragedy that took the lives of too many of his friends. Dr. Os Guinness followed with a captivating presentation on the historic, philosophical and cultural necessity for private and public religious freedom if a society is to remain free and democratic.
Following the NPB, I was honoured to participate in a conversation between Mr. Scheer and a group of Christian leaders from across the country. As one might expect, the topic of the Canada Summer Jobs attestation arose. Another topic raised was the decision by the previous government to establish the Office of Religious Freedom and the closing of that Office by the current government. While governments around the world are recognizing the importance of religion in geopolitics, and establishing offices with ambassadors or envoys who play a key role in international diplomacy, Canada went a different direction after the last election.
Which leads these words to an event later the same day. Canadian think tank Cardus had been quick to hire now Rev. Dr. Andrew Bennett, the former Ambassador for Religious Freedom, when the Office of Religious Freedom was shut down. Announced Tuesday evening was that Dr. Bennett, also a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, DC, will lead the new Cardus Religious Freedom Institute (CRFI). The CRFI is targeted to fill the gap between academics and practitioners to facilitate public understanding of, and dialogue about, religion and religious freedom.
Unsurprisingly, because the Canada Summer Jobs attestation clause has been featured in mass media for more than five months, media interviews about the new institute included questions on the attestation for the former international ambassador, who is no longer constrained from commenting on the Canadian situation.
Bennett noted the attestation has “a certain totalitarian feel to it.”
“Whether you’re a person of religious views or a person who just doesn’t want to have an opinion, the government through this action is compelling belief,” Bennett told The Canadian Press.
At Wednesday morning’s inaugural lecture from the CRFI, Bennett introduced its first report, An Institutional History of Religious Freedom in Canada, which seeks to “provide a historical context for why freedom of religion and conscience is foundational to Canadian democracy, diversity, pluralism, and to our common life as human beings living in this place, this Canada.”
Freedom. Democracy. Diversity. Pluralism. These words echoed again the next day from orators speaking at the National March for Life. Thousands gathered on Parliament Hill, then for a march through Ottawa’s downtown streets, seeking parliamentary protection for children prior to birth. As I noted a couple of weeks ago,
The Supreme Court has also determined that the reproductive rights on which Trudeau demands agreement do not exist. Constant repetition of the words “reproductive rights” may be a technique for re-education. It does not change the constitution. Abortion is legal in Canada by the absence of law from Parliament constraining it. Holding differing opinions on whether a child is a child when in the womb violates neither law nor constitution.
It’s a debate that needs to take place in Canada. Our nation is out of step with the world’s democracies, alone providing no protection for children until after they have emerged fully from their mother. Shout downs by pro-choice representatives are not debate. Refusal by politicians to discuss the subject, and false representations about the state of the law in Canada, have not resulted in silence on the issue.
Having an annual breakfast where those gathered pray for all Canadians, for our federal government and for just deliberations in Parliament invites us to address issues, even difficult issues, in our nation honestly and directly, including matters of human rights. It takes courage to stand before an unwelcoming audience, whether a Prime Minister at a Christian prayer breakfast or thousands on the lawn of Parliament Hill. May that courage be tempered by prayer, and by application of understanding and the freedoms expressed in Canada’s constitution.
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.”