A few weeks ago my friend shared with me a most worrying revelation: as a religious person, he feels that secular society is becoming intolerant of his religious rights as it moves farther away from the traditional assumptions that have informed it in the past. Though not religious, I was nonetheless horrified. Horrified because, as a perpetual student of this thing called life, I’ve come to understand that my own freedom of expression comes from the same principle that guarantees the freedom of expression of my friend here, regardless of whether I agree with him.
Unfortunately, this sentiment of “we’re being discriminated against” I’ve been hearing more and more from various members of the religious community, and this has led me to try and uncover the evidence for their claims. Not being a member of a religious community myself, it was a difficult thing to do. I mean, sure, before Dalton McGuinty resigned from office the papers were full of his fight with the Catholic District School Boards of the province, vis-à-vis the introduction of gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools. Okay, I thought to myself, here we have the province’s new protocols on anti-bullying pitted against the Catholic Church’s catechism. But is the Catholic School Boards’ religious freedom really being curtailed by the demands of the government? Are the school boards not implicitly agreeing to follow the rules set out by the province by accepting government funds, paid as taxes by Ontarians—sixty percent of whom support gay marriage? And what about the overwhelming support of both parents and students in certain Catholic schools for gay-straight alliances? This tug-of-war remains inconclusive, and in any case, has now been overshadowed by the havoc caused by Bill 115.
Two news articles caught my eye recently. The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that British Airways discriminated against a Christian employee, Nadia Eweida, who refused to remove her crucifix at work. At first, British courts backed BA, but then Eweida went to the European Court of Human Rights, and I’m glad she did. “It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith,” she was quoted as saying, and personally, I’m glad for the ruling. Seeing your flight attendant wearing a cross, or a hijab, or a turban, for that matter, should not send you into an apoplectic fit, being the mature, intelligent, cosmopolitan person that you are.
In two other cases, the Human Rights Court struck down claims by Lillian Ladele, a local authority registrar who refused to oversee same-sex civil partnerships due to her Christian faith, and marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, who said no to offering gay couples sex therapy due to his beliefs. Okay there, folks; it seems to me that you cannot work for your municipal government in Britain without being expected to abide by the law of the land, and civil partnerships between members of the same sex have been legal there since 2005, Ms. Ladele. Moreover, entering the profession of marriage counsellor might not be wise for you in wild-child Britain, Mr. McFarlane, where gays have been accorded honorary, even mythical status ever since… oh, let’s see, Edward II. May I suggest a Christian marriage counselling program where you could perhaps offer your services?
To wrap this up, I’ve one last but equally fascinating story of tolerance to share with you. There’s a parish on the University of Toronto campus called the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, located at the Newman Centre, and they’ve recently instituted (seemingly at the request of students) a peculiar program called Courage, a support group for homosexuals in the Catholic Church that counsels them to remain celibate. Various complaints from the parish members have reached U of T, which led to both the university and the Newman Centre publicly stating that they are independent of each other, though the centre is technically part of the U of T campus given its location. Sure, 50 members have already left the parish in protest, but I rather think there is value in how the university has handled the situation. The Newman Centre is a Catholic organization, so you let religious adults do as religious adults see fit, in their own environment, and let everyone else choose for themselves whether to say or leave.
I’ve walked by the Newman Centre a million times in my life, and although now there’s to be a slight scowl on my face the next time I do, there’s still something to be said for the tolerance of others’ beliefs—especially when they contradict my own.